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Expressing complaint in Spanish: university students from the USA and Spain Teresa Fernández Ulloa California State University, Bakersfield / Universidad de Cantabria
Interlanguage Pragmatics focuses on: "the study of nonnative speakers' comprehension, production, and acquisition of linguistic action in L2" (Kasper 1995:1) "the study of nonnative speakers' use and acquisition of L2 pragmatic knowledge" (Kasper and Rose 1999:81)
It is predominantly concerned with issues of cross-cultural politeness and it deals with: Non-native speaker comprehension and production of a small number of speech acts, such as requests, apologies, refusals, complaints, compliments and compliment responses Use of internal and external modification to speech acts and learners' use of semantic formulas or lexical downgraders. And, recently, discourse/pragmatic markers.
TO COMPLAIN 1) To express feelings of pain, dissatisfaction, or resentment, 2) To make a formal accusation.
DATA We have gathered materials from different students: -Spanish speaking students (Spanish as a first language, and living in Spain). -Spanish speaking students (living in Mexico) -North American students (they study Spanish as a second language, although they are from Mexican origin, and most of them have always spoke Spanish at home). -North American students (they study Spanish as a second language, and do not have a Hispanic origin).
We used: -A questionnaire survey about complaint speech and politeness expressing complaint. -Letters of complaint for three different situations: to the Dean of the university, to a bank, and to a roommate.
General and specific hypotheses: Sociocultural norms and values (e.g. politeness, modesty) of the source language (L1) influence learners’ performance in the target language (L2) The origin and amount of knowledge of Spanish will affect their speech (Mexican and Castilian varieties use different strategies). There may be differences between sexes.
The Questionnaire Do you usually complain if there is something that you do not like? Yes It depends on the problem I do not usually complain a lot I do not complain Do you complain more or less depending on how much you know the person, or his/her job, category, age…?
Do you complain more or less with the following? 1 is the most, 5 is the less. Family Friends Work or university mates Teachers, bosses In shops, banks… Do you try to be polite when you complain about something?
What type of linguistic procedures do you use? Examples: please, could you… Do you give ideas trying to improve what you consider wrong? How do you define politeness? What is the purpose of politeness? Does it bother you when people complain?
Does it bother you when people complain about you? Do you notice differences in how people complain depending on their language and culture, for example, in English and Spanish? Explain, give examples.
Letters of complaint (3 levels of formality) -Write a letter to the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences complaining about the enrollment fees, and the lack of classes that you need to finish your studies. -Write a letter to your bank complaining about a mistake they have made with your account (there is some money missing in it). - Write a letter or note to a very noisy roommate who organizes parties at home, and plays very loud music (you cannot sleep nor study).
Sections of analysis (letters) a) Response patterns (different speech act combinations of the following components: Initiator, Request, Complaint, Gratitude).
b) Level of directness: -- Indirect (no explicit mention of offence, just implied); -- Somewhat direct (mention of offence, no mention of the hearer's responsibility). With positive politeness (interrogative, use of diminutive and softeners—a little, sort of, or use of conditional--, attenuation with I know, I understand ), or negative politeness (being formal, indirect formulation, use of conditional, mitigators— if you don´t mind --, negative interrogation); -- Very direct (explicit mention of offence and hearer's responsibility for it: threats in future tense, use of imperative).
c) Amount of mitigation (use of softeners): diminutives, use of conditional...
Response patterns 14 response patterns were found, based on which speech act combinations (Initiator, Request, Complaint, and Gratitude) it contained. The most common response patterns among all groups were ICRG (37.25%) and ICR (29.41%). It seems that the degree of formality has some influence, because ICRG is most common in the letter to the Dean (42,10%), followed by the letter to the bank manager (31.58%), and the letter to a roommate (26.32%).
Structures including “gratitude” for solving the reason of complaint are more frequent in the letter to the Dean (64.70%), followed by the one to the bank (52.94%), and the letter to the roommate (47.05%), what also shows that level of formality has some influence. The letter to a roommate was also the one with more different structures: ICRC, IRCR, IRCRG, IRC, RC, CRG, that do not appear in the other situations.
Level of directness We observe that more direct letters are more often if they are for a roommate, then to the bank, and finally to the Dean: Letter to the Dean : 23.52% are very direct (mention of the offence and hearer´s responsibility) and 76.47% are direct (mention of the offence, but not the offender). Letter to the bank : 58.82% are very direct and 41.18% are direct. Letter to a roommate : 88.23% are very direct and 11.76% are direct.
QUESTIONNAIRE To the question “Do you usually complain if there is something that you do not like?” , some students answered “I don´t usually complain a lot” (5.9%), but most answered “It depends on the problem” (94.1%). To the question “Does it bother you when people complain?”, 47.06% answered NO, 35.29% answered YES, and 7.65% did not answer.
“ Does it bother you when people complain about you?” Most students (82.35%) do not bother, because “I know they are sincere”, “it´s better than lies”, “I like them to be honest”. “ Do you notice differences in how people complain depending on their language and culture, for example, in English and Spanish?”. Most thought there are no differences (52.94%), 41.17% thought there are some, such as “they use more words in English”, “In Spanish people are nicer, and have usted and tú “, “Afroamericans are more aggressive”. And 5.9% did not answer.
“ Do you think that complaints are more direct in English or in Spanish?” Most students did not find any differences (64.71%). 23.53% thought Spanish is more direct 11.76% thought English is more direct.
We have not analyzed the results of the students from Spain and Mexico, but we expect to find differences. Many studies show that Hispanic societies are much more direct and positive politeness oriented and the British culture much more indirect and negative politeness oriented, with the American culture falling in between. There is a need to incorporate aspects of Pragmatic variation in the foreign language curriculum. There are language variation across the Hispanic world, also at the pragmatic level. Situations of conflict are also frequent when learners transfer their forms or strategies, or they use the ones appropriate in one variety but not in other, resulting in impolite or overpolite behaviour.