Email requests: Politeness evaluations by instructors from diverse language backgrounds

Winans, Michael
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University of Hawaii National Foreign Language Resource Center
Center for Language & Technology
(co-sponsored by Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning, University of Texas at Austin)
This study investigates syntactic modifiers as part of the request speech act within email messages and builds on studies of L2 pragmatics within computer-mediated communication to identify how modifications affect perceived politeness. Enrolled in first-year composition courses, the participants formed two groups: English L1 (EL1) students (n=32) and English-language learning (ELX) students (n=25). Request head acts were analyzed using Biesenbach-Lucas’s (2007) findings with respect to syntactic modifiers as formulated in the Cross-Cultural Study of Speech Act Realization Coding Framework (Blum-Kulka, House, & Kasper, 1989). Previous research has shown that mitigation of the directness of a request affects the perception of politeness. The results of this study show that syntactic modifiers (e.g., past tense, progressive aspect, and syntactic embedding) were used to a greater extent by EL1 students, and that the modifiers correlated with politeness, as rated by instructors. However, the data also indicate that the limited use of syntactic modifiers did not have an effect on the politeness of ELX writers who were perceived as more polite than their EL1 counterparts. This study calls into question past research that does not take into account the learning environment nor the diverse language backgrounds of both students and instructors.
Politeness, Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), Cross-cultural Pragmatics, Interlanguage Pragmatics (ILP)
Winans, M. D. (2020). Email requests: Politeness evaluations by instructors from diverse language backgrounds. Language Learning & Technology, 24(2), 104–118.
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