How English Learners Manage Face Threats in MSN Conversations

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Language: English

© 2012


This study explores how low- and intermediate-level English learners manage face threats in MSN conversations. The effects of the addressee's status are also studied. Forty English learners, who were further divided into beginner and intermediate groups according to their English proficiency, participated in this study. Based on six offensive situations, the subjects had two MSN chats with the instructor and four with their peers. The complainee's response needed to contain an upgrader, which intensified the offense. All of the subjects had the same topics for the two chats with the instructor, but in chats with the peers, each proficiency group was divided into two sub-groups, with one being the complainer, i.e., the group initiating the complaint, and the other being the complainee, i.e., the group being complained to. In the first two chats, one sub-group initiated the complaints and the other replied, and in the following two chats, the two sub-groups exchanged their roles. Nonetheless, only the complainers' strategy use was analyzed in this study. Results showed that the two learner groups used a similar range of complaint strategies, including hints, disapproval, requests for repair, explicit complaints, threats and warnings, and external moves which consisted of preparators, justifications, promises for future actions, expressions of politeness, and reconciliations, to express their unhappiness and react to the upgrader. The strategies and the moves most preferred by both groups were explicit complaints and providing justifications. Further analyses reveal that the two groups also tended to use requests for repair as a complaint strategy, but the intermediate group produced much more indirect requests than direct ones, whereas the beginner group tended to be balanced in the use of the two types. The addressee's status also influenced both groups' complaints in the strategy use. Although the two groups did not adjust strategy use well to fit the addressee's social status, the intermediate learners, who were likely to be more indirect when initiating complaints to the superiors than to the peers, appeared to be socially more appropriate than the beginners.

Keywords: face threats, complaints, MSN, status.


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Hong, Chi-yin. (2012). How English Learners Manage Face Threats in MSN Conversations. In Linda Bradley, Sylvie Thouësny (Eds), CALL: Using, Learning, Knowing, EUROCALL Conference, Gothenburg, Sweden, 22-25 August 2012, Proceedings (pp. 134-138).

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