First Advisor

Kimberley Brown

Term of Graduation

Winter 1996

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages


Applied Linguistics




Speech acts (Linguistics), Intercultural communication



Physical Description

1 online resource (vi, 521 pages)


Language students must learn to communicate effectively in cross-cultural settings, avoiding unwitting violations of culturally determined norms of behavior. This study compares German learners of English (GEs) with native speakers of English (AEs) and German (GGs), studying pragmatic transfer associated with the face-threatening speech act of refusal.

Data elicitation involved a written role-play questionnaire composed of twelve refusal situations, including four refusal stimulus types (requests, invitations, offers, and suggestions) and interlocutors of higher, lower, and equal status. Response strategies were identified and classified, and the three groups were compared in terms of frequency and content of strategies chosen.

Overall, the findings suggest that the AEs strove for friction-free interactions, while the German subjects tended to be candid. The AEs opted for inoffensive, routinized responses, emphasizing face-protection, and eschewing expressions of unwillingness. The AEs generally provided only vague excuses, relying extensively on positive forms aimed at preserving rapport. Social distance affected AE levels of politeness. By contrast, GG response patterns were situation-specific. Toward unjustified requests or unwelcome suggestions, the GGs exhibited directness, outspokenness with critical remarks, and willingness to risk confrontation, regardless of relative status. In more neutral situations, status and social distance influenced levels of politeness.

The GEs appeared to assess situational factors in much the same way as the GGs; however, GE responses were consistently more tempered. Both groups of Germans were more open with expressions of unwillingness than the AEs. They tended to provide solid justification for refusals, while maintaining a more aloof stance.

When there was no cause for irritation, the GEs recognized the need for greater tactfulness in English (probably responding according to explicit teaching). When aggravated, however, they lapsed into pragmatic patterns of their native language, following their "gut reactions."

Sometimes GE efforts to exceed German native speaker levels of politeness led to "hyper-correction" (i.e., going beyond the AEs' degree of politeness).Occasionally, the GEs transferred German native speaker strategies for increasing politeness.

In situations of potential conflict, the GEs might startle native speakers with unexpected candor, the shock exacerbated by cultural proximity and the GEs' near approach of native speaker norms on other levels.


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