Rich points are a common phenomenon in multilingual and multicultural environment. They are “those surprises, those departures from an outsider’s expectations that signal a difference between LC1 [languaculture 1 as source] and LC2 [languaculture 2 as target] and give direction to subsequent learning” (Agar, 2006:2). The term goes back to Michael Agar, which he mentions in his book `Language Shock`. Especially in second language acquisition, people put a lot of effort into the learning process until they know the vocabulary and the grammar. Then they go abroad to practice their new language skills and while talking to a native speaker there occur these moments of misunderstanding and confusion. Even though someone is familiar with the terms the locals use, some of them might be handled in a different way than you learned it or they emerge in a different context than expected. In those moments, it is helpful to try to understand the interlocutor´s way of thinking as well as the overall (cultural) context to be able to follow the conversation.
By naming it rich, Agar wanted to emphasize the thickness and wealth of an expression`s meaning that comes along with it. Basically, a rich point can appear in any communicative situation, as a non-verbal or verbal expression. They demonstrate that a translation can be difficult between two diverse cultures, between different languages and dialects or in general, between people who share diverse beliefs, assumptions and ideologies. As an example for a term, Agar (2006) refers to the Austrian word ‘Schmäh’, translated as joke into English but which in many cases does not represent the full meaning of it.
Rich points, these moments of incomprehension or misunderstanding, might appear due to a specific term, or due to a movement, an action or a specific way of expressing something.
Agar, M. (1994) Language Shock: Understanding the culture of conversation. New York: William Morrow.
Agar, M. H. (2006). Culture: Can you take it anywhere? International Journal of Qualitative Methods. 5(2), pp. 1–12.
Agar, M. (2008) A Linguistics for Ethnography. Why Not Second Languaculture Learning and Translation? https://www.immi.se/intercultural/nr16/agar.htm.
Hornberger, N. (2013) Negotiating methodological rich points in the ethnography of language policy. International Journal of the Sociology of Language. 2013(219), pp. 101-122. doi:10.1515/ijsl-2013-0006.
Sandel, T. (Ed.) (2015) Rich Points. In: The International Encyclopedia of Language and Social Interaction, First Edition, Publisher: Wiley. University of Macau. pp.1314-1318. doi: 10.1002/9781118611463/wbielsi167.
Written by Xenia Sauer – Study Visitor in Communication at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg) and student in the Master program in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg. She holds a Bachelor degree in Sustainable Tourism and speaks German, English, Spanish and French.