Item Details

‘I will not put this request at the very beginning’: Chinese EFL students’ perception of pragmatic (in)felicity in English email requests

Issue: Vol 4 No. 1 (2019) Special Issue: Second language pragmatics

Journal: East Asian Pragmatics

Subject Areas:

DOI: 10.1558/eap.38210


Pragmatic (in)felicity in requests refers to the (in)appropriateness and (im)politeness of one's language use. It has been a great challenge to L2 learners, as they are likely to compose grammatically correct but pragmatically infelicitous requests. Such infelicity could be associated with pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic factors, yet whether L2 learners are aware of those factors has been underexplored. To understand the effects of power, imposition, and modifications on email perception, we designed a matched guise test for 224 Chinese L2 learners, who were instructed to rate from 1 (very inappropriate/impolite) to 5 (very appropriate/polite) on four email requests (Power±; Imposition±). We found that (1) learners are highly aware of pragmalinguistic factors because they perceive requests mitigated by internal and external modifications as more appropriate and polite (p < .05), (2) learners have limited awareness of power difference as they rank direct form as inappropriate in peer-to-peer interaction, and (3) learners cannot realise fully the sociopragmatic factors involved in high-imposition situations. The awareness of pragmatic (in)felicity among learners seems to be underdeveloped as regards degree of power and imposition. The findings could have some implications in language pedagogy.

Author: Qun Zheng, Ying Xu

View Full Text

References :

Achiba, M. (2003). Learning to request in a second language: A study of child interlanguage pragmatics. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Al-Ali, M. N., & Sahawneh, M. B. (2008). An investigation into the generic features of English requestive e-mail messages. LSP & Professional Communication, 8(2), 40–64.

Allot, N. (2016). Key terms in pragmatics. Beijing: Foreign Language and Research Press.

Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Griffin, R. (2005). L2 pragmatic awareness: Evidence from the ESL classroom. System, 33(3), 401–415.

Barón, J., & Ortega, M. (2018). Investigating age differences in e-mail pragmatic performance. System, 78, 148–158.

Barron, A. (2007). ‘Ah no honestly we’re okay’: Learning to upgrade in a study abroad context. Intercultural Pragmatics, 4(2), 129–166.

Bella, S. (2012). Pragmatic development in a foreign language: A study of Greek FL requests. Journal of Pragmatics, 44(13),19171947.

Biesenbach-Lucas, S. (2004). Speech acts in email: A new look at pragmatic competence. Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the American Association of Applied Linguistics, Portland, OR.

Biesenbach-Lucas, S. (2007). Students writing emails to faculty: an examination of e-politeness among native and non-native speakers of English. Language Learning and Technology, 11(2), 5981.

Bloch, J. (2002). Student/teacher interaction via e-mail: The social context of Internet discourse. Journal of Second Language Writing, 11(2), 117–134.

Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. (1989). Cross-cultural pragmatics: Requests and apologies. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Bou-Franch, P. (2011). Openings and closings in Spanish email conversations. Journal of Pragmatics. 43(6), 1772–1785.

Brown, P., & Levinson. S. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Buchstaller, I. (2006). Social stereotypes, personality traits and regional perception displaced: Attitudes towards the ‘new’ quotatives in the U.K. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 10(3), 362–381.

Byon, A. S. (2004). Sociopragmatic analysis of Korean requests: Pedagogical settings. Journal of Pragmatics, 36(9), 16731704.

Chen, C.-F. (Emily). (2006). The development of e-mail literacy: From writing to peers to writing to authority figures. Language Learning and Technology, 10(2): 35–55.

Chen, Y. S. (2015). Developing Chinese EFL learners’ email literacy through requests to faculty. Journal of Pragmatics, 75, 131149.

Council of Europe. (2001). Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Culpeper, J. (2011) Impoliteness: Using language to cause offence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dailey-O’Cain, J. (2000). The sociolinguistic distribution of and attitudes toward focuser like and quotative like. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4(1), 60–80.

Economidou-Kogetsidis, M. (2008). Internal and external mitigation in interlanguage request production: The case of Greek learners of English. Journal of Politeness Research, 4(1), 111138.

Economidou-Kogetsidis, M. (2010). Cross-cultural and situational variation in requesting behaviour: Perceptions of social situations and strategic usage of request patterns. Journal of Pragmatics, 42(8), 22622281.

Economidou-Kogetsidis, M. (2011). ‘Please answer me as soon as possible’: Pragmatic failure in non-native speakers’ email requests to faculty. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(13), 31933215.

Economidou-Kogetsidis, M. (2016). Variation in evaluations of the (im)politeness of emails from L2 learners and perceptions of the personality of their senders. Journal of Pragmatics, 106, 119.

Economidou-Kogetsidis, M., & Woodfield, H. (Eds.) (2012). Interlanguage request modification. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Félix-Brasdefer, C. (2008). Perceptions of refusals to invitations: Exploring the minds of foreign language learners. Language Awareness, 17(3), 195–211.

Félix-Brasdefer, C. (2012). E-mail requests to faculty: E-politeness and internal modification. In M. Economidou-Kogetsidis & H. Woodfield (Eds.), Interlanguage request modification (pp. 87–118). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Fukushima, S. (2000). Requests and culture: Politeness in British English and Japanese. Berlin: Peter Lang.

Halenko, N., & Jones, C. (2017). Explicit instruction of spoken requests: An examination of pre-departure instruction and the study abroad environment. System, 68, 26–37.

Hassall, T. (2008). Pragmatic performance: What are learners thinking? In E. Alcón Soler & A. Martinez-Flor (Eds.), Investigating pragmatics in foreign language learning, teaching and testing (pp. 72–93). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Haugh, M., & Chang, W. (2015). Understanding im/politeness across cultures: An interactional approach to raising sociopragmatic awareness. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 53(4), 389–414.

Hendriks, B. (2010). An experimental study of native speaker perceptions of non-native request modification in e-mails in English. Intercultural Pragmatics, 7(2), 221–255.

Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions and organizations across nations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hong, W. (1997). Sociopragmatics in language teaching: With examples of Chinese requests. Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association, 32, 95107.

Ifantidou, E. (2013). Pragmatic competence and explicit instruction. Journal of Pragmatics, 59(A), 93–116.

Jaworski, A. (1994). Pragmatic failure in a second language: Greeting responses in English by Polish students. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 32(1), 41–56.

Kecskes. I. (2014). Intercultural pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kim, H., & Elder, C. (2015). Interrogating the construct of aviation English: Feedback from test takers in Korea. Language Testing, 32(2), 129149.

Krulatz, A. (2012). Interlanguage pragmatics in Russian: The speech act of request in email (Unpublished PhD dissertation). The University of Utah, USA.

Lam, P. W. Y. (2009). Discourse particles in corpus data and textbooks: The case of well. Applied Linguistics, 31(2), 260–281.

Lambert, W. E., Hodgson, R. C., Gardner, R. C., & Fillenbaum, S. (1960). Evaluational reactions to spoken language. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 60(1), 44–51.

Lee, H. (2013). The influence of social situations on fluency difficulty in Korean EFL learners’ oral refusals. Journal of Pragmatics, 50(1), 168–186.

Leech, G. (1983). Principles of pragmatics. London: Longman.

Leech, G. (2017). The pragmatics of politeness. Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.

Lewin-Jones, J., & Mason, V. (2014). Understanding style, language and etiquette in email communication in higher education: A survey. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 19(1), 7590.

Li, D. (2000). The pragmatics of making requests in the L2 workplace: A case study of language socialization. Canadian Modern Language Review, 57(1), 5887.

Marriott, H. (1995). The acquisition of politeness patterns by exchange students in Japan. In B. Freed (Ed.), Second language acquisition in a study abroad context (pp. 197224). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Matsumura, S. (2003). Modelling the relationship among interlanguage pragmatic development, L2 proficiency, and exposure to L2. Applied Linguistics, 24(4), 465–491.

Otcu, B., & Zeyrek, D. (2008). Development of requests: A study of Turkish learners of English. In M. Puetz & J.-N. Aertselaer (Eds.), Contrastive pragmatics: Interlanguage and cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 265300). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Roever, C., Fraser, C., & Elder, C. (2014). Testing ESL sociopragmatics: Development and validation of a Web-based test battery. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Rose, K. (2000). An exploratory cross-sectional study of interlanguage pragmatic development. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 22(1), 27–67.

Savić, M. (2018). Lecturer perceptions of im/politeness and in/appropriateness in student e-mail requests: A Norwegian perspective. Journal of Pragmatics, 124 ,52–72.

Schauer, G. (2006). Pragmatic awareness in ESL and EFL contexts: Contrast and development. Language Learning, 56(2), 269318.

Schauer, G. (2007). Finding the right words in the study abroad context: The development of German learners’ use of external modifiers in English. Intercultural Pragmatics, 4(2), 193–220.

Schmidt, R. (1993). Consciousness, learning and interlanguage pragmatics. In G. Kasper & S. Blum-Kulka (Eds.), Interlanguage pragmatics (pp. 21–42). New York: Oxford University Press.

Spencer-Oatey, H., & Kádár, D. (2017). The bases of (im)politeness evaluations: Culture, the moral order and the East–West debate. East Asian Pragmatics, 1(1), 73–106.

Stephens, K., Houser, M., & Cowan, R. (2009). ‘R U able to meat me’: The impact of students’ overly casual email messages to instructors. Communication Education, 58(3), 303326.

Taguchi, N., & Roever, C. (2017). Second language pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Takahashi, S. (2001). The role of input enhancement in developing pragmatic competence. In K. R. Rose & G. Kasper (Eds.), Pragmatics in language teaching (pp. 171–199). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thomas, J. (1983). Cross-cultural pragmatic failure. Applied Linguistics, 4(2), 91-112.

Thomas, J. (1995). Meaning in interaction: An introduction to pragmatics. London: Longman.

van Compernolle, R. A. (2014). Sociocultural theory and L2 instructional pragmatics. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Wang, J. Y., & Taylor, C. (2018). The conventionalisation of mock politeness in Chinese and British online forums. Journal of Pragmatics, 142, 270–280.

Woodfield, H. (2012a). ‘I think maybe I want to lend the notes from you’: Development of request modification in graduate learners. In M. Economidou-Kogetsidis & H. Woodfield (Eds.), Interlanguage request modification (pp. 9–50). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Woodfield, H. (2012b). Pragmatic variation in learner perception: The role of retrospective verbal report in L2 speech act research. In C. Felix-Brasdefer & D. A. Koike (Eds.), Pragmatic variation in first and second language contexts: Methodological issues (pp. 209–223). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Zheng, Q. (2015). Revisiting You know using the BNCweb query system: A sociopragmatic analysis. In K. Beeching & H. Woodfield (Eds.), Researching sociopragmatic variability (pp. 94–118). Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Zhu, W. H. (2012). Polite requestive strategies in emails: an investigation of pragmatic competence of Chinese EFL learners. RELC Journal, 43(2), 217–238.