Refusal Strategies by Yemeni EFL Learners

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Refusal Strategies by Yemeni EFL Learners


Abdullah Ali Al-Eryani

Panjab University, Chandigarh, India


Bio Data:

Abdullah A Al-Eryani is a PhD student in the English Department in Panjab University, Chandigarh, India. He has MA in linguistics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. He is a teacher of English in the English Department, Thamar University, Yemen. His interests include interlanguage pragmatics and ELT.


This is a pragmalinguistic investigation into the speech act of refusing as made by Yemeni learners of English as a foreign language. For this study, 20 Yemeni learners of English were asked to respond in English to six different situations in which they carry out the speech act of refusal. Their English performances were compared to those of Yemeni Arabic native speakers and American English native speakers in order to find out whether the refusal given by the group in question, i.e., Yemeni learners of English, correspond more closely with those of the Yemeni Arabic native speakers or with speakers of the target language, the American English native speakers. The data, collected from a Discourse Completion Test (DCT), were analyzed in terms of semantic formula sequences and were categorized according to the refusal taxonomy by Beebe, Takahashi, and Uliss-Weltz (1990). Results indicate that although a similar range of refusal strategies were available to the two language groups, cross-cultural variation was evident in the frequency and content of semantic formulas used by each language group in relation to the contextual variables, which include the status of interlocutors (higher, equal, or lower status) and eliciting acts i.e., requests, invitations, offers, and suggestions). For instance, Yemeni Arabic native speakers tended to be less direct in their refusals by offering preceding “reasons” or “explanations” (in the first position of the semantic formula order) other than their own desire in refusing. American English native speakers, on the other hand, used different semantic order by preceding “regret” in the first position giving more direct refusals. Due to their high proficiency in English, Yemeni learners of English showed evidence of pragmatic competence of the target language in constructing their refusal styles in three areas: the order in which semantic formulas for refusing were used, the frequency of semantic formula and the content of semantic formulas. However, they at times displayed some of their native speech community norms, falling back on their cultural background when formulating refusals.

Key words: Interlanguage pragmatics, pragmatic competence; pragmatic transfer; speech act of refusal, Yemeni learners of English.


Category: 2008