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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A study of the Speech Act of Refusals by native speakers of Japanese and learners of Japanese as a second language Noguchi, Mayumi


As the role of pragmatic competence (the ability to use socially appropriate rules of speaking in a given context) within communicative competence has become a crucial issue in second language (L2) learning, interlanguage (IL) pragmatics, a subdiscipline of L2 research concerned with how nonnative speakers comprehend and produce speech acts, and how they acquire L2 speech act knowledge, has been receiving increased attention in L2 research. However, most of the IL pragmatics studies thus far have been conducted in ESL settings, and relatively few have been done in Japanese as a second language (JSL) settings. In order to communicate effectively and appropriately with the Japanese, JSL learners need to have knowledge of the social rules of speaking that include understanding different degrees of politeness with regards to the situation and the interlocutor, and the Japanese communicative style including such concepts as dependency, empathy, reserve, and in-/out-group relationships and distinctions. In the present study, the speech act of refusals to interiocutors of three different status (higher, equal, and lower) by native speakers of Japanese (NSJ) and JSL learners were compared and analyzed. The purpose of this study was to examine whether pragmatic transfer occurred in the JSL interlanguage, and whether NSJ and JSL made sociopragmatically appropriate choices in politeness and linguistic forms according to social status variables. Speech act data were collected by means of a 9-item discourse completion test (DCT), and the DCT data were analyzed in terms of the selection and order of semantic formulas (e.g., excuse, apology, offer of alternative, etc.), and communicative style (i.e., the use of the qualifier chotto, unfinished sentences, and honorifics). Qualitative data from retrospective interviews were used in order to investigate what made them say what they say: i.e., the transfer of English rules of speaking to Japanese, use of pragmatic knowledge about Japanese rules of speaking, and taking into account the status differences between themselves and their interlocutors. Differences were found between NSJ and JSL in terms of the selection of semantic formulas considered appropriate. Such differences seemed not only attributed to the JSL's transfer of English rules of speaking but also to other factors, such as teaching-induced errors (transfer of training), and stereotypes they have of Japanese rules of speaking. NSJ and JSL refusals also differed in their use of politeness strategies. NSJ made a distinction in their choice of linguistic forms according to the status of the interlocutors, but JSL's choice of linguistic forms was not made solely according to the status of the interlocutors. The results suggest that the current instruction in the JSL classroom should be re-examined, and implications for teaching are suggested accordingly.

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