Scholarly article on topic 'Complaint Behaviors among Native Speakers of Canadian English, Iranian EFL Learners, and Native Speakers of Persian (Contrastive Pragmatic Study)'

Complaint Behaviors among Native Speakers of Canadian English, Iranian EFL Learners, and Native Speakers of Persian (Contrastive Pragmatic Study) Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Mahboube Nakhle, Mohammad Naghavi, Abdullah Razavi

Abstract The purpose of the present article is to make a contrastive cross-cultural pragmatic analysis between Canadian native speakers, Iranian EFL learners, and Iranian native speakers of Persian in regard to the speech act of complaint. To do so, in the first stage, a Nelson Proficiency Test was administered among 20 Canadian university students majoring in different fields,20 among Iranian EFL learners, and 20 among Persian speakers, respectively. Based on the results of this test, those who scored highly on the test were selected as the main participants of the study. In the second stage, an open-ended questionnaire in the form of a Discourse Completion Task (DCT) comprising of 30 authentic complaint situations was administered among the three groups. It should be noted that the DCTs were translated into Persian for the third group of participants. The data was analyzed using a non-parametric statistical hypothesis test called Kruskal-Wallis Test for assessing whether or not one of the three samples of independent observation tends to have larger values than the other and Mann-Whitney U Test to investigate which strategies in which groups are distinct and the findings revealed that all respondents showed significantly different behaviors to express complaints in the different situations. Moreover, sex and social power were found to cause differential use of complaint utterances.

Academic research paper on topic "Complaint Behaviors among Native Speakers of Canadian English, Iranian EFL Learners, and Native Speakers of Persian (Contrastive Pragmatic Study)"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 98 (2014) 1316 - 1324

International Conference on Current Trends in ELT

Complaint Behaviors among Native Speakers of Canadian English, Iranian EFL Learners, and Native Speakers of Persian

(Contrastive Pragmatic Study)

Mahboube Nakhlea *, Mohammad Naghavib, Abdullah Razavic

aIslamic Azad University, Bandar Abbas Branch, Bandar Abbas, Iran bIslamic Azad University, Bandar Abbas Branch,, Bandar Abbas, Iran cIslamic Azad University of Bandar Abbas, Bandar Abbas, Iran

Abstract

The purpose of the present article is to make a contrastive cross-cultural pragmatic analysis between Canadian native speakers, Iranian EFL learners, and Iranian native speakers of Persian in regard to the speech act of complaint. To do so, in the first stage, a Nelson Proficiency Test was administered among 20 Canadian university students majoring in different fields,20 among Iranian EFL learners, and 20 among Persian speakers, respectively. Based on the results of this test, those who scored highly on the test were selected as the main participants of the study. In the second stage, an open-ended questionnaire in the form of a Discourse Completion Task (DCT) comprising of 30 authentic complaint situations was administered among the three groups. It should be noted that the DCTs were translated into Persian for the third group of participants. The data was analyzed using a non-parametric statistical hypothesis test called Kruskal-Wallis Test for assessing whether or not one of the three samples of independent observation tends to have larger values than the other and Mann-Whitney U Test to investigate which strategies in which groups are distinct and the findings revealed that all respondents showed significantly different behaviors to express complaints in the different situations. Moreover, sex and social power were found to cause differential use of complaint utterances.

© 2014 MahboubeNakhle. Publishedby ElsevierLtd.This isanopen access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Urmia University, Iran.

Keywords: Speech act of complaint; Pragmatic; EFL learners; Native speakers; DCT

* Corresponding author. E-mail address: nakhle.mahboube@gmail.com

1877-0428 © 2014 Mahboube Nakhle. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Urmia University, Iran.

doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.03.548

1. Introduction

In recent years, the relevance of pragmatics has become increasingly clear to applied linguists (Belza, 2008). Though the scope of pragmatics is far from easy to define, the variety of research interests and developments in the field share one basic concern: the need to account for the rules that govern the use of language in context (Levinson, 1987). One of the basic challenges for research in pragmatics is the issue of universality: to what extent is it possible to determine the degree to which the rules that govern the use of language in context vary from culture to culture and from language to language? Answers to this question have to be sought through cross-cultural research in pragmatics. For applied linguists, especially for those concerned with communicative language learning and teaching, cross-cultural research in pragmatics is essential in coping with the applied aspect of the issue of universality: to what extent is it possible to specify the particular pragmatic rules of use for a given language, rules which second language learners will have to acquire in order to attain successful communication in the target language?

The present study, hence, developed for the purpose of making a contrastive analysis to investigate the relationship and differences between complaint strategies. Further, it finds patterns of complaint act between the two cultures and some guidelines are proposed to improve the present situation of teaching speech acts. Therefore, the following four research questions are addressed in this study:

1. Is there any significant relationship between preferred complaint strategies by native speakers of Canadian

English, Iranian EFL learners, and native speakers of Persian?

2. Is there any significant relationship between preferred complaint strategies by native speakers of Canadian

English?

3. Is there any significant relationship between preferred complaint strategies by Iranian EFL learners?

4. Is there any significant relationship between preferred complaint strategies by native speakers of Persian?

2. Literature Review

Performance in second language is both affected by one's grammatical and linguistic competence as well as his/her communicative competence. As Hymes (1972) claims, second language learners with high-level of linguistic repertoire may fail to have successful communication if they do not understand the cultural norms of the foreign language speech community. The cross-cultural pragmatic literature has devoted special attention to complaint speech act and various strategies used to meet the acceptable norm of the society. This is because of the face-threatening nature of the complaint speech act which has been seen to be subject to cross-gender (Boxer, 1996) and cross-cultural variation (Eslami-Rasekh, 2004; Olshtain & Weinbach, 1993) in terms of use and interpretation.

Eslami-Rasekh (2004) compared Persian speakers' use of face-keeping strategies interaction to complaints with American English speakers' performance. She found that Persian speakers are more sensitive to contextual factors and vary their face-keeping strategies accordingly whereas English speakers mostly use one apology strategy and intensify it based on contextual factors.

In another study, Murphy and Neu (1996) examined the complaining strategies of American natives and Korean non-natives of English when expressing disapproval of their grade to a professor. They found that Korean ESL speakers produced the speech act set of criticism while American native speakers of English produced the complaint speech act set. In addition, American English native speakers perceived the criticism made by Koreans as aggressive, inappropriate and lacking respectfulness.

From the above studies it can be concluded that nonnative speakers may fail to propose their complaints in an appropriate manner due to the lack of familiarity with the norm and conventions of the second language and consequently their complaints might sound rather impolite. Thereby, there is a need for a more careful investigation

of EFL learners' judgments of native speakers' speech act production to find the areas of difficulty and avoid future communication breakdowns.

2.1. Gender differences in complaint speech act

As Mills (2003) puts it, we cannot have a general rule about the general behavior of men and women for all cultures rather "decisions about what is appropriate or not are decided upon strategically within the parameters of the community of practice" (p.235). However, considering gender as an influential factor in determining language production or perception for all women and men makes research and experimental work simpler; thus, different attempts have been made to find the effect of gender on the performance of different speech acts and most have found that female speakers do use more positive politeness strategies than males in the context under investigation (e.g. Baxter, 2000; Mikako, 2005).

In another study on complaint speech act, Boxer (1996) found that men and women behave very differently with respect to both complaining and responding to complaints. Her results showed that (a) more women participated in troubles-talk than men and (b) women were recipients of more indirect complaints because they were seen as more supportive in general than men. The gender differences emerged when dealing with responses to indirect complaints revealed that men tend to offer advice while women tend to commiserate. In general, she depicted that women participated more in indirect complaining than men. In this study, Iranian males' perceptions of Canadian complaints will be compared to those of females to see whether their perceptions differ significantly or not.

3. Method

3.1. Participants

3.1.1. Native speakers of Canadian English

Totally, 20 native English speakers (10 males and 10 females) ranging from 23 to 29 years of age in Toronto, Canada who were all university students or graduates took part in this research. They were all accessed through the researcher's contact in Toronto. It should be noted that, the criteria for selecting them as native speakers of English were the bio information section at top of the first page of the DCT which were filled by all the subjects. They were evenly distributed in terms of gender.

3.1.2. Iranian EFL learners

The sample of Iranian EFL learners also comprised of 20 language learners studying at Iran Language Institute (ILI) in Bandar Abbas, Iran. As for native speakers of Persian (NSP), the criterion for selecting them was scoring minimally 90% of the questions accurately on Nelson Proficiency Test. They were evenly male and female and aged from 18 to 25.

3.1.3. Native speakers of Persian

As native participants, 20 native speakers of Persian (10 males and 10 females) majoring in different academic fields at Payam-e-Nour University (PNU) in Bandar Abbas, Iran who scored at least 90% of the questions correctly on Nelson Proficiency Test based on stratified random sampling constituted the sample of non-EFL learners.

3.1.4. Raters

In this study three raters analyzed the DCTs to make sure that the results were reliable. These raters were three university instructors and the researcher herself.

3.2. Instrumentation 3.2.1. DCT

The main instrument utilized in this study was an open-ended questionnaire in the form of a DCT (Discourse Completion Task). An appropriately prepared DCT can inform us of how respondents' pragmatic knowledge is activated (Martinez-F lor, 2006). Therefore, research data were collected through a DCT in which 30 authentic complaining situations were defined elaborately and participants were required to imagine themselves in the situations and respond as they would say in their daily conversations or talk. Each situation consisted of a short

dialogue in order to include the necessary interaction in real-life communication. Furthermore, since participants involved both males and females, the situations were gender neutral and regarding the status, the situations involved inferior, equal and superior relationship to allocate a representative sample of natural discourse. It should be noted that the DCTs were e-mailed to native participants and were handed in person to non-native ones.

3.2.2. Nelson Test

Secondly, to check the homogeneity of the participants, Nelson Proficiency Test (1993) was applied in this research. This test composed of 50 items, including vocabulary, grammar, and reading sections. Due to the subjective nature of the research, only the advanced level participants were selected.

3.2.3. Coding Scheme of Complaint Strategies

The researcher prepared a coding scheme to analyze the speech act cases produced by the subjects in the study. The scheme included a detailed list of the structures in the speech act of complaint, such as initiator (e.g. greetings, address terms, and other opening formulas), complaints ( expressions of negative evaluation, including justification), request (direct or indirect attempts to get the hearer to redress the situation), level of directness (no explicit mention of offense, implied offense only), somewhat direct (mention of offense, but no mention of the hearer's responsibility), very direct (explicit mention of offense and learner's responsibility for it), amount of mitigation (counting the softening expressions, e.g. "a little, sort of, you know, would/ could, I think/ I wonder").

3.3. Data Collection Procedure

In this study, four main procedures were carried out: Initially, a copy of Nelson Test was administered among Persian learners.

Following that, the students (EFL learners) who were qualified as advanced learners took the DCT. Next, the DCTs were e-mailed to the native speakers of English. Finally, the data was collected and analyzed.

3.4. Data Analysis

The first stage of data analysis is qualitative. At this phase, the subjects' responses on DCTs were analyzed and classified in terms of the components of complaints mentioned in coding scheme. Due to the subjective nature of this process, three raters independently performed the analyses. In the second stage, i.e., the quantitative part, frequencies of different components were tabulated. Next, two different statistics were used: (a) Mann-Whitney U Test and (b) Kruskal Wallis H Test. The Mann-Whitney U Test (which is the non-parametric counterpart for independent samples t-test) was used to increase reliability of the test and to analyze the effect of subject's sex on their use of complaint strategies in the speech act of complaining. Moreover, the Kruskal Wallis H Test (which is the nonparametric alternative to one-way between-groups ANOVA) was utilized to evaluate whether or not one of the three samples of independent observation tends to have larger values than the other.

3. Results and Discussion

The first question addressed by the study was "Is there any significant relationship among the preferred complaint strategies used by the native speakers of English, Iranian EFL learners, and native speakers of Persian?" To answer this question, the data were analyzed by means of Kruskal-Wallis H Test (which is the nonparametric alternative to one-way between groups ANOVA). Table 1 manifests the results of this analysis:

Table 1. Kruskal-Wallis H Test for strategy use as the Grouping Variable

Test Statistics?'13

COMPLA COMPLA COMPLA RESQUS

INITIATR NT1 NT2 NT3 T1 REQUST2 COMPLAINT REQUEST

Chi-Square 15.316 23.479 5.602 23.357 35.803 41.531 29.422 2.589

df 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2

Asymp. Sig. .000 .000 .061 .000 .000 .000 .000 .274

a. Kruskal Wallis Testt

b. Grouping Variable: GROUP

Table 2. Comparison of mean ranks for strategy use by ENSs, EFL learners, and NPSs

Mear l

GROU P N Rank

IN ITIATR native eng 20 37 03

native pers 20 18 08

ef Is 20 36 40

Total 60

COM P LA N1 native eng 20 26 77

native pers 20 19 48

ef ls 20 45 25

Total 60

COM P LA N2 native eng 20 37 92

native pers 20 26 55

ef ls 20 27 02

Total 60

COM P LA N3 native eng 20 41 67

native pers 20 15 80

ef ls 20 34 03

Total 60

R ESQ U ST1 native eng 20 48 58

native pers 20 16 35

ef ls 20 26 58

Total 60

REQ UST2 native eng 20 10 60

native pers 20 44 58

ef ls 20 36 33

Total 60

COMPLAI N native eng 20 37 58

native pers 20 13 32

ef ls 20 40 60

Total 60

R EQU EST native eng 20 25 52

native pers 20 33 95

ef ls 20 32 03

Total 60

As Table 1 illustrates, since variables of initiator, complain1, complain 3, request 1, request 2, and complaint were below level of significance (p=.000, p<05), they are statistically considerable among all groups. However, concerning the other two strategies, i.e. complaint 2 (Chi-Square = 5.602, df = 2, and p= .061) and request (Chi-Square = 2.589, df = 2, and p=. .3 (rounded), p< 05) the three groups are not statistically significant. Therefore, the first null hypothesis stating that there is no significant relationship among native speakers of English, Iranian EFL learners and native speakers of Persian is rejected.

As can be seen from Table 2, mean rank comparisons show that the three groups are not equal in their rating of the complaint strategies. In other words, native speakers tended to use initiators as "good morning", "good day", "do you have a minute". However, EFL learners preferred to utilized initiators as "excuse me", "hi, I have something to discuss with you". With regard to initiators on the side of Persian speakers, they did not apply this strategy as much as the other two groups. They were dependent more on expressions such as "agha bebaxshid (excuse me sir), "mishe bedonam" (may I know)," mixastam bedonam" (I wanted to know). Based on the above interpretations, it can be concluded that native speakers used more direct initiators than EFLs and Persians, while Persians utilized more indirect initiators than EFLs. In professor and student prompt, for example, they provided rhetoric for argument and expressed emotions. However, the amount and frequency of these strategies were of higher occurrence among EFLs.

4.1. Gender and complaint strategies 4.1.1 .Gender in EFL learners

With regard to the second question which sought to respond the relationship between gender and complaint strategies by male and female EFL learners, the results suggested that in all the situations males utilized all strategies less than females except for request 1 and request 2 which were equal between them. Nevertheless, these findings do not accord with the observations of DeCapua (1998) which claimed strategy choice varied according to the referential goal and the nature of the interlocutor relationship, but a general pattern could be noted: face-threatening acts in Chinese tend to be performed in a commiserating rather than confrontational manner. In contrast, male EFL learners did not use Requests for repair in dealing with the situations although the females in most of cases used this type of complaint. Generally, it is believed that the speech act of complaint is face-threatening to the hearer. "When the speaker makes direct complaints, he/she is more likely to threat the hearer's face, or say hurt his/her feelings and hence damage the relationship between them (Boxer, 1993).

4.1.2. Gender in native speakers of Canadian English

The third research question investigated the relationship between gender and the application of complaint strategies by male and female native speakers of Canadian English. In order to reach this goal, the performance of males was compared with females in different complaint strategies. Request for solution in terms of questions or statements ask the interlocutor to compensate the damage in some way. Frequently, this is done by Canadians through the use of questions or "please" incorporating modal verbs such as 'can' 'could' or 'would'. As Zhang (1995) puts it, direct expressions of the speakers' wants without using modals are considered impolite. Through the use of modals in requests, a circular connection occurs between the speaker and hearer. That is to say, the speaker gives face to the hearer by showing respect, and the powerful hearer gives face to the speaker by honouring the request in return (e.g. "is it possible, could you, would you please, would you mind, could you please"). The mitigator "please" was more common in the data produced by Persians plus the command form of the verb.

4.1.3. Gender in native speakers of Persian

The last question raised by the present study was in relation to the relationship between male and female native speakers of Persian in terms of using their preferred complaint strategies. Here again, the Mann-Whitney U Test was applied. The results are presented in Table 3 below. The results of data analysis in Table 4 indicate that similar to male and female native speakers of English, native speakers of Persian do not show meaningful differences in using all the complaint strategies (p>.05). To sum up, the critical value of .05 is not corrected for ties between all variables

and the last null hypothesis is accepted. Turning now to Table 4, it can be concluded, Persian speakers prefer to control their preferred strategies according to the circumstance of complaining. In situations where there is lack of warmth and attachment, Persian speakers give the permission to express complaint fully and in accord with magnitude of the damage.

Table 3. Mann-Whitney U Test for sex as the Grouping Variable

Test Statistics3

INITIATR COMPLA N1 COMPLA N2 COMPLA N3 RESQUS T1 REQUST2 COMPLAIN REQUEST

Mann-Whitney U 45.500 36.500 45.000 28.000 47.500 42.500 46.000 38.000

Wilcoxon W 81.500 114.500 123.000 64.000 125.500 78.500 82.000 74.000

Z -.197 -.902 -.252 -1.568 -.039 -.431 -.155 -.780

Asymp. Sig. (2-tailed) .844 .367 .801 .117 .969 .666 .877 .436

Exact Sig. [2*(1-tailed Sig.)] a a a a a a a a

.851 .384 .851 .135 .970 .678 .910 .473

a. Not corrected for ties.

b. Grouping Variable: SEX

Table 4. Comparison of mean ranks for strategy use by male and female native Persian speakers

Mean Sum of

SEX N Rank Ranks

INITIATR male 8 10.19 81.50

f emale 12 10.71 128.50

Total 20

COMPLAN1 male 8 11.94 95.50

f emale 12 9.54 114.50

Total 20

COMPLAN2 male 8 10.88 87.00

f emale 12 10.25 123.00

Total 20

COMPLAN3 male 8 8.00 64.00

f emale 12 12.17 146.00

Total 20

RESQUST1 male 8 10.56 84.50

f emale 12 10.46 125.50

Total 20

REQUST2 male 8 9.81 78.50

f emale 12 10.96 131.50

Total 20

COMPLAIN male 8 10.25 82.00

f emale 12 10.67 128.00

Total 20

REQUEST male 8 9.25 74.00

f emale 12 11.33 136.00

Total 20

5. Conclusion

This study investigated the realization of speech act of complaint among Canadian native speakers of English, Iranian EFL learners, and native speakers of Persian. There are a number of limitations to the study which need to be

taken into consideration. First, the findings cannot be generalized to a wider population due to the relatively restricted number of respondents. Besides, though DCTs are the most common method of data collection in pragmatic studies, more data with other methods of data collection are needed to authenticate these findings. However, despite these limitations, the study presents a number of insights. The responses were analyzed in terms of the main components of complaints, the level of directness, social distance and the degree of mitigation. The findings indicate that Canadians and Iranians showed different pragmatic behaviours in different situations. Indirect complaint, and request for solution are found to be highly frequent in both native speakers and advanced EFLs. However, Canadians used these strategies more frequently than EFLs. Regarding the Persian speakers, it should be noted that they were clearly indirect in expressing complaint components. Finally, sex, social power and social distance were determining and significant factors in many situations.

5.1. Implications of the findings

5.1.1. Practical implications

This study provides grounds for curriculum developers and researchers so as to include these pragmatic findings into their course books through which the body of knowledge regarding complaint behaviour of learners expands. Thus, it can be concluded that both linguistic and pragmatic aspects of language should be included in EFL textbooks. Consequently, it sounds as if we are valuing both linguistic and cultural aspects with a more focus on the latter with the help of the former. As a result, the teachers should try to adjust their teaching in a way that the focus to some extent is on the points of contrast. Moreover, by concentrating on the differences between the two systems, the learners can avoid pragmatic transfer which results in fossilized pragmatic competence; the production of which may cause communication crash and even offences in some cases.

5.1.2. Theoretical implications

The investigation into EFL complaints contributes to the debate on universality versus culture-specificity views, which have been discussed extensively in cross-cultural pragmatic research. Some researchers speak for universality of certain general mechanisms regulating human languages, which include conversational maxims (Grice, 1975), politeness theories (Brown & Levinson, 1987; Leech, 1983), and taxonomy of communicative acts (Searle, 1975). However, other researchers disagree with the claim for universality and maintain that speech acts vary in conceptualization and verbalization across languages since pragmatic knowledge is a reflection of cultural norms. It seems that the present study is more in line with the second position.

5.1.3. Suggestions for further research

This research concentrates on the speech act of complaint which demands more social interaction skills as well as many face-saving strategies. Considerable, more work will need to be done to determine that the other variables may affect the production of this speech act. Suggestions are made to investigate the linguistic realization and social strategies of participants of different ages, educational levels, and socio-economic backgrounds. Moreover, qualitative examination of complaining strategies could be more insightful and introspective methods can be applied in future research. In addition, studies should engage larger samples and more situations to yield meaningful results.

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