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Politeness and Speech acts of Refusal and Complaint among Jordanian Undergraduate Students


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This study investigated the refusal and complaint speech act strategies employed by Jordanian undergraduate EFL learners. Refusal and complaint data were collected using a discourse completion test and role-plays. The findings revealed that, as non-native speakers, the respondents preferred to use indirect semantic formulas. The most frequently used refusal strategies involved an explanation or excuse, apology, negative ability, postponement or adjuncts to refusals. Conveying hints, requests, and annoyance constituted the preferred strategies for expressing complaints. The Jordanian students utilized these strategies quite often because the strategies are less direct and more polite. The analysis revealed similarities between the strategies used by the sample EFL learners and the strategies used by native English speakers. Because speech acts depend on standard cultural norms and practices, it is important for EFL learners to understand English-speaking social settings in order to avoid pragmatic failure and miscommunication. EFL instructors should therefore emphasize linguistic pragmatics for learners to assimilate into an English speaking cultural environment and maintain clear and unambiguous communication.
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Politeness and Speech acts of Refusal and Complaint among Jordanian Undergraduate Students
Lana Kreishan*
Department of English Language and Literature, Al-Hussein Bin Talal University, Ma’an, Jordan
Corresponding Author: Lana Kreishan, E-mail:
This study investigated the refusal and complaint speech act strategies employed by Jordanian
undergraduate EFL learners. Refusal and complaint data were collected using a discourse
completion test and role-plays. The ndings revealed that, as non-native speakers, the respondents
preferred to use indirect semantic formulas. The most frequently used refusal strategies involved
an explanation or excuse, apology, negative ability, postponement or adjuncts to refusals.
Conveying hints, requests, and annoyance constituted the preferred strategies for expressing
complaints. The Jordanian students utilized these strategies quite often because the strategies
are less direct and more polite. The analysis revealed similarities between the strategies used by
the sample EFL learners and the strategies used by native English speakers. Because speech acts
depend on standard cultural norms and practices, it is important for EFL learners to understand
English-speaking social settings in order to avoid pragmatic failure and miscommunication. EFL
instructors should therefore emphasize linguistic pragmatics for learners to assimilate into an
English speaking cultural environment and maintain clear and unambiguous communication.
Key words: Pragmatics; refusal; complaint; speech act; seperation.
Communication is essential in the sharing of thoughts, feel-
ings, and information between individuals, and it serves to
maintain associations and relationships. Communication
may be linguistic or nonlinguistic, including body language
and facial expressions (Moaveni, 2014). Therefore, effective
communication requires both linguistic knowledge and a
deep understanding of the cultural and social factors relevant
to the situation. Human communication is dynamic, having
evolved over a long period, with women and men utilizing
it in different ways for various purposes (Moaveni, 2014).
In one study, Hungarian female university students tended
to use indirect strategies to express their disagreement more
frequently than their male counterparts did (Koczogh, 2012).
Using such speech acts is an essential element of commu-
nicative competence, requiring individuals to know how,
when, and where to perform speech acts for achieving effec-
tive communication, because failure to do so may result in
cultural conicts and miscommunication.
As a lingua franca, English is no longer limited to specif-
ic speakers in certain countries. Many new varieties of the
language have emerged, and most of the world now belongs
to a de facto English-speaking community. Membership in
this community in ESL or EFL contexts requires both lin-
guistic and communicative competence.
Regarding communicative competence, individuals em-
ploy various speech acts to achieve their communication goals.
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Because people may have different feelings about the same
situation, such as unhappiness, dissatisfaction, or annoyance,
they engage in different speech acts to express those feel-
ings. Unappealing situations trigger expressions of complaint,
which depend on the level of dissatisfaction and other social
factors. A complaint as a speech act is considered an expression
of annoyance, frustration, or unhappiness about past or current
actions that affect the speaker unfavorably (Olshtain and Wein-
bach, 1993, cited in Zhang, 2001). A complaint is therefore a
speech act performed when one is confronted with a problem
with the intention of improving the situation. According to
Zhang (2001:8), the complaint speech act “intrinsically threat-
en[s] both [the] negative and positive face of the hearer.”
Statement of the Problem
Pragmatics is crucial for learning a second language (L2)
because learners are expected to understand the rules that
govern the use of the language. However, it is evident from
previous research that L2 learners utilize a pragmatic system
different from that of native speakers (NSs). In the process
of learning a new language, foreign language learners tend
to refer to their native social and cultural norms (cf. Corti-
jo, 2015). This allows for the possibility of differences in
the performance of speech acts between NSs and nonnative
speakers (NNSs). Refusals and complaints are particularly
complex in nature because they depend on social and cultural
variables such as education, gender, and social status. There-
International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature
E-ISSN: 2200-3452 & P-ISSN: 2200-3592
Article history
Received: October 28, 2017
Accepted: January 19, 2018
Published: July 01, 2018
Volume: 7 Issue: 4
Advance access: May 2018
Conicts of interest: None
Funding: None
Refusal and Complaint Production of E Students 69
fore, refusals and complaints may be difcult to express or
perceive properly, especially by EFL students prone to em-
ploying strategies from their native language due to a lack of
pragmatic knowledge. As Tanck (2002) argued, refusals and
complaints require high pragmatic competence, which makes
them naturally more difcult for NNSs than for NSs.
The inuence of the pragmatics of one’s rst language
(L1) may affect one’s L2 pragmatics to a great extent. Sim-
ilarities in pragmatics enhance learning and promote high
L2 performance, whereas differences may trigger negative
transfer. Pragmatic transfer has been considered extensive-
ly in research, given that learners’ comprehension and pro-
duction of L2 pragmatics are inuenced by their pragmatic
knowledge of other languages (Kasper, 1992).
Aims of the Study
Learning a language is essentially an aspect of learning
about another culture. The current study aimed to:
1. Identify the refusal and complaint strategies used by
Jordanian EFL undergraduate students (regarding strat-
egy use and patterns);
2. Highlight the factors that govern their choice of lan-
3. Examine the choice of language items by Jordanian stu-
dents with respect to the clarity of their communicative
Speech Act of Refusal
The speech act of refusal has been identied as the main chal-
lenge for EFL learners because it can cause undue offense and
communication breakdown. As a face-threatening act, it is par-
ticularly sensitive. In most cases, EFL students are more likely
than NSs to offend their interlocutors in the process of perform-
ing the act of refusal, because the extant obstacle of linguis-
tic prociency is compounded by the threatening nature of the
speech act (Flor and Juan, 2011). A refusal is a dispreferred re-
sponse that contradicts the expectations of interlocutors; hence
pragmatic competence is necessary to carry it out appropriately.
Austin (1962) categorized speech acts as locutionary,
illocutionary, and perlocutionary; referring to the utterance
itself, the intended meaning of the utterance, and the ef-
fect of the utterance, respectively (reviewed in Modi and
Shoushtari, 2012). Most studies have indicated that speech
acts can be realized either directly or indirectly, but that they
are mostly performed indirectly to “soften the blow”. There-
fore, according to Searle (1969), the indirect performance of
a speech act in its linguistic form does not clearly represent
the speaker’s intention, thus requiring the addressee to de-
cipher the intended meaning of the utterance in a particular
context (cf. Modi and Shoushtari, 2012).
The speech act of refusal has been thoroughly studied in in-
ter-language and multicultural pragmatic linguistics. It always
takes the form of a negative response to acts such as invita-
tions, offers, requests, and suggestions. A refusal can generally
be considered a commissive speech act, although exceptions
are possible in situations where the participants may not be
aware of the outcome (see review in Sattar et al., 2011).
A study on the performance of refusal between Japanese
EFL learners and American native English speakers showed
that there was rst an expression of regret, then an excuse,
and nally an alternative suggestion. However, other stud-
ies have indicated that Japanese EFL speakers and native
English speakers differ in the semantic formulas they use,
their frequency, and the content of the expressions (cf. Beebe
et al., 1990). Although the Japanese speakers produced the
same semantic components as the NSs did, the quality of
their utterances differed. Similar studies on the speech act
of refusal as performed by Chinese EFL learners have indi-
cated that direct refusal is not a common strategy, regardless
of the participants’ linguistic background (Moaveni, 2014).
Cultural background can still inuence the act of refusal;
for instance, the expression of regret common among native
English speakers is not generally produced by Chinese EFL
speakers (Moaveni, 2014).
According to the taxonomy of Beebe et al. (1990) (cf.
Ren, 2012; Moaveni, 2014), refusal strategies can be divided
into semantic formulas and adjuncts to refusals. Formulas
comprise a set of expressions functioning as refusals, where-
as adjuncts are expressions that merely supplement refusals
and cannot function as refusals on their own. Studies have
reported that semantic formulas can realize refusals directly
or indirectly. The direct mode comprises both the performa-
tive semantic formula, in which the refusal act is explicitly
expressed, and the nonperformative negative willingness to
express oneself. The indirect mode comprises acts used to
mitigate a direct refusal by expressing regret, giving a reason
for the refusal, or providing an alternative (Moaveni, 2014).
In studies on speech act strategies, refusals are coded accord-
ing to their order (position of semantic formula or adjunct),
frequency (number of occurrences of refusal), and content
(semantic formula or adjunct).
In investigating the sociocultural transfer of the perfor-
mance of refusal, Al-Issa (2003) found three areas affected by
transfer in Jordanian EFL learners: the choice of semantic for-
mulas, content of semantic formulas, and length of responses.
Other factors that affected transfer based on interview data
were pride in their L1, their perception of the L2, and religion.
Al-Shboul and Huwari (2016) examined the similarities
and differences in the performance of refusal between Jorda-
nian and American male groups and demonstrated the signi-
cance of cultural norms and values. The ndings revealed that
both groups preferred indirect strategies such as providing an
explanation, adjuncts to refusals, and apologies, although the
American group was more direct in their refusals overall.
Moaveni (2014) compared the refusal strategies used by
American undergraduate students and a group of internation-
al students. He found that the American sample used more
direct strategies accompanied by gratitude semantic formu-
las, whereas the international sample tended to use regret
and explanation. Compared with the Americans, the inter-
national sample tended to provide reasons that were more
specic. The study also showed that the Americans tended
to use different semantic formulas and indirect strategies
(expressing regret, providing reasons, and using adjuncts to
refusals) if their interlocutor was a friend.
70 IJALEL 7(4):68-76
Eshreteh (2015) examined the differences and similarities
in the performance of refusal between samples of Palestin-
ians and Americans. The analysis showed that the Palestin-
ians adopted a refusal strategy of “marginally touching the
point,” with emphasis placed on restoring and maintaining
relationships people (p. 187). By contrast, the Americans
tended to resolve the matter in question, and the number of
employed refusal strategies was economically chosen.
Speech Act of Complaint
The speech act of complaint is performed when an individu-
al reacts with annoyance and displeasure to actions that have
inuenced them unfavorably (Olshtain and Weinbach, 1987,
cited in Tanck, 2012). As with a refusal, a complaint is face
threatening; therefore, it is often realized through indirect
strategies. Studies on the speech act of complaint as per-
formed by NSs and NNSs (cf. Olshtain and Weinbach, 1987,
cited in Tanck, 2012) have reported that, regardless of the
L1, they express disapproval, complaints, accusations, and
warnings, as well as threats that avoid the extremes of ap-
pearing too confrontational and too soft. In another study on
American native English speakers and Korean EFL speakers
(Murphy and Neu, 1997, reviewed in Tanck, 2012), there
were signicant similarities in the two groups’ treatment of
certain aspects of the speech act, such as the justication,
explanation of the purpose, and proposal of an alternative
solution, although they differed in the production of the com-
plaint. In that study, the NSs seemed to produce complaints,
whereas their Korean EFL counterparts produced some form
of criticism that might cause offense in an American context.
Study ndings reviewed in Baba (2010) indicate that, be-
tween native English speakers and German EFL speakers,
the NSs were more conciliatory and employed less direct
strategies. Japanese EFL learners in Tatsuki (2000, cited in
Baba, 2010) used less severe complaints in their L1 than in
English in the same context, due to a lack of competency
in downgrading the complaints. Baba found that Japanese
EEL learners tended to be less aggressive in expressing their
annoyance in English than in Japanese, and there was evi-
dence of negative transfer from their L1.
Other interlingual studies have indicated that strategies
for performing the speech act of refusal or complaint dif-
fer according to the context as well as the gender and status
of the interlocutors. This raises the question of what over-
arching principle governs speech in a multicultural setting.
Studies on complaints produced by native English speakers
and Danish EFL speakers (Trosborg, 1995, reviewed in Chen
et al., 2011) have suggested that some researchers examine
the similarities and differences between languages, whereas
others are more concerned with identifying the transfer pat-
terns between the L1 and L2. In English and Danish, speak-
ers implement similar complaint strategies (Trosborg, 1995).
Annoyance seems to occur in both languages, but strategies
such as expressions of accusations, hints, and blame are less
frequent. Other studies have found, for instance, that Ger-
man EFL speakers express direct complaints more often
than native English speakers do (House and Kasper, 1981,
reviewed in Chen et al., 2011).
Al-Shorman (2016) investigated the complaint strategies
used by two groups of Jordanian and Saudi male undergrad-
uate students. The main strategies entailed exhibiting calm-
ness and rationality (e.g., by expressing an inquiry, request, or
self-blame), offensive acts (e.g., by expressing protest, a chal-
lenge, or a threat), opting out (e.g., by expressing dissatisfac-
tion or irony, and appealing to religion), and direct complaint
strategies. Calmness and rationality, the least threatening and
most indirect strategy, was the most frequently used, possibly
owing to the strong inuence of their respective religious be-
liefs and cultural norms of politeness. Both groups elaborated
on their complaints to reduce ambiguity, but the Saudi re-
spondents employed more direct strategies. Despite cultural
differences, similarities in the employed strategies provide
evidence for the universality of the speech act of complaint.
Bikmen and Marti (2013) showed that expressions of
requests, hints, and annoyance were frequent strategies
used by the three samples in their study on differences in
complaint strategies used by Turkish EFL learners, Turkish
NSs, and native English speakers. There were similarities in
the use of strategies to express hints, ill consequences, and
threats between the Turkish EFL learners and native English
speakers. Their results supported the idea that some com-
plaint strategies are culturally specic, whereas others are
multi-cultural and potentially universal.
In a study on the complaint strategies used by Chinese
ESL students and American students, Zhang (2001) found an
inuence of Chinese culture on the Chinese students’ strat-
egies. For example, there was evidence of the inuence of
Confucianism on their complaints, and they borrowed equiv-
alent words and phrases from Chinese to express complaints
in English (e.g., “I think”). One similarity found between
the samples was that the Chinese students used more justi-
cation and explanation in situations where the speaker and
the listener knew each other, for maintaining politeness and
indirectness to save the listener’s face.
There are certainly differences in the production of
complaints and refusals between EFL speakers and native
English speakers, irrespective of the EFL speakers’ native
language. For instance, refusals by Chinese and Japanese
EFL speakers have been found to be indirect and/or vague,
as well as lacking an excuse, which is expected in an Amer-
ican cultural context (Moaveni, 2014). By contrast, Korean
EFL speakers have been found to express complaints with
direct criticism that is perceived as interaction-ending in
other cultural contexts. Refusals and complaints require a
high degree of pragmatic competence because they lie be-
tween very narrow margins of appropriateness. Therefore, it
is clear that pragmatics should be taught to EFL students to
enable them to use the target language as they wish without
running afoul of said margins.
Knowledge of interlanguage pragmatics is essential for
understanding the acquisition and use of linguistic patterns by
L2 learners. Pragmatic competence on their part is required,
because a lack of knowledge about speech act strategies and
patterns when people from different cultures communicate
may cause intercultural and interethnic communication break-
downs (Sattar, et al., 2011). Improving EFL students’ prag-
Refusal and Complaint Production of E Students 71
matic knowledge is therefore crucial, and EFL teachers should
be at the forefront of pragmatic education (Shokouhi and Re-
zaei, 2015). Sometimes, intercultural miscommunications can
cause learners to fall back to their sociocultural L1 practices
in the process of performing speech acts in using a foreign
language, which is a form of pragmatic transfer. To combat
this, teachers should improve EFL students’ understanding of
the scope of interaction and the rules of politeness within the
context of the target culture. In an EFL context, learners have
limited opportunities to communicate in English outside their
respective education systems, which take the traditional ap-
proach of teaching the form of the language over the meaning.
Thirty-four students (12 male and 22 female) majoring in
English language at Al-Hussein Bin Talal University partici-
pated in this study investigating their pragmatic competence
in the use of refusal and complaint strategies. The ages of the
participants ranged between 20 and 23 years. Most of them
were third- and fourth-year undergraduate students who re-
cruited based on expected advanced levels of linguistic and
communicative competence.
Measures and Procedure
In the present study, data were collected through two types of
instrument: a written discourse completion test (DCT) and group
discussion. The instruments were used to measure the students’
ability to implement refusal and complaint strategies uently and
properly in various situations. The DCT for refusals consisted of
14 situations and was adopted from Alemi and Tajeddin (2013)
and Ren (2012). The rst six situations, obtained from Alemi and
Tajeddin (2013), focused on different contexts (e.g., education-
al, workplace, and daily life). The remainder addressed profes-
sor- student situations and student- student situations (Table 1)
that ivoloved four types of refusals: a refusal of requests, refusal
of suggestions, refusal of invitations, and refusal of offers.
The DCT for complaints was adopted from Bilkmen and
Marti (2013). The items consisted of 10 everyday situations,
such as a mobile phone malfunctioning, being at the cinema,
facing an angry father, and having a noisy neighbor, with a
brief description of each one (Table 2). The situations en-
compassed social relationships of relative distance (-D fa-
miliar; +D stranger) and power (+P higher status; -P lower
status; =P equal status) between the interlocutors.
The DCT and a form for collecting demographic infor-
mation (e.g., gender, age, year of study) were distributed to
the participating students during a class in which they were
all enrolled in 2015 (conversation in English). The research
aims and particular instructions were provided. The respon-
dents were encouraged to respond according to each of the
scripted situations and not to think about their responses
excessively. After submitting their test, they were asked to
form small groups of two to three students to discuss the
appropriateness of their responses and potentially give ad-
ditional responses. The students were then asked to roleplay
each situation.
Table 1. Descriptions of refusal situations.
Situation Summary Distance Power
1. Cleaner breaking antique vase in
-D +P
2. Old friend suggesting to go to work
in your car every day.
-D =P
3. Professor inviting his student to
-D +P
4. Careless classmate asking for your
lecture notes.
-D =p
5. Colleague inviting you to an art
-D =P
6. Older sister inviting you to a dinner
-D =P
7. Tutor asking student to give a
-D +P
8. Classmate asking for lecture notes
even though you need them.
-D =P
9. Tutor inviting you to a farewell
party but you are unable to attend.
-D +P
10. Classmate asking to go to a
restaurant even though you don’t have
enough money.
-D =P
11. Tutor suggesting an optional
course to attend that you don’t like.
-D +P
12. Classmate suggesting to skip a
class to watch a movie.
-D =P
13. Tutor offering a piece of cake
whose flavor you don’t like.
-D +P
14. Classmate offering a piece of cake
even though you are full.
-D =P
Table 2. Descriptions of complaint situations.
Situation Summary Distance Power
1. Customer discovering that a new
phone they bought is broken.
+D =P
2. Someone making too much noise
while watching a movie in the cinema.
+D =P
3. Sister traveling to Canada forgot to
call her sister/brother
-D =P
4. Friends watching a TV program
about a celebrity that one of the
friends hates.
-D =p
5. Father is angry because son hasn’t
found a job.
-D +P
6. Car splashing dirty water on a
+D =P
7. Neighbor’s son leaving trash near
your front door.
-D +P
8. Professor refusing to let a student
take an exam because he is late.
-D -P
9. Professor forgetting to mark
assignments that are part of a test the
following week.
-D +P
10. Neighbor having a party late at night. -D =P
72 IJALEL 7(4):68-76
Data Analysis
For the complaint data, the coding scheme used in Bik-
men and Marti (2013) (cf. Trosborg [1995]) was applied
(Table 3). The strategy of expressing blame was considered
the most direct, whereas that of providing hints was the most
indirect. The coding scheme for the refusal data was main-
Table 3. Coding scheme for complaint strategies
Category Strategy Example (s)
Str. 1 Opting out N/A I would say nothing
Cat. 1
No explicit reproach
Str. 2 Hints Don’t see much of you these days, do I?
Cat II. Expression of disapproval Str. 3 Annoyance
Str. 4: Ill consequences
You know I don’t like dust, I’m allergic to dust, Didn’t you
know it?
Now I will probably lose my insurance.
Cat. III. Accusation Str. 5: Indirect
Str. 6: Direct
Look at the mess, haven’t you done any cleaning up for the
last week?
You used to do the cleaning up all the time. What’s up with
you now?
Cat. IV: Blame Str. 7: Modified blame
Str. 8: Explicit blame (behavior)
Str. 9: explicit blame (person)
“You could have said so, I mean, if you had so much to do.”
And “it’s boring to stay here and I hate living in a mess,
anyway you ought to clean up after you.”
“You never clean up after yourself, I’m sick and tired of it.”
“Mete, (swear word) really, one can never trust you a damn.
Cat. V: Directive acts Str. 10: Request for repair
Str. 11: Threat.
“Would you mind doing your share of the duties as soon as
“I shall be leaving soon (if you don’t do your share of the
Table 4. Coding Scheme for Refusal Strategies
Category Strategy Example (s)
Direct Refusal a. Direct No
b. Negative ability
I can’t make it.
Indirect Refusal a. Reason/Explanation
b. Postponement
c. Apology/Regret
d. Alternative
e. Request for additional information
f. Attempt to dissuade the interlocutor:
- Negative consequence
- Criticize
-Let interlocutor off the hook
- Request for empathy
g. Conditional acceptance
h. Indefinite reply
i. Repetition of part of previous discourse
j. Promise
k. Wish
l. Avoidance:
I need it, too.
Is it possible I do it next time?
I am sorry.
You could ask someone else.
Which movie?
I thought I will ruin your plan with my presentation with little
Last time I tried to borrow your notebook, why didn’t you lend
it to me?
Don’t worry; That’s ok.
I hope you can understand.
If you really need it, I can go.
I don’t know if I can come to your party.
I will help you if I can.
I wish I could help.
Silence, hesitation and departure
Topic switch and postponement
Adjuncts to Refusals a. Statement of positive opinion
b. Willingness
c. Agreement
d. Statement of empathy
e. Preparator
f. Gratitude
g. pause llers
That’s a good idea.
I’d love to go.
I know it’s quit important for you to prepare exam.
I’ll be honest with you.
Thank you for your invitation.
Refusal and Complaint Production of E Students 73
ly adapted from Ren (2012), who adopted the widely used
taxonomy of Beebe et al. (1990). Some of the Beebe et al.
items not used by Ren were reinserted in the study, such as
pause llers and avoidance. To ensure the correct categori-
zation of the data, two raters majoring in linguistics analyzed
and categorized random samples. Their classications were
highly consistent.
A descriptive analysis of refusal strategy formulas was per-
formed. The frequencies of strategies used in each situation
were computed. The total for each strategy in all situations
was then calculated. Table 5 shows the frequencies of the re-
fusal strategies used in our sample. The most frequently used
strategy entailed an indirect refusal with an explanation, and
the least common strategies involved requests for additional
information and preparatory. Other frequently used strategies
included an indirect refusal with an apology, claim of inability,
and postponement. Adjuncts to refusals such as expressions of
agreement and gratitude and statements of negative opinion
were deemed as more polite ways of performing refusals.
The complaint data revealed, as presented in Table 6,
that the most common semantic formulas used by the EFL
learners involved hints, requests for repair, and annoyance.
The least common formulas entailed consequence, explicit
blame, and opting out.
The ndings of the current study revealed pragmatic dif-
ferences in the verbal utterances and semantic formulas
used to perform refusals and complaints by Jordanian un-
dergraduate EFL learners. Comparing these ndings with
those reported in studies involving native English speakers
revealed a clear effect of socio-cultural differences on the
performance of these speech acts. The comparison was per-
formed to demonstrate the peculiarities of Arabic culture and
to elucidate the pragmatic competence of the sample in this
study. The results of this study show that the respondents, as
non-native speakers, preferred to use indirect semantic for-
mulas in the performance of refusal. As mentioned, the most
frequently used refusal strategies entailed an explanation or
excuse, apology, negative ability, postponement, or adjuncts
to refusals. NNSs are generally more likely than NSs to use
indirect refusal strategies (cf. Al-Shboul and Huwari, 2016).
Although there were similarities in the refusal strategies used
by the NNSs and NSs (such as those involving an explana-
tion, negative ability, or apology), the Arabic context of cul-
tural values clearly affected our sample’s choice of strategies
and semantic formulas. In Al-Shboul and Huwari (2016), the
American sample’s preferred strategies entailed, in order,
an explanation, gratitude, and an apology. Although both
groups implemented the explanation strategy, the Jordanian
sample was less direct in giving reasons for their refusals. In
the current study, the most common semantic formulas used
for refusals involved the polite and nonthreatening apology
and explanation.
The ndings are also in line with those of Al-Issa (2003),
who showed that EFL learners tend to use more semantic
formulas than native English speakers do when performing
refusals. Another nding is that Arabs provide more implic-
it and less specic explanations of their refusals than do
native English speakers. The analysis revealed that the re-
spondents used indirect semantic formulas and false excuses
as refusal strategies. No direct explanation was given. The
Table 5. Frequency of refusal strategy use
FrequencyStrategySemantic formulas
83Negative abilityDirect Refusal
277ExplanationIndirect refusal
21Statement of
10Attempt to dissuade
- criticize the
functioning as a
- lack of enthusiasm
5Attempt to dissuade
the interlocutor
- negative
5Statement of principle
4Attempt to dissuade
the interlocutor
- let interlocutor off
the hook
- postponement
1Request for additional
33AgreementAdjuncts to Refusals
32Gratitude adjuncts
29Statement of positive
8Pause fillers
4Statement of empathy
74 IJALEL 7(4):68-76
sample tended to soften their refusals because a refusal is a
face-threatening act. This was evident in a situation where
they were asked to refuse a professor’s request. In situation
3 (invitation for lunch), responses included “I am sorry, I
have something urgent to do”; “My brother has a health
problem and I have to leave quickly”; and “I have an urgent
meeting.” One explanation for this is that the respondents
wanted to be more polite and not refuse the invitation for
insignicant reasons, because the professor had a high status
and deserved respect, as evidenced by the students’ use of
expressions such as “it is an honor for me, professor”; “it
is very kind of you, professor”; “I am really happy”; and
“it is a great idea.” These expressions are adjuncts to refus-
als that express a willingness to accept before an apology,
which may be inuenced by cultural values. By comparison,
NSs in similar learning environments believe that their right
to refuse outright is a characteristic of their individualistic
culture, whereas Jordanian culture (and Arabic culture in
general) is based on a collectivism in which groups, group
harmony, and social hierarchy are more important (Huwari
and Al-Shboul, 2015). However, the respondents tended to
be more direct with their refusals if their interlocutor was a
friend or family member. For example, in situation 8 (bor-
rowing notes), responses included “No, why didn’t you write
any notes?”; “No, take someone else’s notes”; “Sorry, I can’t
give you my notes”; “Take the notes from another good stu-
dent”; and “No, I don’t accept your request because I have a
quiz and I need to study.”
Postponement was another refusal strategy used by the
sample in the current study, similar to Ghazanfari et al.
(2013), in which the Persian sample used postponement to
refuse invitations, suggestions, or offers more often than the
NSs did. In situation 7 (a tutor asked you to do a presenta-
tion), all the respondents asked for another chance to do the
presentation because they were busy. This contradicts Alemi
and Tajeddin’s (2013) nding that NNSs tend more than NSs
do to offer suitable apologies or excuses following their re-
Having limited opportunities for interaction in English,
EFL learners may not produce adequate semantic formulas
due to a lack of knowledge (Kasper, 1997, cited in Tanck,
2002). NNSs, in contrast to NSs, sometimes produce utter-
ances that are less appropriate for the situation when per-
forming speech acts (Tanck, 2002).
Regarding the complaint ndings, the results were sim-
ilar to Bikmen and Marti (2013), in which expressions of
hints, requests, and annoyance were the preferred complaint
strategies. The Jordanian sample performed these strategies
quite often because they are less direct and more polite.
Another compelling nding is that, in most situations, the
respondents did not perform mild complaint strategies or
openers. In situation 9 (a professor forgot to mark your as-
signment), for example, the respondents produced utterances
such as “Professor, I want to know my mark”; “Sorry for in-
terrupting you, but I want to ask about the assignment”; and
“May I know my mark?” In Bikmen and Marti (2013), the
Turkish sample used indirect accusation and urgency, which
was not the case with the NSs, who avoided conveying ur-
gency in their utterances by using mild complaint strategies
and openers. In situation 6 (driver splashed dirty water), one
of the frequent strategies was blaming interlocutors in form
of questions. The respondents produced utterances such as
“Are you stupid?”; “Where are your eyes?”; “Where is your
license?”; “Give me the number of your father”; “Why did
you splash dirty water on me (like you) [dirty person]? I will
hit you”; and “Didn’t you see me?” Similarly, in Bikmen and
Marti (2013), the Turkish sample used rhetorical questions
to indicate modied blame, whereas the NSs generally ex-
pressed their modied blame with imperatives.
Notably, one of the semantic formulas used to express
complaints was the use of swear words. Swearing is com-
mon in Arabic culture, and it is used to convince an interloc-
utor of the truth of one’s speech. Some religious words were
also used in situation 5 (angry father) “If God is willing to
give you anything, you will get it in the end…I have faith in
Allah (God)”; “Have some faith, dad”; and “This is my des-
tiny”. Again, these words were used to convince the listener
and assert the speaker’s sincerity.
There was also strong evidence of negative pragmatic
transfer observed in the Jordanian EFL learners in this study.
In many situations, the students produced utterances similar
to those used in their L1. For example, in refusal situation 1
(broken vase), the following expressions were used: “It’s my
favorite vase. Why weren’t you careful when you cleaned it?”;
“I cannot accept your apology”; “I will not forgive you”; “It is
from my dear friend”; “Get out and leave me alone”; “Buy a
new one as soon as possible”; and “I don’t want you to clean
my ofce next time”. In complaint situation 10, responses such
as “If you don’t stop the party, I will bring a gun and I will kill
you and your family” show the inuence of Arabic culture of
being more strict on the performance of this speech act.
The students were quite often found to dene relationships
(one of the categories added by Al-Issa, 2003) when making
refusals: “Oh dear friend, I am sorry, I am afraid I will make
Table 6. Frequency of complaint strategy use
Category Strategy Frequency
Str. 1 Opting out 9
Cat. 1 No explicit
Str. 2 Hints 85
Cat II. Expression
of disapproval
Str. 3 Annoyance
Str. 4: Ill
Cat. III. Accusation Str. 5: Indirect
Str. 6: Direct
Cat. IV: Blame Str. 7: Modified
Str. 8: Explicit
blame (behavior)
Str. 9: Explicit
blame (person)
Cat. V: Directive
Str. 10: Request
for repair
Str. 11: Threat.
Refusal and Complaint Production of E Students 75
you late every day”; “Sorry, my professor”; “I am sorry, my
colleague.” The same was true of complaints: “Hey, dear
friend”; “Don’t worry, my father”; “Please, my father”; and
“my lovely sister.” Using these relationship-dening formulas
is a strategy for showing respect, gaining the approval of inter-
locutors, and developing an aspect of socialization. An expres-
sion particular to this context is a request for understanding:
“My father, please understand me”; “My father, I don’t under-
stand why you don’t believe me”; “Don’t be angry, please”;
and “if you don’t believe me, come with me next time.”
Moreover, the respondents provided more detailed
semantic formulas when addressing interlocutors of equal
social status, such as friends, and their responses were
shorter and more formal when addressing interlocutors
of higher status, such as professors. In some studies (cf.
Eshreteh, 2015), Americans have been found to use similar
refusal strategies based on the status of the addressee.
The study aimed to investigate the refusal and complaint
speech act strategies employed by Jordanian undergraduate
EFL learners and to highlight the factors that govern their
choice of language. The performance of the speech acts of
refusal and complaint is similar in the distribution and strat-
egies used. Although they differ in linguistic forms, the con-
tent of these speech acts is always inuenced by the social
and cultural norms of the speaker’s L1 and L2. Although
there exist general concepts and universal principles gov-
erning speech acts, strategy preferences are subject to the
cultural norms associated with different societies. Regarding
refusal strategies, as mentioned, the most frequently used re-
fusal strategies involved an explanation or excuse, apology,
negative ability, postponement, or adjuncts to refusals. The
ndings also revealed that EFL learners realize the speech
act of complaint mostly through strategies such as expressing
annoyance, accusation, and blame, as well as providing an
alternative. These strategies manifest differently depending
on the context of communication, in addition to the gender,
social status and culture of the interlocutors. Various studies
have shown that speech acts can be perceived differently by
linguistically and culturally diverse groups; therefore, con-
sidering the signicance of cultural values and norms is es-
sential for understanding refusal and complaint strategies. It
is recommended that instructors and teachers in an EFL con-
text teach meaning as well as form, because EFL students
need both linguistic and pragmatic competence to communi-
cate effectively in English, especially regarding their lack of
opportunities for communicating outside of school. Future
studies should investigate more groups of varying levels of
prociency, and gender differences should also be examined.
In addition, in future research, using naturally occurring data
in real-life situations is also recommended.
I thank Al Hussein Bin Talal University for allowing me to
conduct this research during my sabbatical.
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... The speech act of complaint has been examined from different viewpoints. For instance, comparative research examining the differences between native speakers (NS) of English and non-native (NNS) speakers of English (Olshtain & Weinbach, 1987;Zhang, 2001;Hussein & Al-Mofti, 2014;Gallaher, 2014;Kreishan, 2018). Moreover, the concept of pragmatic transfer was examined in many complaint studies (Umar, 2006;Nikoobin & Shahrokhi, 2017;Al-Momani, 2017;Önalan & Çakır, 2018). ...
... Finally, Kreishan (2018) examined the speech acts of refusal and complaint by Jordanian EFL learners compared to those of English native speakers. Data were collected using a DCT and role-plays. ...
... To the researchers' best knowledge, gender differences in the performing of the speech act of complaints has not been examined among Jordanian students. Previous complaints studies on Jordanian participants were cross-cultural (Kreishan, 2018), inter-language pragmatic (Al-Momani 2017), and intra-lingual comparison study (Al-Jabali, 2018). Hence, none of these studies has compared the production of complaint speech act by Jordanian male and female students. ...
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... This study employed Brown, Levinson's politeness framework (1987), Culpeper's suggested list of positive and negative impoliteness (1996(, and a modified version of Beebe et al.'s (1990) patterns of refusal classifications (direct, indirect, and adjunct refusals) and speech act coding schemes (1990). These frameworks are still deemed valid and significant as they are used and referenced in the latest studies, such as those by Tavakoli and Shirinbakhsh (2014), Kreishan (2018), Amirrudin (2016), Tuncer (2016), Saad et al. (2016), Han (2016), Chunli P (2016), Huwari (2015), Jiang (2015), Moaveni (2014), Ghazanfari (2013), Adolrezapour (2012), and Hashemian (2012). ...
This study intends to investigate the role of culture in the acquisition of pragmatic competence by EFL learners. It investigated the refusal of requests and offers used by Bahraini and Indian learners of English compared to those employed by native speakers of English. It also explored the similarities and differences between refusal strategies used by Bahraini and Indian L2 learners on the one hand and native speakers of English on the other. The participants included 20 Bahraini and 20 Indian learners of English (ILE) and 12 British and American native speakers of English (NE). Two instruments were used to collect the data: a discourse completion test (DCT) and open-ended Role Plays. The data were classified using widely used refusal strategies classifications and were analyzed using descriptive statistics. The findings indicated that there were differences between the two EFL groups and the NE control group in the frequency and number of pragmatic strategies.
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... The first conlusion is there is only one direct refusal strategy proposed were applied in the refusal speech act in Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Last Olympia. The strategy is nonperformative [18]. ...
... Various studies on the types of speech act were carried out in the field of pragmatics such as speech act of refusals (e.g. Shishavan & Sharifian, 2016;Kreishan, 2018), condolences (e.g. Sharif et al., 2018), congratulations (e.g. ...
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Generic person is particularly interesting in gendered languages such as Hebrew and Arabic, where the coexistence of (unmarked) masculine and (marked) feminine forms posits a choice when both are applicable. Inclusive generics, i.e. impersonal forms whose scope includes ‘I’ and ‘you’, were analyzed in women's discourse in Israeli Hebrew and Negev Arabic. In the Hebrew corpus, consisting of 7 journalistic interviews with women in both interviewer and interviewee roles, F-you (generic turned out to be the undisputedly unmarked generic form; M-you (generic is restricted to very specific contexts, such as shifted viewpoint, a man or a mixed gender group in the speaker's mind. A very different pattern emerged in a Traditional Negev Arabic corpus, representing 7 elderly Bedouin women interviewed by female Bedouin students. Here, the highest ranking form was M-one (generic, followed by M-you. This radical difference fits in with findings of research on cultural discourse patterns that has classified Arabic under the polychronic type, reflecting a relatively depersonalized ‘collective self’ and complementary gender relations. Israeli Hebrew, as reflected in our data base, is closer to the monochronic individualistic, equal gender relation type. The gap between these two types is neatly and consistently filled in by data from the Young Negev Arabic corpus, representing 7 female Bedouin students interviewed by female peers. Their medial position points to the transition which the young Arab generation is undergoing from the traditional Arabic culture to the western culture predominating the Israeli public space.
Based on Geoffrey Leech's politeness principle (1975), Brown and Levinson's face saving and face threatening theory (1987), this paper is a comparative study of the gender differences in the refusal strategies employed by the English majors. The DCT (Discourse Completing Test) from Tanck Sharyl (2004) is modified in this study. The results of this study show that both male and female students of the English majors use the refusal strategies in a speech act. The differences of refusal strategies between male and female lie in the direct refusal and the indirect refusal. Most of the female students tend to use an indirect refusal politeness strategy to save the others’ face in the communication, avoiding the face threatening, while most of the male students seem to use direct refusal. The achievements of this study make some contribution to the relevant study and provide some indications to English teaching and learning in China. It is of some significance to improve the English pragmatic competence of English majors.
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This study investigates the similarities and differences of the speech act of refusal between Jordanian Arabic (JA) and American English (AE). Data were collected using an adopted version of the Discourse Completion Test (DCT) by Al-Issa (1998). Next, data were analysed in terms of semantic formulaic sequences and were categorized based on the classification of refusal strategies established by Al-Issa (1998). Results revealed that both groups of participants were in agreement regarding their preference of strategy; hence, they preferred indirect strategies followed by adjunct strategies followed by direct strategies. However, Jordanian participants tended to use more indirect strategies than the American participants who used direct refusal style. The study concludes with a discussion of important directions for future research.
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This study investigates the perception of Jordanian EFL learners' (JEFL) pragmatic transfer of refusal strategies in terms of contextual and cultural factors. Data were collected using a discourse completion test (DCT) and a scaled-response questionnaire (SRQ) to elicit perception data from the participants. Data from the SRQ were analyzed based on the speaker's right to refuse the initiating act. Findings revealed that the right the speaker has to refuse the initiating act was assigned high ratings by the three groups (i.e., M > 3.00) in all social categories. Individually, however, the groups displayed the rating value differently where the AEL1 group's perception of the speaker's right was relatively higher than that of the JEFL and JAL1 groups in all the social categories. The JEFL participants' negative pragmatic transfer criteria were met in the first and third social categories. The study concludes with a discussion of important directions for future research.
The present study is an attempt to explore, investigate, and compare the complaint strategies among two groups of Arabic native speakers, Saudi and Jordanian undergraduate students. To achieve the goals of the study, a discourse completion test (DCT) was developed and distributed to 150 male participants randomly selected from the governorates of Irbid and Riyadh universities to participate in the study. The findings of the study showed that Saudi and Jordanian university male students do complain to others using a wide range of strategies. Their complaints fell into four categories: Calmness and Rationality, Offensive Act, Opting-out, and Direct Complaint respectively. It was also found that Saudi university students' complaint comes first , while Jordanian university students' complaint comes second. The findings further revealed that there were some statistically significant differences and similarities at (α≤ 0.05) among the Saudi and Jordanian university male students' complaint strategies to others due to the study variables. Conclusions, implications, and suggestions for further research are reported.
The current study investigates whether or how Turkish learners of English (TLEs) transfer pragmatic knowledge from their native language into English when performing the speech act of complaining. A total of 3000 writen responses collected from TLEs and native speakers of both English (ENSs) and Turkish (TNSs) via a ten-item discourse completion task were analyzed. The study points to diverse results: it reveals that (1) requests, hints, and annoyance are the most commonly-used strategies by all three groups. (2) TLEs use the strategies hints, ill consequences, direct accusation, and threats/warnings at frequencies that are closer to the ENSs' frequencies, (3) the TLEs, ENSs and TNSs are statistically indistinguishable in their use of annoyance, blame (behavior), and blame (person), and finally (4) the TLEs use modified blame at an intermediate level with respect to the ENSs and the TNSs, reflecting weak negative pragmatic transfer.
This review explores the importance of teaching pragmatics in the classrooms. Developing pragmatic competence needs experience, knowledge and language awareness. According to Fasold (2006) pragmatics involves using language in particular situations. In this review the speech act of complimenting is selected as the focus of teaching. People compliment each other to maintain or create a special relationship to improve their actions. The early studies by Manes and Wolfson (1981) report the formulaicity of compliments in American English. Finally, this review shows that teachers should pay more attention to pragmatics and teaching it in the classroom. Lack of pragmatic knowledge may cause a failure in communication. Besides emphasizing on only grammar aspects teachers should teach the appropriate usage of language in different situations.