Imposition Perception and Gratitude Strategies used by NSs and Arab ESL learners

Imposition Perception and Gratitude Strategies used by NSs and Arab ESL learners
Linguistic knowledge whilst being an important ingredient to effective communication, there is more to communication that just this knowledge. The exercise of the linguistic knowledge appropriately in a socio-cultural context is critical which therefore qualify pragmatics as a critical aspect of second language ability. Communication is a complex behavior that therefore employs both linguistic as well as pragmatic competence. The socio cultural norms as well as constraints affect the way we communicate and as pointed out in a research by Rizk (2003), what one language considers appropriate and acceptable another considers the opposite. Citing an example of the West African community, telling a girl that she is fat is acceptable as a compliment but in the American context, this is derogatory.
There has been increased investigation into the pragmatics related to the learning and use of English as a second language (ESL) among the Arab ESL students. The general evidence has pointed to a difficulty among the Arab ESL learners in the reading and literacy skills vis-a-vis other ESL populations (Fender, 2008). There has been an over indulgence by classroom teachers in the dissemination of linguistic knowledge, is attributed to rampant cases of pragmatic failures when real life context communication actually occurs between the native speakers with the EFL learners resulting from such reasons such as rudeness. The use of a language effectively is only achievable when the learners acquire pragmatic competence which is basically the ability to understand language in context (El Samaty 2005). The purpose of this study is to investigate the imposition perception as well as the gratitude strategies that are adopted by the Native Speakers and Arab ESL learners.
In the interaction between members of a society, the expression of gratitude is one of the significant acts. When appropriately expressed, this act “engenders the feelings of warmth and solidarity among the interlocutors” (Eisenstein & Boadman, 1993 pg. 64). Their study also suggested that this act is not a mere language function spurred as a response to beneficial actions but is a negotiated and interactive event bearing much greater social significance. The expression of gratitude is both gratifying to both the speaker and hearer (Intachakra, 2004). The failure to express gratitude however is regarded as rude and there is a consensus among scholars that this speech act is introduced early in life (Becker & Smenner, 1986 Hinkel, 1994 Lin & Yu, 2006).
Literature Review
There is vast wealth in the field of Interlanguage Pragmatics (ILP). Interlanguage pragmatics, a component of cultural studies is very much concerned with the influence of the pedagogical issues on pragmatic development (Ghobasi & Fahim, 2009). ILP studies have pointed out the perceptions as well as actions in a target language by nonnative speakers as well as studies on of how L2 learners acquire and develop the ability to understand and commit actions in a target language (Kasper and Rose, 2002). The development of communicative competence therefore is as a result of the performance of communicative tasks with a clear communicative purpose that assists learners to acquire the norms of the second culture which is diverse across cultures and which influences the contextual usage of these communication tools (Kasper and Rose, 2002).
There is a vast history to the study of speech and Pishghadam and Gharei (2012) report that for the last 15 years, investigations have intensified with a lot of strides being arrived at in the area of speech realization with a lot of these studies designed to compare and contrast the English speech acts with other languages. The expression of gratitude is one of those speech acts which may seem insignificant among the speech acts. Coulmas (1981) posits that most learners of ESL are very likely to encounter a variety of situations which required the employment of the expression of gratitude. This speech acts classified under an expressive act based on the classifications of Searle (1976) and it is in response to a prior act of the second party here known as the interlocutor (Ahar & Eslami-Rasekh, 2011). It is therefore reactive. Ahar and Eslami-Rasekh posit that
Based on different social variables and also the size of favour the thanking expressions are accompanied by additional acts that directly address the actions of the hearer by way of compliments, expressing indebtedness, and stating the speaker`s inability to articulate deep feelings, e. g. You`re a lifesaver. Thanks. I`ll never forget it. You really can`t imagine what this means to me (Ahar & Eslami-Rasekh, 2011 Pg. 120).
The study of this speech act is recorded as early as 1962 by Austin which classifies this act as behabitative (“Concerning our attitudes and expression of attitudes towards one`s social behavior.” (Pishghadam and Gharei 2012 Pg 117). Another study by Apte (1974) also studied the expression of gratitude among Marathi and Hindi as compared to American English with the findings suggesting the American culture is richer in the usage of expressions of gratitude as compared to that of the South Asian communities. He noted that in American English usage, “the giving of thanks for favours, gifts or services is considered appropriate and expected” while among the Marathi and Hindi the expression of gratitude to friends or family members for any favour extended to self is unexpected and is considered a violation of the feeling of closeness since there is an incumbent expectation that family members and friends should help each other out.
Another study by Eisenstein & Bodman (1986, 1988) investigated the use of this speech act by groups of participants who had different first language background in comparison with NS of American English. In this study, they studied the nonnative speakers in their expression of gratitude where they used observation of the naturally occurring interactions as well as taking field notes and also employing interviews on the speakers. From this study, they stated that the speakers apparently are unaware of the underlying miens of expressing gratitude, and that the speakers assumed that the expressions are universal thereby leading to the assumption of the differences in the use of this speech act in difference cultures. The study found that there were variations in the performance of the different language groups for instance the results indicated better performance by the Russian speakers as opposed to the Japanese who according to the 1986 study exhibited extensive and severe problems with the expression of gratitude speech act. Creese studies similarities and differences between American and British speakers in five speech acts greeting, apologizing, complimenting, thanking and requesting and from the study he found out that compliments are used to express gratitude as well solidarity. Jung (1994) suggested that the selection of the gratitude expression to a certain extent was influenced by the speakers evaluation of the favour advanced and on the expressions of gratitude function.
Another study by Ohashi (2000) suggests that thanking is not really an expression of gratitude among the Japanese but is rather a form of symbolic repayment by the beneficiary of a debt whose aim is to tip the debt-credit imbalance. The assertion is supported by other Japanese studies by Miyake (1994), Nakata (1989) and Nakai and Watanabe (2000). American English employs the usage of compliments in expression of gratitude in comparison to Japanese NS while it is noted that the Japanese use apologetic expressions much more. In another study among the Persian EFL learners, investigating the proficiency among these learners in the usage of the gratitude expressions, Janani concluded that there was no significant variance in the two levels of students.
In his study, Cheng (2005) investigated the expressions of gratitude by EL in China while considering pragmatic development and from the results of the study he concluded that there was a high level of similarity of patterns and strategies employed by both Chinese EFL and the Americans however noting that there was some difference in the use of terms of address that interact high and low status while American speaker employed the use of more thanking, appreciate and repayment strategies in comparison to the Chinese. From this study he concluded that social statuses as well as imposition were important factors which influence the strategy use.
In another study in 2008, Chang (2008) comparing the Chinese EFL to native English speakers perception, production and utilizing expressions of gratitude noted same preferences between the two groups. The social status of the interlocutors, the size of imposition as well as the language proficiency was identified as factors which influenced them in the employment of the strategies. Another conclusion from the study was that the interlocutors felt more indebted if they felt they were capable of causing more imposition to the hearer.
Al-Khateeb (2009) in the study of the act of thanking as a compliment response by Arab learners found out that the Arab speakers are unable to produce target like responses as a result of negative pragmatic transfer. In this study, Al-Khateeb found out that they generalize the L1 strategies as well as strategies and expression to L2 situations. This study brought to the fore the proposition that Arab learners concentrate more on linguistic competence and subsequently ignore pragmatic competence. Al-khateeb concludes that the Arab learners simply translate their utterances without regard to the illocutionary force that is associated to the words in L2. Al-Khateeb asserts that Arabs tend to have lengthier utterances in the expression of thanks suggesting that they are more sincere in their thanks. Also in this same line of study, Farina and Sulehnan (2009) in studying Iranian EFL learners found out that they used a variety of strategies in the expression of gratitude in the English language.
Al-Khateeb (2009) in his study suggests that there exists some universal attributes between languages although there may not be an exact mapping of the intended functions in matching the semantic formula which is used to express gratitude among languages. Cultural differences may lead to pragmatic transfer since there is a variance in the different values in different cultures. This is a major cause of pragmatic failure leading to miscommunication as a result of the spread of the transfer of cultural norms from La and L2.
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