Refusal strategies in L1 and L2: a study of Iranian learners of English

2017-02-17T00:06:08Z (GMT) by Babai Shishavan, Homa
Given the international status of English language, it is of prime importance to study how English is used by its non-native speakers as well as investigating whether and how their local cultural norms and conceptualisations affect their communication in English. Therefore, as an attempt to extend research in the realm of EIL, this study aimed at investigating the refusal strategies of Iranian English language learners (N=86) in Persian (L1) and English (L2) as well as examining social and cultural norms associated with this speech act. The study further investigated the similarities and differences between the refusal strategies of the Iranian learners of English and those of a cohort of Anglo-Australian students (N=24) to shed light on possible areas of cross-cultural miscommunication. For the purpose of data collection, English and Persian versions of a DCT were administered. As a novel attempt in studies of cross-cultural pragmatics, social and cultural underpinnings of refusals of Iranian English language learners were also investigated through Focus Group Interviews (FGIs). Both quantitative and qualitative techniques of analysis were employed to analyse the data. The study also examined the impact of different social and situational variables on realisation of refusals. In addition to social status, this study took the age and gender of the interlocutors as well as the degree of imposition present in the situation into account as social and situational variables. The results of the quantitative analysis of the DCT data revealed that the performance of the Iranian participants in English was closely similar to their performance in Persian in terms of using refusal head acts. However, their performance differed significantly in L1 and L2 in terms of frequency of occurrence of supportive move strategies. Despite the differences observed in frequency of occurrence of the supportive move strategies in Persian and English responses of the Iranian group, the most frequently used supportive move strategies were generally the same both in L1 and L2 of this group. Moreover, at times the content of the supportive move strategies used by the Iranian participants in English reflected Persian cultural norms and pragmatic schemas. For example, some instances of ‘statements of regret and apology’ and ‘gratitude/appreciation’ used by the Iranian participants to mitigate refusals in L2 instantiated the Persian pragmatic cultural schema of sharmandeghi (being ashamed). Moreover, some of the supportive move strategies in English responses of the Iranian group such as ostensible invitations while refusing an initial invitation, represented the Persian cultural schema of tă’ărof (ritual politeness). The FGI responses also revealed that certain Persian cultural schemas such as tă’ărof and ru-dar-băyesti (state/feeling of distance-out-of-respect) affected the production and interpretation of refusals by the Iranian students both in Persian and English to a large extent. Furthermore, a number of social, situational and personal factors as well as the nature of elicitation acts in response to which refusals were produced were said to influence the choice of refusal strategies. Both similarities and differences were observed in performance of the Iranian and Australian participants with regard to the use of refusal head acts. The Iranian and Australian participants used similar head acts in interaction with older interlocutors, opposite gender interlocutors and those of higher social status. The refusals of the two groups were also similar in situations with a high degree of imposition. However, a significant difference to the degree that could lead to communication breakdown in intercultural settings was observed between the refusals of the Iranian and Australian participants when interacting with interlocutors of the same age, same gender and the same social status. Their performance was also significantly different in situations with a low degree of imposition. The performance of the Iranian participants also differed from that of the Australian participants in terms of the frequency of occurrence of different supportive move strategies while refusing invitations, requests, suggestions and offers. The reasons provided by the two groups for opting out of refusing also showed that while the Iranian group referred to the same reasons for avoiding refusals in their L1 and L2, the Iranian and Australian participants opted out of refusals for different reasons. The findings of the study lent support to the idea that realisation patterns of refusals vary from one language and culture to another. These differences can be a source of miscommunication and misunderstanding in intercultural encounters. This study can be advantageous in helping Persian speakers to develop a deeper understanding of their first language norms. It can also help them gain insight into how their local cultural conceptualisations interact with their use of English. Further, it can be helpful in encouraging them to reflect on their local politeness norms in relation to those of Anglo Australian speakers. The findings of this study can also be beneficial to scholars and practitioners who aim at developing their understanding of cross-cultural differences in pragmatic behaviour.