This paper aims to examine the notions of politeness in the context of the most repeated strategies of request that the Pakistani undergraduate English language learners (ELLs) articulate in multilingual classrooms. Guided by the qualitative research design, sixty ELLs comprising two different ethnic groups (Siraiki-speaking and Pashto-speaking) served as the participants. Selected through purposive sampling from a university in Pakistan, the data are collected through discourse completion tasks, role plays, and focus group discussion. Analyzed according to the taxonomy of cross-cultural speech acts realization patterns for requests, the findings of the study reveal that Pakistani ELLs used conventionally indirect requests commonly than supplementary strategies, which were executed through certain traits of politeness. To furnish ELLs with pragmatic competence, this study suggests a few key strategies needed for both in terms of pedagogical practice in Pakistani multilingual classrooms.
Request Strategies, Politeness, Speech Acts, Pragmatic Competence
Politeness focus remains on the interactional balance between the interlocutors used for pragmatic intelligibility and the concern to avoid coerciveness. This can only be made possible if the speakers rely more on conventional indirect strategies, which is, undoubtedly, a true manifestation of indirectness and is considered a highly attributive aspect of politeness. Moreover, the appropriateness of politeness varies among languages and cultures as what is considered polite and according to the social norms in one situation or culture, but, at the same time, it could also be perceived as impolite or exceptionally polite in a different language and culture. In addition, the prescribed rules of politeness associated with the first language (henceforth, L1) might be transferred in the learning process from L1 to the second language (henceforth, L2) by learners who sustain hybridized practices due to the interference of L1. Thus, this article explores the involvement of politeness which is influenced by the speakers’ mother tongue, and the strategies adopted during the accomplishment of requests between Pashtu and Saraiki-speaking English language learners (henceforth, ELLs) in a multilingual university classroom in Pakistan. Tracing out the origin of politeness, a theory proposed by Brown and Levinson (1987) highlights the nature of politeness that takes place in communication. Further, it also points out the concept of face, which illustrates the wish or desire of an individual to sustain his/her self-image during an interaction. Among the speech acts, the request is the one considered as more impolite that's why the speech acts of the request were tagged as face-threatening acts (henceforth, FTAs). Similarly, a positive face involves self-image, whereas negative face desires encompass independence and competence (Chen, 2017).
Politeness theory in certain aspects revolves around interlanguage pragmatics (Kinginger, 2011). Further, being polite as a resource could be beneficial in request strategies which have been acknowledged as a tool in alleviating the imposition for both interlocutors (Chen, 2017). In simple words, politeness is integrated by the requester with a purpose to demonstrate contemplation of the recipient's stance, by and large done verbally (Elmianvari & Kheirabadi, 2013). Likewise, politeness theory offers that social context influences the selection of a particular politeness strategy during the accomplishment of a given speech act (Daskalovska et al., 2016). Likewise, politeness can be viewed as a prerequisite to accomplishing requests to lessen the level of imposition. Similarly, Alam et al. (2021) have pointed out that English as second language learners come across various pragmatic barriers that create an obstacle in their competence to furnish with the pragmatic competence of the target language. They stated further that learners' lack of ability to communicate efficiently in varied social discourse backgrounds vividly identifies the inapt use of language which creates latent grounds for miscommunication when such learners are asked to communicate with native speakers as this pragmatic failure is perceived as impoliteness. Thus, it pertains to the nature of the issue, specifically culturally bound. For instance, a misfire might take place if you ask about a woman's age in some specific cultures, while in other cultures, it might not be likely perceived. Hence, politeness to some level is beneficial in communication, thereby reducing the distance between interlocutors, identified as positive politeness. To put it simply, to evade disagreement, a speaker can also employ politeness markers to mitigate the force of the request (Terkourafi, 2011), such as please, which becomes a dire need when the request is of high imposition on the addressee (Sifianou, 2012).
The understudy speech acts of requests are not only often used in daily life, but it is also referred to as the most comprehensively researched speech acts. Moreover, scholars (e.g., Hu, 2014; Li, Suleiman& Sazalie, 2015; Ortactepe, 2012) demonstrated that ELLs come across many pragmatic challenges in learning pragmatic competence and communicating precisely due to their incompetence in displaying the cross-cultural knowledge. In the modern world, where there is a growing tendency of communication across the globe thereby speakers belonging to different cultures come into interaction, speech acts with different communicative functions are used to achieve certain set objectives (Sattar & Suleian, 2009). Therefore, it is suggested from the above literature that English language learner pedagogy should keep into consideration the emergent needs of the learners’ language functions and shall pay serious attention to cross-cultural understanding (Jazeri & Nurhayati, 2019). Moreover, due to its vital role in the process of communication, examining speech acts of requests is still a remarkable concern among scholars (Maros & Halim, 2018). Hence, much work has been done in the field of cross-cultural pragmatics, in particular across different languages by (Daskalovska et al., 2016; Güneş & Ortaçtepe, 2019; Yazdanfar & Bonyadi, 2016). In Indonesian ELLs in academic settings, some relative research has been conducted to explore as what are the strategies through which Indonesian EFL speakers comprehend speech acts of requests (e.g., Nugroho, 2019; Susilo, 2015). Having this literature into consideration, this study aimed to find out the elements of politeness in the strategies in the apprehension of the selected speech acts of request adopted by Pashtu and Saraiki ELLs in a Pakistani multilingual classroom at the university level. Therefore, the degree of politeness varies across different languages and cultures. It becomes very hard for second language learners to attain or acquire the desired level of pragmatic norms of the target language independently. However, it is evident from the previous research that L2 learners employ a pragmatic system different from the system of the target language. During the learning process of L2, learners were found relying upon cultural and linguistic possessions taken out from their mother tongue. This allows an opportunity for differences and politeness in the realization of the speech acts of request. This study, therefore, answers the following questions:
1. What are the specific politeness strategies adopted by Pashtu and Saraiki speaking ELLs which contribute to politeness executing speech acts of request?
2. How do the selected ELLs employ politeness as a strategy in their discourses?
3. Why do the ELLs use politeness as a facilitator while accomplishing the speech acts of request?
Methods and Procedure
The present study is purely qualitative as analysis has been provided through descriptions and elaborations. The collected data and responses were transcribed, then codified later. The tools for collecting data were: written discourse completion tasks (henceforth, WDCTs), oral role-plays acknowledged after piloting the study, and focus group discussion (henceforth, FGD). Sixty post-graduate ELLs participated in the study that was selected through purposive sampling. Despite some reservations, DCTs as a data collection tool have always been regarded as a useful data elicitation in studies conducted so far in the field of pragmatics (Beebe & Cummings, 2009; Nurani, 2009). The WDCTs, comprised of three situations on request, and the same situations were repeated in oral role-play to find out the difference and similarity between two different modes of communication. The collected data has been analyzed by following the framework laid down by (Blum-Kulka et al., 1989).
Data Analysis: WDCTs
Note: The italicized text in the below sections highlights the extracts taken from the data.
It was interesting in this situation to know that a technical issue has occurred with a student who was working on a laptop; thereby, help is urgently needed either to resolve the issue or to help the student with an alternate. In addition, the participants of the study share almost equal status and power which gives us the notion of less social or status distance. It was noted that the participants were observed using indirect strategies to avoid the presentation of a severe offense or face-threatening act. It was further illustrated that the notion of indirectness in the execution of a request is closely associated with the propensity of politeness, resultantly, embedded in the target language borrowed from their first language. According to the classificatory framework prescribed for the accomplishment of request indicated the use of which are attributed simply a mixture of in/direct request strategies. Interestingly, it was marked that mixing the pragmatic norms of two languages can enhance the pragmatic competence in learning the pragmatics of English.
Among this direct sub-strategy, the strategy of goal statement, which has been expressed as the utmost required urge, or to achieve the background purpose of the request. It was also noted that the participants avoided the direct strategies with the intent to lessen the effects of the accomplished speech acts at the requester’s end. Taking into consideration, a Siraiki participant was of the view and stated thus: I will appreciate it if you could please help me as I have to tender an assignment given to me. The employed strategy revealed the optimism that the requestee will not only act by the act of request but display a higher degree of positive politeness. In this vein, it has been alleged that the requester has forwarded his/her need meant to be realized which has been expressed through the use of a modal verb. In contrast, the strategy of want statements are regarded as an annoyance in Pathan’s culture and is viewed as an offense because it is a very common practice to comply with the request of the speaker, on the other hand, the same strategy is viewed as a common practice among Siraiki culture which tends to impoliteness across the cultures.
Following the Non-conventionally, indirect requests were equally utilized with a core intent to add politeness so that the requestee can pay serious attention to what the hearer is requested to do. Taking the example of a Pashto language participant who stated, hello my friend, Ah, I was working on my laptop, but it has stopped working suddenly, so I am stuck up. Will you please extend your help in this extreme state of urgency? The aforementioned extract highlights a great deal of politeness associated with the speech act to grab the attention of the hearer, which is attributed as an indirect strategy. However, it takes the structure of an inquisitive utterance at the same time treated as a request. It was revealed that the use of question hints as a politeness strategy necessarily might not suggest the mode of the requestive strength and established norms; rather their requestive mode is profoundly context-dependent.
Like the previous situation, the participants equally share the same status and power relationship. Much politeness is manifested through the use of polite alerts such as "Dear friend" "dear fellow" to divert the consideration of the receiver as to let him realize the implication of the request. It is pertinent to mention that to alleviate the level of offense and add some politeness alertness as a strategy has been employed manifesting identical fraction to augment the inquisitiveness of the receiver that the speaker intends to convey a request for compliance. In this context-dependent situation, the requestee is requesting his classmate whom he doesn’t know for long and seeks his help about the missing lectures. Moreover, it was marked that the participants’ language and culture have influenced the process of learning and achieving a pragmatic competence, thus, providing an ample display of impoliteness. This notion of impoliteness indicated pragmatic failure occurred mainly in large to misperception of possessing different socially acquired status, the distance between interlocutors, and to a greater extent their certain level of obligation with immediate compliance of forwarded requests. For example, a Siraiki participant uttered: Excuse me, dear. Hope you are doing well. It’s nice to see you here. I would like to have your notes as I have missed a few earlier lectures. In this example, it is demonstrated that if a request is seriously considered, then it is taken as a core feature of the local speech communities, which is manifested in the form of cooperation among its members. In such scenarios, politeness is overtly displayed, and the extended cooperation is presented as utterly obligatory to place the speaker with content. It was employed to mitigate the requester and to muster up the empathy at the end of the hearer. However, it was evident that expression for greetings have directly been taken from their association with respective religious backgrounds and culture, such as a Siraiki participant stated: Habibi, Assalam-u- Alaikum (Friend, May God bestow His blessings upon you!), I am here for the first time at this university. I need to have a look at the notes about those lectures missed earlier. Thus, it is concluded here that the diverse linguistic and religious background had a greater manipulation, thereby adding certain features of politeness. Thus, the notion of pragmalinguistic transfer occurs when an interaction takes place with morning greetings manifested in written responses.
Data Analysis: Oral Role Plays
Most strategies employed in this situation were
indirect, which indicates the integration of politeness was found among the participants in their performance of request. Further, the respondents from Pashto language speakers were found favoring cooperation which is an attribute mutually shared and associated with politeness in their speech community, while rarely observed among the participants of Siraiki language speakers. The participants of the study have seldom employed the direct sub-strategy of using performative requests categorically. Thereby the presenter sharply points out in order to manifest the utterance objective overtly, with an applicable illocutionary verb. Following the explicit use of the performative requests, which is employed bearing a purpose to generate an effect of politeness as Quinn (1996a) has elaborated. Likewise, request sought in such a manner most likely imparts more politeness, for instance, a Pashto language speaker uttered in these words: My buddy, I would like to draw your attention towards my problem being faced if you could please spare some time to fix the problem occurred to my laptop? Such an example provides a greater authentic impression to the extent of politeness demonstrated, provided that indirectness as a strategy is being followed. It is of worth significance to highlight the want statements as an indirect strategy which is mostly employed by the participants of Pashto language speakers as their culture permits them to show flexibility, and much attention is given to the use of politeness. Likewise, a speaker who finds himself/herself in a situation wherein permission has to be obtained about a certain provision becomes indispensable for the request and is meant to be fulfilled. Requests made for obtaining permission through the use of modal verbs can reasonably be treated as an interrogation at the end of the hearer's endorsement and, therefore, leave the requester further obviously in an embarrassing situation in terms of face value at the hearer end.
To conclude, it was evident from the results that the employment of strategies varies in the form of context, social status, and politeness as these elements indicate that the speaker positioned themselves into a high social and cultural fabric over the hearer. Similarly, the results showed that the accomplishment of the speech act of request is highly pretentious due to their politeness manifesting itself from the influence of L1 linguistic resources in learning the target language. In addition, this situation makes a claim to numerous instances related to the concept of politeness found among the participants of the study when uttering the speech act in English. Hence, it was shown that politeness found in their mother tongues is reflected mostly in their English responses, which were identical to the politeness of the target language.
A learner asks his/her classmate to provide him with some notes about the lectures he/she has missed earlier. The participants have mostly used an indirect request to win over the favor of the hearer. The use of indirectness as a politeness strategy to accomplish the speech act of request indicates the true manifestation of politeness. A Siraiki participant responded: Hello. I shall remain obliged if you could please share your notes. It will help me a lot. An emphasis has been added to create a sensation in order to make immediate compliance with the forwarded request. Among conventionally indirect sub-strategy, the participants have mostly employed question hints for developing an inquiring expression to avoid any face-threatening acts. Taking an example, a Pashto participant responded: Hi, It would be your enough kindness to share your notes with me, isn’t it? Therefore, it is genuinely expressed to create an effect of politeness (context-dependent) to save his face as well as to avoid face-threatening acts.
Data Analysis: Focus Group
In this discussion, a participant, namely Zarina from the Pashtu speaking group, elaborated that she has found almost the same degree of politeness using the politeness norms of the L2 compared with the politeness of her L1. She remained very vocal in her stance and affirmed that the speech act of request is conveyed with the same force in English as required for the expression in the mother tongue. Likewise, the English language can be assessed as more polite if indirect strategies are being followed. This proclamation about the English language as indirect and polite contends for sharing reasonably different status with the interlocutor. Hence, it is evident that the participant deviates from the politeness of the mother tongue and expresses an inability to comprehend the consequences of making a direct instead of an indirect request. She responded in such manner:
I will take it more direct than the one accomplished in Pashtu as my words would be directly affecting the hearer. On the other hand, if I accomplish the same speech act in English, it would be less embarrassing and less offending.
In the above-mentioned instance, it is demonstrated that politeness of mother tongue creates convenience and ease to comprehend and acquire the norms of politeness of L2 effortlessly. Since it is more common among L2 learners than ever, an interaction always takes place among interlocutors is often pragmatically viewed through the lens of their L1. As a notion of common understanding, there seems to be a potential and a less significant prospect that can cause the occasions of inconvenience or facing severe cross-cultural failure. She thought that an attachment of mother tongue politeness badly affects the acquisition of pragmatic proficiency in the L2. Taking the views of a Siraiki speaking participant who considers politeness as a core value of their culture wherein an emphasis is added in the requestive force to compensate, therefore, also to save the face image of the receiver that's why it is also treated as an understanding and face-saving act. Moreover, the strategy of indirectness, which is often associated and taken as a true manifestation of politeness, is borrowed from the mother tongue. Thus, it was evident from this participant's response that elements of politeness can be embedded in the target language to achieve any desired goal.
It was noted in the ongoing group discussion that Siraiki-speaking participants remain polite in forwarding a request with intent in their mind to achieve an image of a positive face. It was further inferred that participants’ reliance on mother tongue cultural and linguistic resources showed the occurrence of negative sociopragmatic transfer, which, according to them, badly affects the true spirit while accomplishing a request as an integral part of speech act in the target language. Anmol, a Siraiki participant, responded thus: “I feel convenient when a request is forwarded in mother tongue because it reflects much politeness than the one accomplished in a second language”. Hence, it was observed that the respondents of the study found themselves in a dire need not only to use a suitable tone and pitch to develop the strategies of politeness if the speech act of request is meant to be performed in the target language, as a result, produce a soft corner at the hearers’ end.
Findings of the Study
So far, the data collected through WDCTs is concerned; it was found that participants of both the multilingual speech communities employed almost indirect strategies in their realization of request. The phenomenon of politeness was evident from the obtained results. However, it was found that the accomplishment of request is highly status dependent which goes in the same vein with Beebe, et al (1990). Moreover, it was also found that Siraiki speakers were strictly adhered to following the social chain of command and operating the acquired cultural practice while carrying out the speech act in English. It was observed that participants stick to the politeness strategy in their realization of requests. Although there was a reflection of politeness determined through the integration of pragmatic norms from mother tongues and cultures but different in the case of morning greetings. Much of the participants were found using 'Sir' as a professional title which conveys the meaning for maintaining social relative distance, respect, humbleness, and being polite. This professional title as an honorific has been frequently used in a multilingual setting as a greater precursor of esteem among academicians.
Astonishingly, the data obtained through Oral Role Plays found that Siraiki-speaking ELLs maintained much indirectness but were less polite. Further, it was found that the participants were very careful to avoid embarrassing situations at the hearer’s end even at times when the participants had conveyed a mild disparity have occasionally employed a direct strategy. On the other hand, it was observed among Siraiki-speaking participants being less polite in the circle of friends or sharing equal status. In contrast, Pashto-speaking community participants tended to be more polite in the realization of requests by following the maxim of quality. Though, the present study also found that a substantial quantity of comprehension is desired for performing native-like performance of requesting behavior which is, undoubtedly, not accessible to speakers of their LI or as a domain of universally acknowledged pragmatic comprehensions. Therefore, it is apparent from the responses of the respondents that politeness is integrated to create ease in acquiring the existing social norms of the target language.
In their English responses, it was commonly traced out between the groups that politeness related to L1 social and cultural norms has been closely reflected while accomplishing a communicative task in English. It was further asserted that it is very hard to learn the pragmatic prospects of the target language independently. Thus, it illustrated upon the politeness of mother tongue that takes into consideration a greater account in learning L2. In addition, the participant conveyed a convenience in expressing politeness in speech acts if ever asked to perform the same speech act in the mother tongue. Hence, it is evident from the obtained data that participants frequently use politeness as a token to achieve the desired objectives and with a particular purpose, along with to save the face value of the hearer.
Learners employed conventionally indirect request strategies, which is a true manifestation of politeness as a strategy while answering to the WDCT-questionnaire and responding to Role-plays. Following the findings obtained from FGD, the findings of this paper illustrate that Pakistani ELLs select from a variety of request strategies guided mostly by the context in which an interaction takes place and the social distance found among interlocutors. Most importantly, the Pakistani learners of the target language tended to be more driven affirm identified through the lens of cultural backgrounds and holding a social status in their realization of requests in English. This statement goes in the same vein found in the study conducted by Nugroho (2019), who reported that Indonesian EFL learners are prone to use polite markers carried out in forwarding a request belonging to diverse social status, in particular to the interlocutor holding a higher social status. It is true that interlocutors belonging to diverse social cultures have an interaction; their culture will be integrated, permeate, and therefore, assimilate with the responses to each other (He, 2019). In other words, scholars such as Alzeebaree and Yavuz (2017) have used a proverbial expression that one has to learn the cultural norms of the language if the said language is meant to be learned. As this study has pointed out several instances of conventionally indirect requests in the WDCT and Role-plays, it is also of utmost importance to investigate the Pakistani learners’ perspectives on pragmatic competence to enhance their cross-cultural understanding.
To restate the findings of the study, it is asserted here that the Pakistani English learners’ choices for utilizing conventionally indirect strategy in their realizations of requesting act. It was observed in the results of the present study that participants have mostly used auxiliaries such as can and could. This could be aligned with some earlier studies conducted by (Jeanyfer & Tanto, 2018; Susilo, 2015), who asserted that the use of modal auxiliaries provides the learners with an opportunity to employ a similar kind of politeness with native speakers. It also stands true of the result of Güneş and Ortaçtepe's (2019), wherein it has been acknowledged that native speakers repeatedly employ a range of similar expressions to convey conventionally indirect requests, which leads to failure at the learners' end to reach that assortment in their intent and requestive behavior. This could also be related to English language teaching in Pakistan, where modal assisting verbs like "can" and "could" are frequently realized and emphasize its usage in the multilingual classroom for accomplishing the speech act of requests as it is true that L2 learner often perceives the knowledge of the target language through cultures and the diverse linguistic background even in the academic setting (Echcharfy, 2019). Based on the results of the Oral Role-plays, this paper found that Pakistani English learners' accomplishment of requests in their respective mother tongues is appropriate, but it is not true when an utterance is directly translated into English from mother tongues, they are viewed as less proper. Hence, it can be summed up that L2 learners must acquire pragmatic competence to employ more relevant and closely connected expressions, even the realization of requests.
Conclusion, Recommendations, and Implications
Based on the aforementioned results and findings of this study, it is evident that Pakistani ELLs were found tended to use mostly indirect strategies in their English responses, which also indicate their way of being polite. Moreover, the findings of FGD divulge that the participants' selection of a particular request strategy is largely determined by their L1 cultural norms and social status existing among the communicators in a multilingual setting. It augmented that these ELLs were conscious about the selection of pragmatic moves in context-dependent communication. Last but not least, the findings could also be beneficial for other research to be conducted for investigation of other related issues pertaining to this paper. Nevertheless, it should be kept into serious consideration that the contextualization of this paper does not make an attempt to represent the roadmap of pragmatic competence of Pakistani ELLs in general. As language and culture are inseparable, the same is true of teaching cultural and social norms. Hopefully, the findings of this study will help EFL/ESL teachers to shift their attention to pragmatic knowledge and muster up student awareness of English socio-cultural norms pertaining to speech act realizations.
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