Academic journal article English Language Teaching

The Pragmatic Knowledge of Iranian EFL Learners in Using Face Keeping Strategies in Reaction to Complaints at Two Different Levels

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

The Pragmatic Knowledge of Iranian EFL Learners in Using Face Keeping Strategies in Reaction to Complaints at Two Different Levels

Article excerpt


The purpose of this study was to investigate the ability of the upper intermediate and the intermediate learners in keeping face in different complaint situations. Complaint is the expression of the speaker displeasure or annoyance as a reaction to a past or ongoing action, the consequences of which affect the speaker unfavorably (Olshtain & Weinbach, 1987). Brown and Levinson (1978) categorized complaints as Face-Threating Act. Forty learners were selected based on their scores on a proficiency test. They completed a Discourse Completion Test which included different complaint scenarios. Their responses were analyzed on the basis of four complaints categories of Olshtain and Weinbach (1987) and three complaint categories of De Capua's (1998). Then, their answers were compared with Brown and Levinson's (1978) politeness theory for the face keeping strategies. The findings revealed that the upper intermediate learners and the intermediate learners used different types of speech acts in each situation and that at low levels some degree of pragmatic awareness should be presented. The study provided some pedagogical implications for the field of EFL teaching and syllabus designing.

Keywords: Pragmatic, Face keeping strategies, Complaint speech act, Discourse Completion Test

1. Introduction

In order to be successful in communication, it is essential for language learners to know not just grammar and text organization but also pragmatic aspects of the target language (Bachman, 1990). Communicative action includes not only speech acts - such as requesting, greeting, and so on - but also the ability to use language forms in a wide range of situations, including the relationships between the speakers involved and the social and cultural context of the situation and so on. Through speech acts such as requesting and complaining, one shapes the utterances and with politeness makes use of these utterances in the best way.

One type of these speech acts is complaining which occurs when a speaker reacts with displeasure or annoyance to an action that has affected the speaker unfavorably (Olshtain & Weinbach, 1987).Complaint is an expression of a psychological state of being dissatisfied or unhappy about something which demands special kind of speech act and different kind of face keeping strategies. However, sometimes people use speech acts that threat face; Brown and Levinson (1987) categorized complaint as one of the face-threating acts that have strong potential for disturbing the state of personal relationship.

It is assumed that some pragmatic knowledge is universal. Non native speakers get a considerable amount of pragmatic knowledge from their L1 and other pragmatic aspects may be successfully transferred from the learners' L1 too. To start with the pragmatic universals, learners know that conversations follow particular organizational principles, participants have to take turns at talk, and that conversations and other speech events have specific internal structures (Kasper, 1997).

The present research was intended to examine the pragmatic knowledge of Iranian EFL learners in using face keeping strategies in reaction to complaints.

A large number of theoretical and empirical books and articles concerning linguistic politeness and the notion of face have been published in the last decades. In most of the studies, the politeness has been conceptualized especially as strategic conflict-avoidance or as strategic construction of cooperative social interaction.

2. Review of the Related Literature

Although not much research has been conducted on complaints in Iranian context but recently Salmani-Nodoushan (2006), in his paper, conversational strategies in Farsi complaints: The case of Iranian complainers, studied the effects of complainers' sex, age, perceived situational seriousness, and social class on the use of conversational strategies in their complaining behavior, 465 subjects of varying age, sex, and social class were observed and tape recorded in spontaneous conversation by 25 field workers. …

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