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College of Arts & Sciences
Linguistics Program

Interlanguage Pragmatics: Invitation Responses by Advanced Chinese Learners of English

Fan Zhu

[Full text of dissertation in ProQuest]

Committee Members: Anne Bezuidenhout (Director), Elaine Chun, Curtis Ford, Robin Morris


The use of specific speech acts have been found to vary with culture, thus to perform a speech act successfully in a second language requires not only linguistic competence but also pragmatic competence of the L2 community. Though previous studies have shown dissimilarities in invitational conversations and general refusal strategies (c.f. strategies used to reject an invitation) in Chinese and American English, little has been said regarding invitation-response patterns used by Chinese learners of English in the United States.

This dissertation investigates invitation responses (both acceptance and refusal) by advanced Chinese learners of English elicited through free discourse completion tasks (FDCT) in English. Native speakers of Chinese (responding in Chinese) and native speakers of American English are used as control groups. A total of 105 subjects participated in the study, with 35 subjects in each participant group. Eight invitational situations based on two social variables (namely social status of the interlocutors and social distance between the interlocutors) are created to elicit invitational discourses that end with invitee's acceptance (four situations) and refusal (four situations) respectively. Length of speech (number of strategies used per situation), type and frequency of response strategies, and content of strategies were investigated and compared among the three participant groups. Refusal strategies were identified and categorized based on a modified version of the semantic formulas developed by Beebe, Takahashi, & Uliss-Weltz (1990).

Results show that although advanced Chinese learners of English demonstrated pragmatic competence in L2 English, they continued to be influenced by the cultural norms of L1 Chinese. Negative pragmatic transfer was found with respect to length of speech, frequency of strategies, and content of strategies. With respect to length of speech, Chinese learners of English used more number of strategies per situation compared to the two control groups in both invitation refusal and acceptance situations. The influence of the contextual variables social status and social distance on the learners' speech act performance revealed a great deal of complexity and irregularity. The findings of this study contribute to a better understanding of how advanced Chinese learners of English respond to invitations in English. They also shed light on the discussion of L2 learners' pragmatic competence as realized in speech act performances. Based on the findings, the dissertation concludes with implications for teaching and learning pragmatics in the EFL classroom in China and in study abroad situations.