Politeness study of requests and apologies as produced by Saudi Hijazi, EFL learners, and British English university students

  • Israa Qari

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The current thesis contributes to the existing literature on politeness research and teaching English as a second language (TESOL) by investigating requests and apologies as produced by Saudi Arabic native speakers, Saudi English as a foreign language (EFL) learners, and British native speakers.

    Data was collected through the use of discourse completion test questionnaires from 160 university students. Participants were divided into six groups: 40 male Saudi students; 40 female Saudi students; 20 male Saudi EFL students; 20 female Saudi EFL students; 20 British males; and 20 British females. The data was analysed based on Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory and using the Cross Cultural Speech Act Research Project (CCSARP) request and apology coding systems.

    Results showed that in specific situations, there were significant differences between the mean scores of the groups in terms of their strategy use. From a cross-cultural comparative perspective, Saudi males and females generally preferred to use direct strategies in their requests; whereas EFL and British groups were systematically more indirect. However, the Saudis also used the largest number of modifiers, such as religious softeners and prayers. On closer inspection, it seems that directness as used by the Saudis does not equate impoliteness, as suggested by Brown and Levinson (1987). Rather, it might be the case that the British tend to express polite forms by using syntactic and linguistic devices; whereas the Saudis tend to express polite forms by using direct linguistic means mitigated by the use of semantic softeners.

    From a pedagogical perspective, Saudi EFL learners showed consistent parallels with British native speakers’ preference for using indirect styles, although at somewhat a lower rate. Linguistically, they appeared to limit their use to specific strategies; mainly to query preparatory forms. The British, on the other hand, demonstrated a wider use of indirect strategies using various types of linguistic devices. Moreover, EFL learners reflected negative pragmatic transfer from their Mother tongues (L1) in their answers. These were mostly linguistic realisations which were directly and literally translated from Arabic to English, and which also resulted in ungrammatical English formations. They also demonstrated negative pragmatic transfer in their choice of perspective. For example, just like the Saudis, both EFL groups preferred the use of the hearer perspective more than the speaker perspective. The British, on the other hand, used the speaker perspective more. Furthermore, there appeared to be a number of gender differences between males and females within each group, but the difference between Saudi males and females was most prominent. These will be discussed in the thesis conclusion.

    The thesis concludes with recommendations for instructors and policy makers to include in their classrooms and curriculum making, such as the inclusion of the indirect forms that the British used in this study, and were not part of the original CCSARP speech-act classification.
    Date of Award21 Feb 2017
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton

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