REFUSALS TO INVITATIONS: The Use of Vietnamese Learners of English and the Use of Native Speakers of English - A Comparison

To become effective communicators in today’s connected world, it is necessary for language learners to gain true communicative competence. Communicative competence, according to Hymes (1967), includes not only knowledge of linguistic forms but also knowledge of when, how and for whom it is appropriate to use these forms. Likewise, Ellis (1994:696) states that communicative competence “entails both linguistic competence and pragmatic competence”. Pragmatic competence is defined as ‘the ability to use language effectively in order to achieve a specific purpose and to understand language in context’ (Thomas 1983:94). She also distinguishes between pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic competence. Pragmalinguistic competence refers to the appropriate language to accomplish a speech act, whereas sociopragmatic competence refers to the appropriateness of a speech act in a particular context. Increasing attention has been paid to pragmatic competence due to the fact that many learners may have good knowledge of grammar and a wide range of vocabulary but they may still fail in real interaction with native speakers. Moreover, in accordance with Thomas (1983), native speakers often forgive the phonological, syntactic and lexical errors made by L2 speakers but usually interpret pragmatic errors negatively as rudeness, impoliteness or unfriendliness. Over the past few decades, language teaching in the world and in Vietnam has witnessed a shift from the focus on the development of learners’ linguistic competence to the development of learners’ communicative competence. To facilitate this change, there is a need for more studies on learners’ pragmatic competence, including studies on interlanguage pragmatics. This study is carried out in an attempt to understand more about the interlanguage pragmatics of Vietnamese learners of English.

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Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION 1.1. Pragmatic competence To become effective communicators in today’s connected world, it is necessary for language learners to gain true communicative competence. Communicative competence, according to Hymes (1967), includes not only knowledge of linguistic forms but also knowledge of when, how and for whom it is appropriate to use these forms. Likewise, Ellis (1994:696) states that communicative competence “entails both linguistic competence and pragmatic competence”. Pragmatic competence is defined as ‘the ability to use language effectively in order to achieve a specific purpose and to understand language in context’ (Thomas 1983:94). She also distinguishes between pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic competence. Pragmalinguistic competence refers to the appropriate language to accomplish a speech act, whereas sociopragmatic competence refers to the appropriateness of a speech act in a particular context. Increasing attention has been paid to pragmatic competence due to the fact that many learners may have good knowledge of grammar and a wide range of vocabulary but they may still fail in real interaction with native speakers. Moreover, in accordance with Thomas (1983), native speakers often forgive the phonological, syntactic and lexical errors made by L2 speakers but usually interpret pragmatic errors negatively as rudeness, impoliteness or unfriendliness. Over the past few decades, language teaching in the world and in Vietnam has witnessed a shift from the focus on the development of learners’ linguistic competence to the development of learners’ communicative competence. To facilitate this change, there is a need for more studies on learners’ pragmatic competence, including studies on interlanguage pragmatics. This study is carried out in an attempt to understand more about the interlanguage pragmatics of Vietnamese learners of English. 1.2. The speech act of refusal to invitation: a face - threatening act Refusals are considered to be a ‘sticking point’ for many non-native speakers (Beebe et al. 1987). Refusals to invitations occur when a speaker directly or indirectly says ‘No’ to an invitation. It is, in fact, a face – threatening act. Face, in Brown and Levinson’s (1987:61) definition, is ‘the public self image that every member wants to claim for himself’, that is the emotional and social sense that everyone has and expects everyone else to recognize. Therefore, in interaction, people often cooperate to maintain each other’s face. However, some acts, by their nature, make it difficult to maintain the face of the participants in an interaction. These acts are referred to as face-threatening. Some acts threaten the hearer’s face, others threaten the speaker’s face, still others threaten the face of both the hearer and the speaker. To reduce the risk of possible communication breakdown due to these face-threatening acts, the participants can say something to lessen the threat to the face of the others. This is referred to as a face-saving act. Refusing an invitation contradicts the inviter’s expectation; thus, it is a face - threatening act. It tends to risk the interpersonal relationship of the speakers. To maintain the face of the inviter, the person who refuses the invitation is expected to use many face-saving acts or strategies. Or in other words, it is important for that person to give the impression that he/she still cares about the inviter’s wants, needs or feelings. It requires a high level of pragmatic competence. However, the way people refuse, or the manipulation of the face-saving strategies, varies across languages and cultures. Language learners, due to the limitation in language proficiency and the high requirement of pragmatic competence for this speech act, are at a great risk of offending their interlocutor when carrying out a refusal to an invitation. Beebe et al. (1987:133) claim that ‘the inability to say ‘No’ clearly and politely, though not directly has led many non-native speakers to offend their interlocutors.’ The present study is an attempt to understand more about Vietnamese EFL learners’ refusal strategies in the hope to raise their pragmatic awareness and partly improve their pragmatic competence. 1.3. Structure of the thesis The thesis consists of five chapters. Chapter 1 discusses pragmatic competence, the speech act of refusal to invitation and the rationale of the study. The chapter ends with information on the structure of the thesis. Chapter 2 reviews previous studies on the speech act of refusal, especially those examining the factors under investigation of the study, i.e. the strategy use in relation to the interlocutor’s social status. The review helps form the theoretical background for the study. Chapter 3 describes the methodology used in the study, including the aims, the research question of the study, the data collection method, the data collection instrument, data collecting procedures and the subjects of the study. The coding framework and data analysis are also presented in this chapter. Chapter 4 presents and discusses the results of the study with regard to the strategies used by the two groups of subjects, native speakers of English (NSEs) and Vietnamese learners of English (VLEs) in relation to the interlocutor’s social status for the speech act of refusal to invitation. Chapter 5 summarizes the major findings of the study, gives implications for language teaching, points out the limitations of the study and suggests areas for further research. Chapter 2 LITERATURE REVIEW 2.1. Research on the speech act of refusal Although the speech act of refusal is a face-threatening act which causes problems for not only non-native speakers but also native speakers, fewer studies have investigated the act than other acts such as request, apology or greeting. However, the studies on the speech act of refusal vary across the areas of study around the act. Some of them aim to reveal the speech act in one language or culture, for instance, Chinese (Chen, Ye & Zhang, 1995; Bresnahan, Ohashi, Liu, Nebashi & Liao, 1999), English (Kitao, 1996), Japanese (Moriyama, 1990; Laohaburakit, 1995), Peruvian Spanish (Garcia, 1992, 1996). Some have been interested in the cross-cultural perspective of the speech act. They compare the refusal patterns or strategies used by speakers of a language other than English with those used by native speakers of English (Shigeta, 1974; Liao & Bresnahan, 1996; Phan, 2001; Nelson, Carson, Batal & Bakary, 2002; Kwon, 2004; Hsieh, Chia-Ling & Chen, 2005; Dang, 2006). Others study the refusal strategy use of non-native speakers of English and native speakers of English or focus on pragmatic transfer (Beebe & Takahashi & Uliss-Weltz, 1990; Beebe & Cumming, 1996; Lauper, 1997; Al-Issa, 2003; Al-Eryani, 2007). This chapter will review previous studies investigating the speech act of refusal. Specifically, the studies on cross-cultural refusals will be reviewed in section 2.2 and those on interlanguage refusals will be reviewed in section 2.3. 2.2. Cross-cultural refusals Some major studies on cross-cultural refusals are Kwon (2004) and Nelson et al. (2002). Besides, there are some unpublished studies which are MA theses on the speech act of refusal to requests and refusals to invitation in English and Vietnamese, Phan (2001) and Dang (2006). Kwon (2004) examines the refusal expressions in Korean and American English. She used the DCT taken from Beebe et al. (1990) to collect refusals from 40 Korean speakers in Korea and 37 American English speakers in the United States of America. The DCT included 12 situations designed to elicit refusals to requests, invitations, offers, and suggestions in lower, equal or higher status situations. The data were analyzed in terms of semantic formulas and categorized according to the refusal taxonomy by Beebe et al. (1990). They compared the frequency and content of semantic formulas of the two groups and found out that although the range of refusal strategies are similar between the two groups, the frequency and content of semantic formulas are different. For instance, Korean speakers hesitated more frequently and used direct refusal formulas much less frequently than English speakers. Thus, Korean speakers’ refusals at times sounded less transparent and more tentative than those of English speakers. In addition, Korean speakers frequently paused and apologized before refusing while English speakers often stated positive opinion and expressed gratitude for a proposed action. With regard to content of semantic formulas, the two language groups differed in terms of the types of reasons used in their refusals. Korean speakers typically used reasons, for example, referring to a father’s 60th birthday when refusing a boss invitation which was not included in the English data. Nelson et al. (2002) investigate similarities and differences between Egyptian Arabic and American English refusals. They used a modified version of the DCT developed by Beebe et al. (1990) as their data collection instrument for 30 American interviews and 25 Egyptian interviews. They gained 289 American English refusals and 250 Egyptian refusals. Each refusal was divided into its component strategies and the data were analysed to compare the average frequencies of direct and indirect strategies, the average frequencies of specific indirect strategies. Results indicate that both groups use similar strategies with similar frequency in making refusals. This finding is contrary to Kwon’s (2004). Research investigating the refusal strategies in Vietnamese and English includes Phan (2001) which was restricted to refusals to requests between Vietnamese speakers and English speakers and Dang (2006) which focused on hedging in invitation declining in American English and Vietnamese. Both of the studies used DCT questionnaires to collect data. Phan (2001) found out that both Vietnamese and native informants tended to use more indirect refusals than direct ones. In both Anglophone and Vietnamese cultures, city dwellers were more direct than rural people and the informants who did not know any foreign languages are more indirect than those with knowledge of some foreign languages. However, she also pointed out some difference between the two groups of informants. All the Anglophone informants were more direct than the Vietnamese. Dang (2006) found seven main hedging strategies utilized by the two groups of informants, Vietnamese and NSs of English, including delaying, showing regret, giving excuses, showing appreciation, blaming the partner, giving an alternative and mixing different ways. Among these, mixing different ways was the favourite strategy of both groups, whereas blaming the partner is the least favoured tactic. The frequency of each strategy used by both parties varies according to age, gender, power, distance of the speakers and the hearers and to the formality of the invitations. Some important factors which emerge from the above reviewed studies inform the present study. Firstly, speakers of other languages (Korean & Egyptian Arabic) and NSEs employ similar range of refusal strategies (Kwon, 2004; Nelson et al., 2002). Secondly, the frequencies of use of refusal strategies vary according to languages. In Nelson et al. (2002), the frequency of use of refusal strategies are similar between speakers of Egyptian Arabic and NSEs, whereas Kwon (2004)) found that the frequency of use of this speech act is different between speakers of Korean and NSEs. Thirdly, the contents of the semantic formulas of the refusals by Korean speakers and NSEs are different (Kwon, 2004). With regard to the data collection instrument, both studies (Kwon, 2004; Nelson et al. 2002) utilized the DCT constructed by Beebe et al. (1990) and their data were analyzed according to the refusal taxonomy by Beebe et al. (1990). As for the research on the speech act of refusal in Vietnamese, it was found that Vietnamese people were substantially more indirect than NSEs (Phan, 2001). The frequency of each strategy among seven strategies listed by Dang (2006) varies according to age, gender, power, distance of the speakers and the hearers and to the formality of the invitation. 2.3. Interlanguage refusals Studies on interlanguage refusals can be divided into two groups. The first group includes those focusing on comparing refusals by non-native speakers of English and those by native speakers of English. The other includes those concentrating on pragmatic transfer. Five studies belonging to the first group are Chen (1996), Widjaja (1997), Sadler and Eroz (2001), Tanck (2002), Nguyen (2006). Interested in finding the similarities and differences in the strategy use, Chen (1996) examined the speech act of refusal by American NSs and Chinese advanced EFL learners. Her data collection instrument was DCT questionnaires modified from those of Beebe et al. (1990). The collected data were analyzed and categorized according to the refusal taxonomy developed by Beebe et al. (1990). She found out that direct refusal (i.e., ‘No’) was not a common strategy for any of the subjects, regardless of their language background. Moreover, she found that an expression of regret, common in American speakers’ refusals was not generally produced by the Chinese learners, which could lead to unpleasant feelings between speakers in an American context. Widjaja (1997) investigated date refusals between Taiwanese females versus American females. In the study, 10 Taiwanese and 10 American female college students performed three different dating role plays (classmate, stranger and boyfriend contexts) in English as a second language versus native language with retrospective interviews to get at thought processes and negative and positive politeness strategy formulation. Negative politeness strategies included a direct refusal, a refusal, an indirect refusal, an expression of regret, an excuse, an objection, and a hedge. Positive politeness strategies included offering an alternative, a vague future acceptance, a future acceptance, a postponement, solidarity, a positive remark, a positive opinion and thanking. Results showed that both groups preferred negative politeness strategies but the Taiwanese preferred higher directness in refusing dates. Sadler and Eroz (2001) used the written refusal DCT developed by Beebe et al. (1990) as the data collection instrument in an examination of English refusals by NSEs, Laotian and Turkish. Thirty participants filled in their refusal DCT in English – 10 Americans, 10 Laotians, and 10 Turkish. The data were also analysed in terms of semantic formulas and categorized according to the refusal taxonomy by Beebe et al. (1990). It was found that the frequency, the order and the content of the semantic formulas utilized in the refusals of all the three groups were different. Although all the respondents tended to use excuses, explanations or reasons with a statement of regret preceding or following the reasons or excuses, the Turkish subjects refused a bit less than the others. The Turkish and American subjects used pause fillers and then statements of gratitude and appreciation, while the Laotian respondents used more statements of regret followed by adjuncts. Tanck (2002) compared refusals by NNSs of English speaking different L1 (Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, and Thai) and those by NSEs. She found that NSEs and NNSs used the components of a refusal (expression of regret, excuse, offering alternative) with similar frequency. However, the result of her study also indicated that the quality of the components of the speech act of refusal produced by NNSs was different from those produced by NSEs. NNSs’ responses were less appropriate in the situations under study. They were linguistically correct, but often lacked the pragmatic elements that allow this face-threatening act to be received by the interlocutor. In exploring similarities and differences in the strategy use of Vietnamese learners of English (VLEs) and the NSEs, Nguyen (2006) investigated the strategy use in the speech act of refusal, but restricted to refusals of request. She used a questionnaire in the form of DCT based on the Cross-cultural Speech Act Realization Project (CCSARP) (Blum-Kulka and Olshtain 1984) for data collection. 40 NSEs and 40 VLEs participated in the study resulted in 1440 speech acts of refusal. The data were categorized according to the refusal taxonomy by Beebe et al. (1990) and analyzed to compare the frequency of the speech act of refusal to request in selected situations. It was found that the frequency of the use of the speech act of refusal by the Australian NSs of English was different from that by the VLEs. Although the VLEs and the Australian NSs of English employed the same number of speech acts of refusal, the VLEs used more statements of regret, more statement of empathy and more reason/ excuse/ explanation than Australian NSs of English. Moreover, Australian NSs of English tended to be more direct in their refusals. The studies investigating the refusal strategies of learners of English and focusing on pragmatic transfer include Beebe et al. (1987, 1990), Lauper (1997), Yamagashira (2001), Al-Issa (2003) and Al-Eryani (2007),. In both of their studies (1987, 1990), Beebe and her colleagues investigated the speech act of refusal produced by Japanese learners of English. Their data collection instrument was DCT questionnaire consisting of 12 situations eliciting refusals to requests, invitations, offers and suggestions. These situations vary according to the hearer’s status, i.e. higher, equal and lower. The findings generally suggested that the Japanese learners transferred their native refusal patterns into the target language, and the transfer was evidenced in the frequency, order and content of the semantic formulas they used. Beebe et al. (1987) also found that pragmatic transfer was pervasive, not limited to any specific level of foreign or second language learning. However, more advanced learners tended to make more transfer because their high level of proficiency helped them express themselves more easily in their native ways while speaking English. Also being interested in Japanese ESL learners’ refusals, Yamagashira (2001) compared the language patterns used to make refusals by both Japanese learners of English and American English NSs in different situations. Additionally, pragmatic transfer was considered. Such factors as learners’ English proficiency, the time spent in the States, and explicit instructions on pragmatic knowledge were also examined. The DCT questionnaire developed by Beebe et al. (1990) was used to collect data. The data were also analysed and categorised according to the refusal taxonomy by Beebe et al. (1990). The results showed that pragmatic transfer did occur in the learners’ refusals. The time spent in the States, the L2 proficiency of the Japanese speakers, and explicit instructions on pragmatic knowledge were shown to affect pragmatic transfer. If a subject was immersed in English, his/ her response was more similar to that of NSs. Moreover, the lower L2 proficiency subjects used their L1 refusal style, whereas the highest L2 proficiency subjects used only American English refusal strategies. The subject who had received explicit instructions on pragmatics responded to the refusal situations appropriately in English. Lauper (1997) investigated whether or not the learners’ native language and their reason for refusing would have an effect on their refusal strategies. The subjects were 60 NSs of English, 60 NSs of Spanish and 60 Spanish learners of English. A DCT questionnaire was used to elicit refusals for 20 situations. The data also concerned the subjects’ age, gender, level of education. Analysis of the responses resulted in a taxonomy of 43 refus

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