Some (more) insights into cross-cultural speech act realisations patterns

Ogiermann, Eva

Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, Germany


The present paper offers a contrastive analysis of three speech acts (requests, apologies, and complaints) in four languages (English, German, Polish, and Russian). Whereas English and German speech act realisation has received ample attention in previous research, there are only a few studies investigating Polish and / or Russian apologies (e.g. Pisarek 1995, Rathmayr 1996, Marcjanik 1997, Lubecka 2000) and requests (e.g. Mills 1992, Marcjanik 1997, Lubecka 2000, Betsch 2003, Larina 2003).

German, Polish and Russian interactional styles have been described as more direct than Anglo-Saxon communicative styles, and it has been shown that speakers of these languages tend to be perceived as impolite when communicating in English (e.g. House 2005, Lubecka 2000, Larina 2003). There are, however, no contrastive analyses of speech act strategies typically employed in these languages, allowing for comparisons of the ways in which directness is manifested in them. The present paper offers such an analysis while focusing on requests, apologies and complaints.

The analysis of requests best illustrates cross-cultural differences in the overall level of directness, as evidenced by the distribution of imperative and interrogative constructions. Further interesting differences arise in connection with the choice of modal verbs, supportive moves and politeness markers. The examined apologies differ in the preferences for formulaic apology expressions, their intensification, and the use of indirect apology strategies. The comparison of complaints, in contrast, shows varying frequencies of direct and indirect accusations, requests for repair and forbearance, as well as culture-specific forms of humour.

In contrast to requests, apologies and complaints are reactive speech acts and are generally preceded by an offence. The analysis, therefore, also covers responses in which the speakers avoid an apology by denying responsibility, but also responses in which they refrain from complaining by opting out or using minimising strategies.

The data underlying the study were collected by means of a discourse completion test. Three scenarios were selected from a larger questionnaire, each of them aiming at eliciting one of the speech acts under investigation. Thus, the corpus comprises 100 responses to three scenarios in each of the languages, resulting in a total of 1200 speech acts.

Betsch, M. (2003). “Questions as Indirect Requests in Russian and Czech”, in: K. M. Jaszczolt and K. Turner (eds.), Meaning Through Language Contrast II. Philadelphia: John Benjamins: 277-290.

House, J. (2005) “Politeness in Germany: Politeness in Germany?”, in L. Hickey & M. Stewart (eds.) Politeness in Europe. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd: 13-28.

Larina, T. V. (2003). Kategorija Vežlivosti v Anglijskoj i Russkoj Kommunikativnych Kul’turach. Moskva: Izdatel’stvo Rossijskogo Universiteta Družby Narodov.

Lubecka, A. (2000). Requests, Invitations, Apologies and Compliments in American English and Polish. A Cross-Cultural Communication Perspective. Kraków: Księgarnia Akademicka.

Marcjanik, M. (1997). Polska Grzeczność Językowa. Kielce: WSP.

Mills, M. H. (1992). Conventionalized Politeness in Russian Requests: A Pragmatic View of Indirectness. Russian Linguistics 16: 65-78.

Pisarek, L. (1995). Rečevye Dejstvija i ich Realizacija v Russkom Jazyke v Sopostavlenii s Pol’skom. Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Uniwerstytetu Wrocławskiego.

Rathmayr, R. (1996). Pragmatik der Entschuldigungen. Vergleichende Untersuchung am Beispiel der Russischen Sprache und Kultur. Köln: Böhlau Verlag.

Session: Paper session
Discourse 1 (Bi-/Multilingualism/ -modality)
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 11