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History Of Pragmatic Transfer English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3950 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The purpose of this study is to find out whether pragmatic transfer takes place in Saudis compliment responses (particularly males). It also touches the part of language proficiency and its effects on pragmatic competence. Additionally, it shows the differences and the similarities between natives compliments, compliment responses and Saudi males compliments and compliment responses. The subjects were three groups: natives and non-native English teachers and non-native and non-English teachers. I used the discourse completion test to come up with valid various results.

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It has been found that there are no differences in compliments between Saudi males and native speakers of English. Secondly, when responses to compliments are to be said, differences arise. From the study, it was discovered that Saudi males do not produce target-like compliment responses. Moreover, language proficiency does not play a major role in pragmatic competence. As the I noticed from the responses to compliments that Saudi males whether majoring in English or not, they produce the same responses except that the English teachers group translate the responses literally into English.

What does pragmatic transfer mean? And does it have to do with proficiency of language? Is it a fundamental issue in second language acquisition? What do we mean by a compliment? How does compliment responses cause communication breakdown?

Pragmatic transfer is defined as “the influence of learners’ pragmatic knowledge of language and culture other than the target language on their comprehension, production, and acquisition of L2 pragmatic information” (Rizk 2003, p. 404).

Pragmatic competence is absolutely essential in face-to-face interactions in a foreign language. Children acquire pragmatic competence in their native language through interaction with their parents or older children, in other words, engagement in contextualized communicative activities. They receive continuous feedback from parents and peers who form appropriate routines, establish rules, and “correct” children’s inappropriate behavior. This feedback contributes to the acquisition of the pragmatic skills required to function in their community. In contrast, most adult foreign language learners lack that type of input. Consequently, the classroom becomes the most important, and maybe the only, source of relevant input for the enhancing of their pragmatic competence.

Compliments are a kind of speech acts that is said in everyday conversations. In fact, paying different compliments and responding differently is dependent on cultures and situational conversations. Some cultures use a lot of compliments and praises whereas others may find it as a kind of insincerity. Therefore, cross-cultural communications occur and sometimes may cause a kind of insulting to the other partner involved in a conversation.

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I have never come across any study on the Saudi community in terms of compliment responses which encourages me to conduct such a study. However, many studies were done on several societies that reflect the significance of carrying out such studies.

The importance of the present study arises where People think that ESL Learners must learn just grammar rules and writing styles in classrooms whereas other aspects of the language can be acquired through

experience or watching T.V. Actually, it can be done this way, however, we do not know how much time will be allocated for it and how well learners would acquire semantic meanings without any guidance to make the situations clearer and more intelligible.

Having done this, ESL learners will lack the appropriate ways of communication with native speakers of a particular language or even non-natives in everyday dialogues. In my opinion, linguistic mistakes can be corrected and the person would be considered that he is not grammatically competent. However, semantic or pragmatic mistakes may cause offence to the other person. Additionally, it might lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding which results in communicative breakdown. Basically, communicative breakdown is communicative failure in which conversations halt at this point. When misunderstanding takes place, none of the partners know what to say or how to reply to such expressions. Unawareness of the other’s culture is the major cause of this problem. Therefore, teaching pragmatics is fundamental in ESL classes to enable the students speak the target language confidently and appropriately.

Pragmatic competence is as essential and important as linguistic competence. Being linguistically competent does not necessarily means that you are pragmatically competent. In fact, being able to construct grammatically correct sentences does not mean that theses sentences are pragmatically appropriate or even acceptable. I am going to shed a light on all these early mentioned topics, finding out from the result how pragmatic competence is important for SL learners.

Literature review:

Intercultural miscommunications often occur when ESL Learners fall back on their L1 in realizing any kind of speech act in L2. In fact, the lacking of the target language expressions and culture forces students to do

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that. That what is meant by pragmatic transfer according to Rizk(2005). There are two kinds of pragmatic transfer: positive which is considered to be a proof of pragmatic universality among languages, and negative transfer which is being not able to understand the target language which always results in pragmatic failure. Negative pragmatic transfer, as Rizk (2003) explains, takes the form of translating some “formulaic expressions/ phrases” functioning to express different speech acts in (L1) to express the equivalent speech act in L2. (p.405). El Samaty (2005) mentions one factor that may influence pragmatic transfer and that is learners’ awareness of “what constitutes a language specific or a universal issue” (p.342). Learners would not transfer an L1 pragmatic feature to L2 if they know that it is language specific. In fact, language specific refers to the features or expressions of a language which cannot be used in other languages.

Pragmatic studies which deal with different speech acts have not been conducted till recently. These studies focused on L1 in most cases, however later, L2 and cross-cultural communications have been introduced. The L2 pragmatic transfer researches have shown that in spite of being linguistically competent in a second language, learners are likely to transfer L1 pragmatic rules in their L2 production (El Samaty, 2005). Takahashi and Beebe (1998) theorized that there is a positive relation between L2 proficiency and pragmatic transfer. They argued that more proficient learners tend to transfer L1 socio-cultural norms more than less proficient learners because they have enough control over L2 to express L1 sentiments at a high pragmatic level. Eslami-Rasekh (2004) backs this claim stating that linguistically competent learners do not necessarily possess comparable pragmatic competence. “Even grammatically advanced learners may use language inappropriately and show differences from target-language pragmatic norms”.

   In 1986, Blum-kulka and Olshtain used discourse completion tests to analyze the utterance length of requesting strategies in Hebrew. They collected the data from non-native speakers of Hebrew at three proficiency levels, and they found out that high-intermediate learners produced utterances longer than the utterances of low-intermediate and advanced learners, which was considered by the researchers as pragmatic failure ( Ghawi 2002, p.39).

Compliments in both Arabic (Saudi culture) and American cultures:

Compliments have been defined by a lot of linguists. Compliments in short are praise that are said to people

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to make them happy or to encourage and congratulate them on their success they achieve. Every culture has different types of compliments. Moreover, every culture uses various compliments according to variable situations. Therefore, cultures get distinguished from each other. Many people think that they can pay any kind of compliments to people coming from different cultures claiming that we are giving praise, so it is fine. In fact, it is not for several reasons. Firstly, compliments might be rarely used in a particular culture which people might think that it is a kind of being in love or trying to get the other partner to your side. Secondly, some compliments in a specific culture might be considered insults in other cultures. For instance, we cannot compliment on a girl saying “you are fat” in Arabic or even Malaysian or European cultures whereas the same clause can be understood as a compliment in the African culture.

Saudi culture is a part of the Arabic culture except for very few differences in terms of politeness and some other speech acts. In fact, Saudis usually pay compliments on several things such as appearance, traits, and personal skills. It is not something strange that Saudis frequently give complements; Arabs in general like to pay much praise to each other. It seems that it is purposeful in a way that it keeps the relations among friends and relatives more intimate and it can be a tool sometimes to please somebody whom you feel that you upset her/him. English in Saudi Arabia is considered a foreign language. The medium of instruction at school, colleges and universities is Arabic except in English departments where English is applied as the medium of instruction. Culture is carried and delivered through language, however, since the language is still not completely there, so the culture would not be understood. Therefore, very few people speak English fluently and clearly. In fact, even the ones who speak fluently, they still have some problems with the western (English) culture. Consequently, pragmatic errors will appear in their speech.

Compliments form.

Compliment form refers to the kind of language used to express the compliment. The compliments differed in their length, use of metaphor and comparatives, and to some extent, syntactic structure. They were also similar in that both Saudi and American compliments were primarily adjectival in that an adjective was responsible for their positive meaning.

The American compliments are short, as in (1) through (3).

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(1) You look great.

(2) Your car is nice.

(3) Good job.

If we compare the American compliments to the Arabic compliments (Saudi in particular) we will find out that Saudi compliments are longer than the American ones. Consider this example:

Eeh alhalawa dee ya wad, 3l3amar doobu tele2, 3rhamna ya sheek ya heelou.

What is all this smartness man? The moon has just appeared! We cannot take it!

The length of the Saudi compliments appears to be related to two features of Arabic discourse: 1) Repetition of almost the same idea with a change in words and.

2) The use of several adjectives in a series.

The use of metaphor in Arabic culture varies from the American culture. In Arabic culture, the moon is the symbol of beauty because it appears at night where the world is full of dark, however, the moon shines up there lighting the landscape. Therefore, Arabs compare good-looking people with the moon. However, as we noticed from the previous examples of compliments by Americans and Saudis, both are using adjectives in their compliments. All these words (in English: great, nice, good) and ( in Arabic: helou, sheek= sweet, gentle) are adjectives.

2 Attributes praised.

There is no difference between the American and the Saudi culture when it comes to the kinds of attributes that people tend to compliment upon. Most of the situations where compliments are appropriate to be said and responded to are similar. Basically, Saudis and Americans usually pay compliments on appearance, skills, and traits. Appearance refers to one’s look and included haircuts, eyes, and clothing. “Skills” refers to the quality of something produced or done. Traits refer to personality characteristics such as kindness, politeness and intelligence.

Compliment responses

Responses to requests or apology can be easy and limited. These two kinds of speech acts might not differ much in most languages. Additionally, the responses can be shortened by saying either yes or no. However, when it comes to compliment responses a lot of things must be considered such as the kind of the

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said compliment, the relationship between the speaker and the recipient and the culture. Both Americans and Saudis respond totally, differently to compliments. In fact, cultures play a major role in the responses.

Usually, Arabs respond to compliments by returning another compliment which is quite strange to people from different cultures especially Americans. One of the compliment responses by Saudis was “you are more handsome”. Such a response may be problematic to people from another culture.

Research questions

As I mentioned earlier, the purpose of this study is to examine pragmatic transfer in compliment responses by Arabic learners of English(Saudis in particular). Three related research questions emerged:

What are the similarities and differences in compliments and compliments responses between male NSs and Saudi male NNSs of English?

When speaking in English, will Saudis male’s compliment responses be closer to Arabic or English?

To what extent language proficiency plays a role in their use of compliment responses?

To answer these types of questions we should first collect the data of the study which was done on the subjects.


For more valid and practical results I have chosen 3 groups to conduct my study upon. The subjects are all males and they are in 30s. In fact, the reason behind not choosing females is that the study was done in Saudi Arabia where it is so difficult to approach any woman. Additionally, all academic institutions are separate meaning that each gender (female, male) is in totally separate place and men are not allowed to enter ladies sections. Therefore, it was easier to choose just males.

Group1: 10 Americans (native speakers of English) English teachers.

Group 2: 10 Saudis (non-natives+ advanced learners, they are level 7)

Group 3: 10 Saudis (non-native+ low intermediate, they are level 2)

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Actually, these learners are students at Direct English institute in Saudi Arabia. In this institute, there are 8 levels starting from 1 till 8. They take 7 classes in English weekly; five classes with bilinguals and two classes with native speakers. In each level students take the same amount of classes and each level lasts for six weeks. The level of proficiency was taken according to this classification.

Tool: Discourse Completion Test.

The tool consists of 5 scenarios created by the researcher. The subjects are expected to respond to the compliments given in the scenarios. Additionally, observation also has been used to come up with more valid results.

First scenario:

You are wearing new blue jeans. Your friend complimented you “you look handsome, blue is great on you”

You say……………………..

Americans responded to the compliment with acceptance saying “thanks” or “you really made my day”.

Those who responded in Arabic said “but you are more handsome”/this is because you have a good taste/ really? Swear to God.

The third group who responded in English said “your eyes are beautiful and they see everything beautiful” others responded: “I bought it in the sales, it is so cheap”. Just one person said: “thanks, I like it too”

Second scenario

You have just ended a computer game scoring a very high score that many of your friends could not reach this point. One paid you a compliment “you are so skillful and professional in this game”

You say……………………………………

Some Americans respond to the compliment with comment history saying “thanks, I played this game hundreds of time”. Others said “do you want me to help you?”

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The second group who responded in Arabic said: stop making fun of me”

The third group who responded in English said: “are you serious? I do not think so. You are just complimenting me.”

Third scenario

You always come by time whenever there is a meeting or a party; one gave you a compliment “you are very punctual”

You say ……………………………………………….

Americans responded to the compliment with comment acceptance saying “thanks, it is my favorite habit”

The first group who responded in Arabic said “thanks, so are you “. Those who responded in English said “but you are more punctual/ I think you are the symbol of punctuality.

Forth scenario:

Your friends are in your house. And then you served them tea. One of your friends complimented on it saying “the tea is very sweet and delicious” you say…………………………….

Americans responded to compliments with acceptance saying “thank you” some responded with acceptance offering the recipe: “would you like the recipe?

Those who responded in Arabic said:”that is because your taste is sweet and you taste everything sweet/ your taste is distinct in that you know which is delicious and which is nasty.,

Those who responded in English said:” I dipped my sweet finger in it that is why it is sweet”. others responded: “but you are much sweeter than the tea”.

Fifth scenario:

You solved a very tough equation in the class that no one could do it. Your professor was impressed with you. When you left, your friend paid you a compliment “you are excellent, man”

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You say……………………………………………………

Americans responded with comment acceptance: “thanks, but I was studying hard last night” and

others offered their help “do you want me to help you?”

Those who responded in Arabic said “do you really think so? I know you are just complimenting me.

Those who responded in English translate literally from Arabic saying “but you are better”

Sixth scenario:

You redecorated your house in a very eye-catching way. Some visitors came over and paid you a very wonderful compliment saying: “what a beautiful decoration!! You are very tasteful.”

You say………………………………………..

Americans simply responded with comment acceptance saying: “thanks a lot, you really made my day” others responded this way: “actually it took me too long”

The second group who responded in Arabic said: “thanks, you are very tasteful as well.”

The third group who simply translated from Arabic into English responded “I do not think so. Do you really mean it or just complimenting?” others said “please no compliments, speak the truth; is it beautiful or not?”

Results and findings

Based on the data collected from all the subjects and from observation, I have found out the following results:

There are similarities in compliments between American and Saudi males in that both compliment on the same attributes which are: traits, appearance, skills. Moreover, from my observation I found out that several other cultures such as Malaysian and Indians compliment on the same attributes which refer to positive pragmatic transfer shared by several cultures.

There are many differences when it comes to compliment responses between American and Saudi

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males in which Saudi males do not produce target-like compliment responses. Alternatively, they bring about some expressions from their L1, which is Arabic, into English. In fact, this is exactly what negative pragmatic transfer means. People from different cultures will not understand what is meant by such responses; so they tend to translate it literally. Consequently, they find it very insulting because they do not understand the speaker’s cultural purpose behind it. Eventually, this will lead them to communicative breakdown.

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Being linguistically competent does not mean you are pragmatically competent. In fact, proficiency in L2 does not necessarily lead to pragmatic competence in the target language as we noticed this from the responses. Advanced learners and low intermediate learners responded identically except that the advance learners translated the expressions from Arabic into English whereas the low intermediate learners responded in Arabic because they still have not got the ability to make grammatically correct sentences.

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Pragmatic competence is very crucial in learning any language. In my opinion, it is as important as linguistic competence. EFL/ESL teachers and curriculum designers should equally focus on enriching learners with cultural aspects of the language as well as the linguistic aspects. Learners have to be aware of the target language culture in order to comprehend the language better and to be able to produce pragmatically correct sentences. Consequently, communicative breakdown will gradually disappear in their speech.

Culture is a fundamental factor in learning languages because it is responsible for the different speech acts produced by its native speakers. Basically, it is the bottom line for those who want to master the target language. Additionally, EFL teachers should expose their students and encourage them to expose themselves as much as possible to the target language through TV programs, shows, movies, and news. It enhances the ability of mastering the target language.

Limitations of the study

The study aimed to find out whether Saudis produce target-like compliment responses or not. In fact, it asserts that there is a problem in terms of responding to compliments. However, it did not state some solutions to such a problematic issue. Therefore, I would suggest a research area for the future to find out some practical solutions to this problem. Moreover, there is another area of research as well which is can we teach pragmatic competence to SL learners as well as we are teaching linguistic competence? Is it possible? How would it be successful to the level of learners? What are the good methods that can be applied to teach pragmatic competence?

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