Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Giving Condolences by Persian EFL Learners: A Contrastive Sociopragmatic Study

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Giving Condolences by Persian EFL Learners: A Contrastive Sociopragmatic Study

Article excerpt


Within Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research area, speech acts studies are often conducted to measure SL learners' pragmatic (in)competence. Unlike other speech acts, the speech act of giving condolences has not yet been the subject of cross-linguistic or cross-cultural studies across Persian and other languages. This initiative study attempts to investigate a comparative analysis of giving condolences across English and Persian. To this end, an English 15-item Discourse Completion Task (DCT) was given to 10 native speakers of English and to 50 Iranian EFL learners who were also given the Persian version of the DCT for the purpose of comparison. The results of a prior pilot study had indicated a significant difference between the two groups. The results of the main study also indicated a difference between the two groups as such some of the Persian EFL learners socioculturally transferred this speech act from their L1 into L2 while some others did not. On the whole, Persian EFL learners were more direct than the English natives while offering their condolences.

Keywords: Condolence, Pragmatic competence, Persian EFL learners, Speech act

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1. Introduction

Knowing a language does not just mean being linguistically competent in that particular language (Hymes, 1972). A linguistically well-formed sentence can be appropriate in one context but completely inappropriate in another situation. When something is said inappropriately in one context or when language is used wrongly, it could lead to misunderstanding or it could even result in hurting someone's feelings. So, to know a language, a learner must be pragmatically competent too rather than just being linguistically competent. Johnston (2008) states that "knowing a language means not just knowing its grammar and vocabulary but also knowing how to structure paragraphs and arguments and participate in conversations the way speakers of the language do, and it means understanding which sentence types can accomplish which purposes in social interaction: what might work as an apology, for example, or how to decline an invitation" (p. 7). This aspect of understanding the purposes behind the sentences is a part of the field of pragmatics which is the study of language use in context and it is said to be the most difficult and challenging aspect of language teaching to be dealt with (Ishihara, 2003). Wolfson (1989) claims that a grammatical or pronunciation error may be easily forgiven by the native speakers of a language, but not a pragmatic. According to Akram (2008), modern linguistics is said to be the study of language as a system of human communication and that 'to speak is to act'. Language can be used to describe reality and to change the existing reality too. Those acts which are used to change the reality are commonly called speech acts which are the functional units in communication. According to Yule (1996), speech acts are speech functions that are realized by way of words. Speech acts include a wide range of functional units such as apologies, compliments, requests, invitations and so on. Yule claims that being able to say the right thing to the right person at the right time would be a great social accomplishment.

Performing speech acts involves both socio-cultural and sociolinguistic knowledge (Cohen, 1996). Socio-cultural knowledge determines when to perform a speech act and which one is appropriate in a situation in which one is functioning and sociolinguistic knowledge determines the actual linguistic realization of each speech act.

A large number of second language acquisition (SLA) studies have focused on speech acts, with regard to both pragmalinguistics and sociopragmatics. The sociopragmatic context shouldn't be ignored and because of that, recognizing cultural contexts of speech is gaining importance, in order to pre-empt cross-cultural pragmatic failure (Fahey, 2005). …

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