1.1 Intercultural Communication, Foreign Language Learning and Academic Mobility
Foreign language proficiency is indispensable for the development of intercultural communicative skills since it has a positive influence on intercultural competence (cf. Olson/Kroeger 2001). Numerous studies have shown that misunderstandings in intercultural communication predominantly result from limited proficiency in one or more of the languages of the participants in inter-ethnic encounters, especially the dominant language, including limited awareness of different contextualization cues (cf. Aba 2013, 2015; Birkner/Kern 2000; Humphrey 2007; Kramsch 1986; Roberts 2000; Roberts et al. 2005).
There is a close relationship between foreign language proficiency, development of intercultural skills and student mobility. Many researchers (cf. Aba 2016, 2019; Bridges et al. 2009; Kitsantas/Meyers 2001) have asserted that this relationship is positive, and that an international learning placement or short-term student mobility program can be a profound intercultural experience providing a unique opportunity to develop intercultural competence.
However, others such as Williams (2003) argue that students do not need international experience as they can improve their intercultural competence in their homeland too. Salisbury et al. (2013) argue that the evidence is less clear than what the rhetoric suggests. Despite the ostensible positive correlation between mobility and intercultural competence, it is still quite probable that the diversity of contacts that mobile students experience has little influence on their relativistic appreciation of cultural differences or comfort with differences. Moreover, it is not easy to provide all students with mobility opportunities, especially (yet by far not exclusively) in low- and middle-income countries. Even when the students have the opportunity to study abroad, the results of the program may not always lead to the desired goals. Concordantly, Deardorff (2006) states that intercultural competence must be intentionally addressed because it does not ‘just happen’ for most students (p. 243).
Previous research established that intercultural competence has not been addressed sufficiently within higher education institutions from an academic-mobility point of view and the existing relevant literature is rather one-sidedly theoretical (cf. Aba 2019; Beaven/Borghetti 2012; Byram et al. 2002; Almarza et al. 2015; Sercu 2010). The present study engages with speech act production within mobility and non-mobility contexts in order to examine the relationship between student exchange and pragmatic performance, which is an essential skill for intercultural competence. It aims to determine the linguistic tools that mobile and non-mobile Turkish higher-education students employ to mitigate their requests and refusals in English. Additionally, the study addresses the question whether these students value contextual variables in speech act production.
1.2 Pragmatic Competence and Intercultural Communication
Although language proficiency is one of the crucial factors of effective intercultural communication, it is not sufficient alone (cf. Barron 2003; Bayat 2013; Capar 2014; Rose 2005; Zarobe/Zarobe 2012). In other words, linguistic development does not necessarily go hand in hand with a corresponding level of pragmatic development (cf. Kasper 1997), and even advanced learners may fail to comprehend or convey the intended messages and politeness values (cf. Rasekh Eslami 2010). “It is possible for learners to be advanced in terms of proficiency in a foreign language yet minimally aware of, or comfortable with values and modes of behaviour (e.g., communication styles) that differ from their own” (Jackson 2008: 356).
Research has convincingly shown that increasing correctness in the target language alone does not increase intercultural competence. For example, in a study of L1 speaker reactions to learners' spoken interlanguage, researchers have found that learners do not improve the attitudes they evoke towards themselves and the content of what they say simply by increasing their correctness (cf. Kramsch 1986).
In a similar vein, Deardorff (2006) stated that language alone does not ensure one’s competence in a culture. It acts as a vehicle through which individuals understand others’ worldviews, which is crucial for the development of intercultural competence, yet it cannot alone account for successful intercultural interactions. This means that students need to improve not only their grammatical and/or linguistic skills but also pragmatic skills for maintaining effective intercultural interactions.
The study field of pragmatics investigates language use, and is concerned with the ways a language is manipulated by its users to shape and infer meaning (cf. Kecskes 2014; Yule 2010). Pragmatic competence is usually defined as the ability to comprehend and produce an utterance that is appropriate to the sociocultural context in which the interaction takes place (cf. Rose/Kasper 2001). It contains a speaker’s ability to employ various linguistic formulae (e.g., internal and external modification tools, see tables 4 & 5) with the aim to interact appropriately with the people from other cultural and linguistic backgrounds (cf. Ekin/Damar 2013; Kasper 2001). Pragmatic competence helps students to generate polite and appropriate speech in intercultural communication. In previous relevant research, it has often been mentioned that a lack of pragmatic competence in intercultural communication may lead to misunderstanding or even to a complete breakdown of communication, paired with the stereotypical labelling of L2 users as being impolite (cf. Aksoyalp/Toprak 2015; Barron 2003; Halupka-Resetar 2014; Kecskes 2014; Zarobe/Zarobe 2012). Therefore, improving learners’ pragmatic awareness and skills is essential for maintaining intercultural interactions.
In line with these views, a competent language user is someone who not only writes and speaks according to the rules of the language and the social etiquette of one social group, but someone who is also able to select those forms of accuracy and appropriateness that are called for in a given social context (cf. Aksoyalp/Toprak 2015; Schauer 2009).
1.3 Speech Acts and Politeness
Speech acts refer to the moments in which statements occur in the communicative act within a given context. In line with Austin (1962) and Searle (1976), Aksoyalp and Toprak (2015) defined speech acts as actions performed by means of utterances. In other words, speech acts are groups of utterances with a single interactional function such as making a request or promise, asking a question or making a statement. They possess three different aspects or functions, namely locution, illocution and perlocution (cf. Austin 1962).
Searle (1976) explains that individuals can specify the kind of illocutionary act by including speech act indicating devices such as ‘I apologize’, ‘I warn’, ‘I request’, ‘I state’ into a sentence. However, in actual communication, speakers may not prefer to use such devices. It is often the context that makes clear the illocutionary force of an utterance.
Speech acts have been regarded as culture-bound elements which are essential for pragmatic competence (cf. Bella 2011; Zarobe/Zarobe 2012). They are important for pragmatic competence not only because they occur very often in communication, but also because of their relationship with the politeness phenomena. As Brown and Levinson explain, all speech acts are potentially face threatening, “to either the speaker’s or the hearer’s face, or both” (1987). As a result, politeness, which entails the use of redressive language to compensate for the face threatening nature of speech acts, undertakes an important role while generating these acts.
Politeness can be described as strategic conflict avoidance with the goal of diminishing disagreement in personal interaction or to minimize face-threat (cf. Ogiermann 2012). In order to increase the politeness of one’s utterances, taking redressive actions such as producing indirect requests and/or employing modification tools can be beneficial. Blum-Kulka (1987) states that the degree of directness by which a request is expressed will count as an indicator of the effort invested in minimizing the threat, “which in turn equals politeness” (p. 140). Using modification tools also enables the speaker to show consideration for the hearer’s face needs. Employing specific linguistic devices is useful to mitigate requests, and thus helps avoid threatening one’s face (cf. Bella/Sifianou 2012).
The notion of using redressive linguistic structures finds its origin in Brown and Levinson’s (1987) politeness theory, which has been one of the most comprehensive works on pragmatic politeness. Politeness theory construes face as consisting of two components: positive face and negative face. Negative face implies one’s claim of freedom of action, and desire to be unimpeded by others, whereas positive face is related to one’s desire to be approved by others (cf. Jiang 2012). In line with this view, redressive actions that address the hearers’ negative face are called negative politeness, and similar actions that are directed to hearers’ positive face are called positive politeness.
To sum up, politeness accounts for the redressive actions to save one’s face which can be threatened by the production of various speech acts. Paying attention to using various politeness techniques such as employing indirect speech acts and modifying one’s speech are effective means for pragmatic competence. The present study focuses on politeness efforts of mobile and non-mobile Turkish L1 students while producing English speech acts of requests and refusals.
The participants in this study were mobile and non-mobile Turkish higher education students. The first group (N = 30, M = 14, F = 16) were Erasmus exchange students from state and private universities in Turkey (Kadir Has University, Yeditepe University and Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University). For one or two academic semesters, these students studied in various departments ranging from engineering to cinema and foreign language studies in various European countries. Their age ranged between 19 and 26 with a mean of 22.31. (SD 1.79) Most of the participants in this group were seniors in their third and fourth education year (1st year ss: 6.5%, 2nd year ss: 19.4%, 3rd year ss: 25.8% and 4th year ss: 48.4%).
The second participant group consisted of non-mobile (N = 30, M = 4, F = 26) Turkish students from Cukurova University, a state university. These students’ age ranged between 19 and 32 with a mean of 21.77 (SD 2.78). The non-mobile participants were seniors in their third year who were registered at the English language teaching department. None of the students in this group had previously joined any mobility program or studied abroad.
2.2 Method: Written Discourse Completion Tasks (WDCTs)
The data for this study were elicited in a controlled way through written discourse completion tasks (WDCTs). Discourse completion tasks (DCTs) typically consist of descriptions of speech act situations that are followed by incomplete discourse sequences (cf. Blum-Kulka 1987; Labben 2016). Participants are requested to complete these discourse sequences, and thereby generate the required speech act. As to their structure, Dörnyei (2003) argues that DCTs are similar to language tests because “they are written structured language elicitation instruments and, as such, they sample the respondent’s competence in performing certain tasks” (p. 7).
One of the reasons for the widespread use of DTCs is that they are effective means of gathering speech act data and are fairly smooth to administer (cf. Halupka-Resetar 2014). No matter the participants’ number and location, DCTs can be administered in one go without much practical difficulty. In the present study, using DCTs was the only way possible to test the mobile participants.
Another reason for the popularity of DCTs in speech act research is that they allow manipulation of some variables underlying speech act situations, which facilitates comparability of data across languages and cultures (cf. Labben 2016). In other words, by using DCTs, the context can easily be controlled and varied (cf. Beckwith/Dewaele 2012). According to Hendriks (2008), if control of certain situational variables is important, DCTs can have even more advantages over authentic data. In spite of being one of the most commonly employed data collection tools in speech act research, DCTs have received criticism on grounds of low construct validity and representing the features of authentic discourse (cf. Cyluk 2013; Dörnyei 2007; Golato 2003; Labben 2016; Zarobe/Zarobe 2012).
Yet, DCTs have been mentioned to initiate pragmatic awareness (cf. Aufa 2014). While reading the scenarios in the present study, students first needed to recognize that they were expected to produce certain speech acts. Then, by using their pragma-linguistic skills, they needed to generate the speech act expected in that specific situation. Although some students may fail in producing appropriate and/or polite speech acts, initiating the thinking and writing processes helps to increase students’ awareness of the pragmatic aspects of intercultural communication. This is also the reason why the participants in the present research were not informed about the type of the speech act that the WDCTs required from them.
Finally, it should be noted that the issue of validity and representation of authentic data depends on the goals and design of various investigations. Despite the fact that DCTs may have low construct validity as they do not elicit authentic spoken data, the way they are constructed can increase their validity (cf. Labben 2016). As Zarobe and Zarobe (2012) explain, various data collection methods have their pros and cons, and adequate and inadequate uses. A DCT is a suitable instrument for establishing what semantic formulas are used to realize a particular speech act and what linguistic behavior is considered appropriate in a given language (cf. Cyluk 2013).
For the present study, the purpose of the research was to examine the participants’ written pragmatic performance. Our research focused on written communication (i.e., interactions on social media or email communication) because such forms of interaction are very common among students in their social and academic lives today. Moreover, pragmatic failure has been mentioned to be common in email requests of many non-native students (Economidou-Kogetsidis 2011).
17 WDCTs aiming to elicit requests and refusals in English were developed for this study (see Appendices 1 and 2). Since each gap-fill exercise constituted a different scenario (with different social distance between the interlocutors, degree of imposition, degree of formality and type of speech act), we consider each different exercise as a single task or WDCT. Each task described a situation, specified the setting and the social distance between the interlocutors. Participants were asked to write down what they would say in a specific situation, thereby providing the speech act aimed at in the given context.
Initially, the WDCT scenarios were developed for mobile students to generate requests and refusals in English. These scenarios represent intercultural interaction that mobile students may encounter in their daily academic and social lives during their study abroad experience. For example, in one situation the student is required to contact (by writing an email) their Erasmus coordinator to request information to register for a language course. In another situation, the student needs to refuse an offer (through social media communication) made by another exchange student.
Following is an example of a mobile student’s reply to WDCT8, which was written to a higher status interlocutor to gain information.
WDCT8: ‘You have been waiting for the results of an exam. Your professor has not announced the results yet. Send an email to learn why she has not made the announcement yet’.
Student reply: Dear, Professor X,
Is it possible to announce the results for the exam please?
Since the participants of this study comprised not only mobile students but also non-mobile ones, WDCTs were adapted according to the characteristics of non-mobile students as well. For example, interactants such as Erasmus coordinators and other mobile students were replaced with academic staff and local students.
Given that this study engages with speech act production, two indispensable variables are appropriateness and effectiveness. An utterance in intercultural communication should be appropriate to the context in which the interaction takes place. Moreover, it should be effective in accomplishing the goal of the speaker while making that specific utterance (i.e., making a request, refusal or suggestion).
Employing modification tools (tables 4 & 5) and indirect request and refusal strategies (tables 9, 10 & 11) is effective for increasing politeness of speech acts. The degree of (in)directness and existence of modification tools to mitigate the compelling force of a speech act count as indicators of the effort invested in minimizing the threat, and this in turn, equals politeness (cf. Blum-Kulka 1987). Such an effort enables the speaker to show consideration for the hearer’s face needs (cf. Bella/Sifianou 2012).
The quantitative analysis measures in this study included coding and enumeration of various modification tools for the request data (Halupka-Resetar’s 2014 Taxonomy of Request Modification), and distinct refusal strategies (Beebe et al.’s 1990 Classification of Refusals) for the refusal data. T-test and correlation analyses were conducted (in SPSS) to compare the results between the groups. Such quantitative measures were taken in order to statistically compare the two student groups’ speech act performances.
However, the data were also analysed from the perspectives of lexical variety, grammatical accuracy and discourse control (e.g., overall management of the speech act). For example, speech acts received low ratings when they contained major grammatical and word choice errors, poor discourse control, including excessive repetitions, illogical response or incoherent speech. When grammatical issues did not interfere with meaning construction, they were not evaluated negatively from a pragma-linguistic competence point of view.
Solely quantitative measures were not sufficient to examine appropriateness and effectiveness. Therefore, the data were also analysed by focusing on contextual factors. For this qualitative analysis, each WDCT was analysed individually by taking into consideration the social distance between the interlocutor, degree of imposition and register of the scenario in each writing task (formal vs informal). For example, the researchers recorded whether student responses were appropriate to the register of interaction and effective in generating the speech act that was required in each scenario.
Social distance refers to the participant relationship in an interaction, being either low or high. Research has shown that this relationship in a communicative situation influences the way language structures are (to be) used (cf. Economidou-Kogetsidis 2011; Leech 2007; Uso-Juan/Martinez-Flor 2008). For example, a student is required to use a more polite and formal language when communicating with a higher status interlocutor than with a status equal or lower status interlocutor.
The degree of imposition can be described as the level of pressure that the speaker is exerting over the hearer. Because of the imposition that is placed either over the hearer (i.e., requests) or the speaker (i.e., refusals), Brown and Levinson (1987) regarded all speech acts as face threatening acts. The degree of imposition can be high or low depending on some contextual factors such as the participant relationship and the type of a speech act. For example, a request for an action exerts higher pressure over the hearer than a request for information. For the production of appropriate speech acts in an L2, it is important to pay attention to all contextual variables. Finally, register concerns the formality (formal or informal interaction) between the interlocutors as described in a scenario.
3.1 Request Data
The request performance results presented similarities between the mobile and non-mobile Turkish higher education students in this study. Initially, both groups resorted mainly to internal modification tools to mitigate their requesting texts in English (see 3.2. for specific modification formulas). The differences of frequency and variety concerning internal modifiers between these groups were not significant (table 1).
Hello…, I couldn’t participate in a few classes of literature course. Can I borrow your notes. I will be very happy if you give me your own notes. I promise I will give you them without giving damage.
The example above was written to request lecture notes from an equal level interlocutor. The required register was informal written communication. In accordance with the type of the interaction (informal), the student starts his text with an informal opener (‘Hello’). The main text contains an excuse/reason statement that explains the reasons for the head requesting act (‘I couldn’t participate in …’). The head act takes place in the second sentence and is formulated through an informal interrogative structure (‘Can I…?’), which is generated in a conventionally indirect speaker-oriented way. The head act is also modified through some post-act external modification tools such as a subjectivizer (‘I will be very happy…’), a conditional structure (‘if you give me…’) and a promise statement (‘I promise I will give you…’).
Table 1 illustrates the total internal and external modification (IM and EM) tools identified in the mobile and non-mobile students’ texts for all request WDCTs. The information in each column initially shows the frequency results, and afterward the variety of the modifiers was illustrated. For example, in the IM mobile and IM non-mobile columns of WDCT1, we can identify that the mobile Turkish students employed 31 internal modification tools from seven different formulas (see 3.2.) while the non-mobile students employed 35 internal modifiers from seven different formulas (see 3.2.). Both cohorts employed similar amounts and variation of internal and external modification tools in their requests for WDCT1.
|Tasks||Total IM&EM: mobile||Total IM&EM: non-mobile||IM: mobile||IM: non-mobile||EM: mobile||EM: non-mobile|
The frequency assessment of these quantitative results was based on the number of modification tools (formulas) that the analysis taxonomies contained. For example, the total amount of internal and external modifiers (N = 63), and variety results (seven different formulas) for WDCT1 in the non-mobile students’ data was evaluated to be frequent because the students produced 30 requesting texts for this WDCT. Additionally, the students employed most of the modification tools that take place in the taxonomies of internal modification (lexical downgraders, syntactic downgraders and lexical upgraders). These taxonomies contain 17 distinct formulas, 12 of which were encountered both in the mobile and non-mobile students’ request products. However, the variety and frequency results were different in each WDCT. In some tasks the students employed more frequent and varied forms of modifiers while in others they employed less frequent and varied internal and external modification tools.
An independent samples t-test showed whether the differences in terms of the frequency of different request strategies were statistically significant between the mobile and non-mobile students. The total frequency of internal and external modification tools constituted the dependent variables while mobility versus non-mobility constituted the independent variables in this test. Mean scores, probability figures in a Levene’s test and a t-test for equality means were examined in Table 2 below. Results showed no statistically significant differences between the mobile and non-mobile students in terms of their usage of external and internal modification tools while producing requests in English (p = .37 for external modification and p = .97 for internal modification).
In order to examine the relationship between mobility and modification use, a correlation coefficient analysis combined the data from the mobile and non-mobile students’ requesting texts (table 3). The total occurrences of internal and external modification tools constituted the dependent variables while mobility versus non-mobility constituted the independent variables in this analysis.
The results showed no statistically significant relationship between mobility and the use of internal and/or external modification tools. However, the analysis indicated a significant linear relationship between internal and external modification tools (r = .310, N = 60, p = .016). This finding shows that the use of internal modification had a positive correlation with the use of external modification. In other words, students’ competence in employing internal modifiers will influence their performance in employing external modifiers and vice versa.
3.2 Modification Formulas Identified in the Non-mobile and Mobile Turkish Students’ L2 Requests
Within internal modification, the students in both groups preferred similar linguistic tools. Lexical (e.g., marker ‘please’, subjectivizers) and syntactic downgraders (e.g., conditional structures) were the most frequent internal modification tools in their requests. Compared to the use of downgraders (lexical or syntactic), the use of upgraders was less frequent (table 4). Within upgraders, intensifiers (e.g., ‘really’ and ‘very’) and time intensifiers (e.g., ‘as soon as possible’) were frequent in both groups’ requests.
|discourse orientation move||16||1|
|getting a precommitment||1||1|
I was wondering why you haven’t announced the results of exam. Is it possible to give me some information if you have time.
This example was written to a higher status interlocutor to obtain information (results of an exam). Interlocutor relationship and the degree of imposition were high, and the register of the interaction was formal. The example starts with a combination of an informal opener, and a formal address term (‘Sir’). The main text contains two syntactic (aspect: ‘I was wondering…’; conditional structure: ‘if you have time’), and one lexical downgrader (consultative device: ‘Is it possible to…?’). The closure in this email is an informal statement of gratitude (‘Thanks’). The structural and the lexico-grammatical features of this text illustrate an effort to produce formally written texts containing modification tools to increase politeness.
Within external modification, some differences and similarities were present in the mobile and non-mobile Turkish students’ requests. The results illustrated that the non-mobile participants employed external modification tools more commonly (N = 124) than their mobile peers (N = 110). However, the variety of these formulas was the same in both groups (table 5). The most common external modification tools were also similar between the groups. These were grounders (N = 86, mobile students; N = 82, non-mobile students,) and apology (N = 13, mobile students; N = 17, non-mobile students). By providing a grounder, the speaker provides reasons or justifications for his request (e.g., ‘because…’).
A significant difference related to the use of external modification tools between the mobile and non-mobile participants was the frequency of discourse orientation moves. These are linguistic items that serve as an orientation function but do not necessarily soften or aggravate the request (e.g., ‘You know…’). While there was a considerable amount of discourse orientation tools in the non-mobile students’ data (N = 16), this external modifier was encountered only in one instance in the mobile students’ data.
Finally, considering the contextual variables of specific WDCTs, the students’ performances in both groups again showed similarities. For example, both mobile and non-mobile students employed the most frequent and varied forms of modifiers for the fifth, the sixth and the first task. These tasks entailed either unequal interaction between high social distance interlocutors (tasks 5 and 6) or contained a request with a high degree of imposition (task 1). Tasks five and six required formal email communication between students, professors, student administration (for the non-mobile students) and Erasmus coordinators (for the mobile students). However, in task one, the students requested lecture notes of a friend.
The least frequent and varied forms of modifiers were identified in tasks three, four and seven. In these WDCTs, the participants interacted with equal level interlocutors on an informal basis and the degree of imposition of their requests was low. In tasks three and seven, the students were required to send informal text messages to their friends while in task four they were asked to send a message to their friends through social media messaging. The fact that the participants took into consideration the contextual variables and modified their requests according to the variables of social distance and the degree of imposition is taken as an indicator of developed pragmatic awareness.
3.3 Results of the Refusal Data
This study identified similarities and differences between the mobile and non-mobile Turkish higher-education students also in terms of their English refusal products. First, both groups employed mainly indirect refusal strategies in their refusal texts that were written as a response to the requests, offers, suggestions and invitations of equal or unequal level interlocutors. Second, direct refusals were the least common refusal strategies in the students’ written refusal products. Next, the non-mobile and mobile students employed a considerable amount of adjuncts to refusals, which increase politeness of their refusals (cf. Beebe et al. 1990; Gungormezler 2016; Rasekh Eslami 2010). Adjuncts are useful linguistic tools from the taxonomy of refusal strategies (cf. Beebe et al. 1990), and are used to increase politeness of refusals. Concerning the variety of specific refusal strategies, the students employed more different and varied formulas of indirect strategies than direct strategies and adjuncts (table 8).
Thank you for your nice offer but there is something I have to do so I won’t come.
In this task, students refused an invitation to a social event. The relationship between the interlocutors was equal and the register of the writing was informal (social media messaging). The example contains direct and indirect strategies and adjuncts to refusals. It starts with an adjunct (statement of gratitude or appreciation: ‘Thank you for …’), and continues with an indirect refusal formula (excuse/reason: ‘there is something …’). The example ends with the direct refusal formula of negative willingness (‘I won’t come’). It does not contain any opener or closure; however, considering the socio-pragmatic variables in this interaction (low social distance and informal interaction), lack of such items does not seem to create a significant appropriateness issue.
In order to determine whether the differences in terms of the frequency of different refusal strategies were statistically significant between the mobile and non-mobile Turkish participants in this study, an independent samples t-test was conducted. The total frequency of direct strategies, indirect strategies and adjuncts to refusals constituted the dependent variables, while mobility versus non-mobility constituted the independent variables. Mean scores, probability figures in a Levene’s test and a t-test for equality means were examined.
The results in table 6 illustrate that the differences between the mobile and non-mobile Turkish students in terms of the use of different refusal strategies were statistically significant for direct and indirect refusal strategies. In other words, the use of direct and indirect strategies while producing the speech act of refusal could be influenced by students’ mobility experiences (p = .03 for direct strategies and p = .00 for indirect strategies). However, no statistically significant differences were identified in terms of the use of adjuncts between the mobile and non-mobile students (p = .15).
In addition to the t-test, a correlation analysis was made in relation to the use of different refusal strategies and academic mobility (table 7). Results indicated a significant linear relationship between mobility and the use of direct and indirect refusal strategies. According to this, there is indeed a statistically significant positive correlation between the use of direct strategies and mobility (r = .271, N = 60, p = .036), while there is a statistically significant negative correlation between mobility and the use of indirect refusal strategies (r = –.438, N = 60, p = .00). Moreover, the results indicated that there is a significant non-linear relationship between the use of direct and indirect refusal strategies (r = –.318, N = 60, p = .013). Finally, a statistically significant linear relationship was identified between the use of adjuncts to refusals and indirect strategies (r = .389, N = 60, p = .002).
The mobile as well as non-mobile students in this study combined various strategies in one refusal text. For example, they employed indirect strategies together with adjuncts to refusals, or one refusal text included more than one type of indirect refusal formula. Wijayanto and Hikmat (2016) have stated that there are no clear-cut boundaries between refusal strategies, and various strategies can be combined in one single utterance.
Table 8 illustrates the frequency of different refusal strategies identified in the mobile and non-mobile Turkish participants’ refusal texts. As can be observed in this table, the non-mobile Turkish students completed one refusal task less than their mobile peers. The reason for this is that one refusal WDCT, which was evaluated to be irrelevant to the non-mobile student context, was eliminated from the WDCTs that were given to the non-mobile participants. Consequently, the mobile students completed 9 while the non-mobile students completed 8 refusal WDCTs. This fact was taken into consideration during the interpretation of the frequency results.
In table 8, the first number in each column refers to the total occurrences of a particular refusal strategy while the second refers to the variety of the refusal formulas within the strategy type. For example, column one (indirect strategies, non-mobile students) shows that the non-mobile participants’ refusal texts for WDCT9 contained 50 indirect refusal strategies that comprised seven different formulas within these strategies. The specific refusal formulas within the direct and indirect strategies and adjuncts to refusals are illustrated in tables 9, 10 and 11 below.
|Tasks||indirect strategies: non-mobile||indirect strategies: mobile||direct strategies: non-mobile||direct strategies: mobile||adjuncts: non-mobile||adjuncts: mobile|
One of the observations in table 8 is that direct refusal strategies were significantly more frequent in the non-mobile students’ texts than the mobile students’. The total direct formulas in the mobile students’ refusal texts were 82 while it was 107 in the non-mobile students’ texts. The higher frequency of direct refusals in the non-mobile students’ texts becomes all the more significant considering the fact that these students produced one refusal WDCT less than their mobile peers. This finding implies that the non-mobile Turkish students in this study were less successful in terms of indirectness than their mobile peers.
Table 8 further illustrates that adjuncts to refusals and indirect strategies were more frequent in the mobile students’ refusal products. This difference is not considered significant given the fact that the mobile students completed one refusal WDCT more than their non-mobile peers. In other words, the higher frequency of indirect refusals and adjuncts in the mobile Turkish students’ data could be a natural result of the number of writing tasks that they completed.
Actually I can not do the presentation because I have to study for an exam. Maybe it can not an excuse but I’m so anxious about it. Please understand me, thank you.
In this example, the students refused the request of a professor to give a presentation at a cultural event. The example contains the direct refusal formula of negative ability (‘I can not…’) the indirect refusal formulas of excuse/reason (‘I have to study for an exam’), a request for empathy (‘Please understand me’), and an adjunct (statement of gratitude: ‘thank you’). Considering the pragmatic infelicities in this example, the opener creates an appropriateness issue for this formal type of interaction. The informal type of opener is not suitable for addressing or greeting a higher status interlocutor in formal written communication. Furthermore, the second excuse/reason statement lacks a verb and seems to create some clarity issues (‘Maybe it cannot [missing verb] an excuse …’).
Examining the refusal formulas in table 9, we can observe that the most common indirect refusal formulas were the same in the non-mobile and mobile students’ refusals. Students in both groups preferred employing excuse/reason and regret statements, statements to let the interlocutor off the hook (stating a lack of a need for an offer and/or invitation) and statements that provide alternatives.
|let interlocutor off the hook||47||27|
|promise for future acceptance||14||22|
|request for empathy||11||4|
|acceptance that functions as refusal||1||1|
|set condition for future acceptance||0||1|
|state negative consequence||0||1|
Within direct refusal strategies as well, the mobile and non-mobile Turkish higher-education students employed similar refusal formulas (table 10). The most common direct refusal formula was negative ability statements (e.g., ‘I cannot…’; ‘I will not be able to…’). This shows that while generating the speech act of refusal, these students, whether mobile or non-mobile, find it useful to state their lack of ability to comply with a request, suggestion or invitation. Finally, concerning the use of adjuncts (table 11), both groups mainly employed statements of gratitude and statements of positive opinion (e.g., ‘Thank you’).
|adjuncts to refusals||non-mobile||mobile|
|statement of gratitude||83||95|
|statement of positive opinion||42||51|
|statement of empathy||9||7|
In terms of the variety of refusal formulas within different refusal strategies, it was identified that the mobile students’ refusal texts were richer than those of their non-mobile peers. For example, all indirect refusal formulas that the non-mobile students employed were identified in the mobile data as well. However, some formulas that were identified in the mobile students’ refusals did not appear in the non-mobile data. For example, setting condition for future acceptance, avoidance and statement of negative consequences were present only in the mobile students’ data.
This may imply that the mobile students’ foreign language skills were more developed than the non-mobile students’ because the ability to employ a variety of modification tools and refusal formulas can be an indicator of language proficiency. In support of this argument, Economidou-Kogetsidis (2011) stated that employing a combination of various linguistic devices while producing distinct speech acts requires native-like competence. We may, therefore, claim that the existence of a variety of different modification tools and formulas can be regarded as an indicator of developed language proficiency.
This study represents an experimental investigation aiming to understand its participants’ speech act performances based on the specific intercultural interactions that these participants were provided with within different writing tasks. Additionally, the study examined the relationship between academic mobility and speech act production.
The results presented similarities between the mobile and non-mobile participants concerning their speech act products. However, there were also considerable differences in terms of the students’ politeness efforts and the appropriateness of their speech act products. Appropriateness of students’ speech act products was examined by focusing on the presence of redressive language structures such as modification tools (internal/external modification tools) and indirect strategies (e.g., adjuncts). However, the quantitative results on the use of such tools were not enough to determine appropriateness. The study additionally focused on the social distance and register, and compared the quantitative data with these contextual features in each scenario. In other words, we looked at how effective the students’ linguistic performances were in terms of reaching their goals (i.e., making a request or refusal in the politest ways), and whether and how they took into consideration the contextual features in the interaction.
When producing requests in English, both the non-mobile and mobile Turkish students preferred internal modification tools to mitigate their utterances. Although the students also employed external modifiers, these tools were less common. In terms of the most common internal and external modification tools, both groups preferred syntactic and lexical downgraders (e.g., ‘would you mind’, ‘just’, ‘maybe’, ‘a bit’). Upgraders were considerably less frequent than downgraders, and the most common upgraders were intensifiers (e.g., ‘really’, ‘very’) and time intensifiers (e.g., ‘as soon as possible’).
Both groups used grounders often. The frequent use of a grounder for the speech act of requesting can be related to the students’ cultural background. Tuncer (2016) explained that a lack of an explanation or excuse is considered disrespectful and impolite in Turkish culture while making a request or refusal. Considering the politeness of an utterance, grounders have often been evaluated positively because they lead to an empathetic attitude and convey positive politeness by assuming the hearer’s cooperation (cf. Economidou-Kogetsidis 2011). Grounders also express negative politeness by explaining to the hearer that there are valid reasons for the imposition that is exerted on him (cf. Hassall 2001).
Comparative statistical analysis (t-test) determined no significant differences between the mobile and non-mobile students in terms of the frequency of internal and external modification tools in the English requests. This finding may suggest that mobility does not influence the use of internal or external modification tools. However, it may not be plausible to assume that the students’ pragmatic competence is not influenced by their mobility experience at all. Employing a higher frequency of modifiers does not always imply appropriateness and politeness in speech act production.
Although modification is essential for politeness, some speech acts may require less modification for the concerns of appropriateness. For example, for the purpose of appropriateness, an informal requesting interaction between friends may not necessitate frequent modification and formality markers. Instead, an informal style and less frequent modification may be considered more polite and appropriate for such interactions.
A correlation analysis was executed to examine the relationship between academic mobility and modification use in speech act production. Its results indicated no significant relationship between mobility and the use of internal or external modification tools. However, a significant linear relationship was determined between internal and external modification tools. This implies that internal modification has a positive correlation with external modification.
Because of the considerations of appropriateness, which is essential for effective intercultural communication, the present study has not focused only on the occurrences and frequency of certain modification markers in speech act products, but also on the socio-pragmatic variables specific in each writing task. According to contextual variables, both the non-mobile and mobile students made distinctions in their requesting texts. In other words, the students took into consideration the distance between the interlocutors, the degree of imposition denoted in their requests, and also the register of a writing task (formal vs informal).
Both groups employed the most frequent and varied forms of modifiers for the tasks that entailed either unequal interaction between high social distance interlocutors or for a task that contained a request with a high degree of imposition. On the other hand, the least frequent and varied forms of modifiers were identified in tasks that entailed equal level interaction on an informal basis with a low degree of imposition. The students’ efforts for politeness by using various modification tools, and their consideration of the contextual variables in different speech act scenarios may be interpreted as developed pragmatic awareness.
While producing refusals, both the non-mobile and mobile students modified their texts through indirect refusal strategies. The most common indirect refusal formulas were excuse/reason and regret statements. The frequency of direct refusals, which are the least effective formulas for politeness, was lower when compared to indirect refusals and adjuncts. Direct refusal formulas were more common in informal interactions between equal level interlocutors and in refusals entailing a low degree of imposition or low face-threat. The most common direct refusal formulas were statements of negative ability.
These results were similar in previous research in the Turkish context. In Han and Burgucu-Tazegul’s (2016), Capar’s (2014), Gungormezler’s (2016), and Tuncer’s (2016) research on Turkish students’ refusal performances in English, the participants mainly employed excuse/reason, regret and alternative statements. Furthermore, these studies also confirmed that employing indirect strategies was effective for politeness in producing the speech act of refusals (cf. Asmalı 2013; Gungormezler 2016; Turkmen 2010).
The occurrence of adjuncts to refusals was considerable in the refusal products of both groups. This result was positive from the point of appropriateness because adjuncts are useful tools for indirectness and politeness (cf. Siebold/Busch 2015; Sadler/Eroz 2001). This study also revealed that the non-mobile and mobile Turkish students employed various strategies in one refusal task. However, the choice of direct and/or indirect strategies seems to have been influenced by the contextual variables in interactions. Direct refusals were more common in informal refusals with low degree of imposition while indirect refusals were more frequent in refusals with high degree of imposition and high social distance.
In order to test whether the differences in terms of the frequency of different refusal strategies were statistically significant between the non-mobile and mobile students, an independent samples t-test was conducted. It showed that the differences between the use of direct and indirect strategies were indeed significant between the groups. Therefore, it can be argued that mobility can create differences in employing distinct politeness strategies for refusal production. Mean scores showed that direct strategies were significantly more common in the non-mobile students’ refusals. This finding supports that mobility can be effective to improve students’ refusal performance in English.
Concerning the link between academic mobility and the use of different refusal strategies, a correlation analysis was carried out. Results showed that there is a statistically significant relationship between mobility and the use of direct and indirect refusal strategies. This relationship is linear for direct strategies and mobility while non-linear for mobility and indirect strategies. The relationship between mobility and indirect strategies was stronger (r = –.438) than the relationship between mobility and the direct strategies (r = .271). Additionally, the analysis indicated a non-linear relationship between the use of direct and indirect refusal strategies, and a significant linear relationship between the use of adjuncts to refusals and indirect strategies.
Modification and indirectness are essential for politeness while producing speech acts in English. However, they may not suffice to generate appropriate speech acts. Our findings indicate that contextual variables such as the social distance between the interlocutors, the degree of imposition, type of the communication (written vs spoken) and register are important intervening variables to be taken into account, especially considering appropriateness of speech acts. This means that solely quantitative analysis measures will not be sufficient to examine speech act products in L2 within intercultural interactions.
Another effective variable in generating speech acts is lexico-grammatical choices, which is related to foreign language proficiency. Higher proficiency learners seem to employ modification tools more frequently. These tools are effective in increasing indirectness and politeness.
Concerning the relationship between mobility and pragmatic competence, this study found that mobility is effective for pragmatic development as it provides extensive exposure to the target language and culture. Specifically, our findings presented that mobility has a positive influence on L2 students’ refusal performances in English. The mobile Turkish students’ English refusals were more successful in terms of indirectness than those of their non-mobile peers. The mobile students’ refusal products also contained a wider variety of linguistic formulas that helped to increase politeness. This is important in that previous research has not established such a relationship between mobility and speech act performance.
The findings in this study can be useful in determining ways to improve non-mobile and mobile students’ pragmatic abilities, and to increase the quality of academic pre-mobility orientation activities. Furthermore, the study is important in raising awareness on the importance of pragmatic competence for academic exchanges. Like Martinez-Flor and Uso-Juan (2010) state, providing learners with opportunities to develop their ability to perform and understand speech acts in both foreign language and intercultural contexts is nowadays recognized as the ultimate goal of language teaching. Since mobility provides students with such opportunities, its value should be stressed and its relationship with pragmatic and intercultural competence should be examined in further research.
As Kecskes (2014) explains, pragmatic competence in L1 is the result of language socialization: “Language and social development in L1 go hand in hand, and are inseparable. However, this is not the case in L2” (p. 65). Therefore, academic mobility programs, which enable contact with the given speech community, should be promoted via more enhanced pre-mobility and post-mobility orientation, preparation and support activities, courses or trainings.
This study examined only written type of data and therefore, the findings cannot be generalized to other forms of intercultural interactions such as spoken communication. Future research can investigate and compare students’ written and spoken speech act products. However, it should be noted that such studies may require the analysis of other variables and linguistic formulas than those employed in the present study. Lexical and grammatical items such as formal openers and closures are prominent in written communication while pause fillers and other non-verbal formulas are more marked in spoken interaction. This means that further research should determine the analysis variables clearly if it aims to compare written and spoken speech act data.
Future research can also examine different types of speech acts (e.g., apologies, complaints) within mobility contexts and analyse the influence of mobility on pragmatic performance from different angles. By combining different types of data (spoken vs written) within mobile and non-mobile student groups, it may be possible to determine whether mobility has an influence on specific L2 skills (i.e., writing or speaking). Additionally, individual learners can be monitored during mobility. As Schauer (2009) mentioned, previous speech act research focused on groups’ performances mainly. By conducting new studies that focus more on the individual learner, it may be possible to determine more precisely the influence of individual factors.
Appendix 1: Written Discourse Completion Tasks for Local Students
Below, you will find 16 situations that could occur between students and other people. As a student, read the situation and respond by writing in English what you would say in each case.
1. You missed a few classes of an important course because you attended a social event. You would like to get your classmate’s notes. Send a Facebook message to your friend to borrow his notes.
2. You would like to register to a language course in your city. Send an email to the language centre to ask how to register for the course.
3. As a new student at the university, you need to register with the student administration. Another student in your class has already done that. Send a text message to ask where to go and whom to contact.
4. You need to find a bookstore to get some books for one of your courses. Ask your friends on Facebook where to go
5. You need to register with the student administration. You sent an email to the student administration and asked for information, but have not received a reply yet. It is important that you make your application on time. Send a new email to them.
6. You have to hand in a paper tomorrow, but you haven’t finished it. Send an email to your professor to get an extension.
7. It is your first day at university. You cannot find your classroom. Send a text message to another student and ask where classroom 110 is.
8. You have been waiting for the results of an exam. Your professor has not announced the results yet. Send an email to learn why she has not made the announcement yet.
9. You attend courses regularly and take notes. Another student often misses classes. This student sent you a text message and asked for your lecture notes. Reply to the message telling him that you do not really want to share your notes.
10. Some students sent you a message on social media inviting you to a party in the city. Reply to the message to let them know that you cannot go.
11. Some students in your class are planning to go on a trip. They ask if you would like to join them. The trip is quite costly. Send them a text message telling that you cannot join them.
12. A friend of yours often has problems with paying her bills on time. She asks you by email if you could lend her some money. Tell her that you cannot help.
13. A friend is going to pay you a visit. Before coming, she sends you a text message telling that she will bring some drinks. Reply to her message that she does not need to bring any drinks.
14. You have sent an email to student administration to make an appointment. In their reply, they ask you whether 10 am is suitable for you. Respond that you are not available at 10 am.
15. One of your professors sent you an email to ask whether you could make a presentation about your favorite country for a cultural event in a week’s time. Reply that you cannot do the presentation because you have to study for an exam.
16. One of your professors sent you an email to learn if you needed any help using the online course materials. Reply that you do not need guidance on this topic.
Appendix 2: Written Discourse Completion Tasks for Exchange Students
Below, you will find 17 situations that could occur between exchange students and other people in the host country. As an exchange student, read the situation and respond by writing in English what you would say in each case.
1. You missed a few classes of an important course because you attended a social event organized for exchange students. You would like to get your classmate’s notes. Send a Facebook message to your friend to borrow his notes.
2. You would like to learn the local language during your Erasmus stay. Send an email to your Erasmus coordinator to ask how to register for a language course.
3. As a foreign student, you need to register with the city administration. Another foreign student in your class has already done that. Send a text message to ask where to go and who to contact.
4. You need to find a laundry close to your dormitory to wash your clothes. Ask your friends on Facebook.
5. You need to register with the city. You do not know where to go for the registration. You sent an email to your Erasmus coordinator and asked for information, but have not received a reply yet. It is important that you make your application on time. Send a new email to your coordinator.
6. You have to hand in a paper tomorrow, but you haven’t finished it. Send an email to your professor to get an extension.
7. It is your first day at your host university. You cannot find your classroom. Send a text message to another exchange student and ask where classroom 110 is.
8. You have been waiting for the results of an exam. Your professor has not announced the results yet. Send an email to your professor to learn why she has not made the announcement yet.
9. You attend courses regularly and take notes. Another foreign student often misses classes. This student sent you a text message and asked for your lecture notes. Reply to the message telling him that you do not really want to share your notes.
10. Some local students sent you a message on social media inviting you to a party in the city. Reply to the message to let them know that you cannot go.
11. Some students in your class are planning to go on a trip. They ask you if you would like to join them. The trip is quite costly. Send them a text message telling that you cannot join them on the trip.
12. A friend of yours often has problems with paying her bills on time. One day, she asks you by email if you could lend her some money. Tell her that you cannot help.
13. In an email, your Erasmus coordinator asked you if she should make an appointment for you at student administration. Reply her to tell that you have already arranged the appointment.
14. A friend is going to pay you a visit. Before coming, she sends you a text message telling that she will bring some drinks. Reply to her message that she does not need to bring any drinks.
15. You have sent an email to student administration to make an appointment. In their reply, they ask you whether 10 am is suitable for you. Respond that you are not available at 10 am.
16. Your Erasmus coordinator sent you an email to ask whether you could make a presentation about your country for a cultural event in a week’s time. Reply that you cannot do the presentation because you have to study for an exam.
17. At the beginning of term, one of your professors sent you an email to learn if you needed any help using the online course materials. Reply that you do not need guidance on this topic.
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Dr. Diler Aba Poulos completed her doctoral studies in linguistics with a focus on intercultural communication and academic mobility at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. Her previous research focused on English language teaching, pragmatics, speech acts, academic mobility and intercultural communication.
Prof. Dr. Tom F.H. Smits is an Associate Professor at the Department of Linguistics and the Antwerp School of Education of the University of Antwerp (Belgium), and a Senior Research Associate in the Faculty of Education at Rhodes University (South Africa). His research activities cover language variation as well as differentiation, multicultural teaching, and intercultural competences with students in Belgium, Turkey, Indonesia, South Africa and DR Congo.
Dr. Diler Aba Poulos
Prof. Dr. Tom F.H. Smits
University of Antwerp