Strategies And Cultural Schema English Language Essay

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Understanding the underlying system in the semantic domains of different cultures has always been a focus of interest for ethnoscientists since it could demonstrate how members of a cultural group make sense of their world (Conklin, 1962; Frake, 1962 ). While Wallace's "maze way" (Wallace, 1965 ), Miller, Galanter and Pribram's "plans" (1960 p. 62), Spradley's "rules" (1972 p. 12), and Colby's 'culture grammars" (1975 p. 915) are involved in knowledge processing, a more recent and dynamic view of cognition could be achieved through the use of 'schemas'. Schema was considered as a set of sentences or propositions and the relations between them (Schank & Abelson, 1977) however recent connectionist theories view a schema as a pattern of interaction among interconnected units (Rumelhart, Smolensky, McClelland, & Hinton, 1986). Rumelhart (1980, p. 33) viewed Schemas as 'building blocks of cognition'; as units into which knowledge is stored. Schemas could be considered as cognitive frameworks people draw on to guide their behavior in life situations. It was believed that human behavior relies mostly on his collection of background knowledge and experiences stored in one's mind.

Furthermore, when schemas are considered at a group level as the members of the cultural group are exposed to experiences, schemas emerge through group's collective cognition. Cultural schemas are said to be the emergent properties of the interactions among the members of a cultural group across time and space. These schemas enable the members to think more or less in one mind (Malcolm and Sharifian 2002; Rice 1980).

One of such cultural schemas could be called Sharmandegi schema literally translated as 'being ashamed'. The cultural schema of Sharmandegi in general encourages Iranian speakers to be very much conscious of the imbalances in their give-and-takes in daily social interactions. For example, the speaker is urged to be overtly conscious of the resources (such as time, money, effort, etc) that others have or will expend for them in various forms, and to acknowledge them by expressing the feeling of 'shame'. The speaker is also encouraged to consider the possibility that any contribution from them, may not be in accordance with the other party's "social esteem".

The Persian cultural pragmatic schema of Sharmandegi is instantiated in several formulaic expressions in Persian, such as sharmandam (a short form for sharmandeh hastam meaning "I'm ashamed") or sharmandam mikonid (meaning "you make me ashamed"). One frequently hears such expressions in everyday conversations among Iranians, especially when they talk to non-intimates (Sharifian & Jamarani, 2011).

Cultural schemas may be instantiated through the use of language as well as painting, rituals (Shore, 1996). Since various levels and units of language such as speech act might be entrenched in cultural schemas, the interpretation of various utterances operates on the basis of "inference," which in fact depends upon schemas that interlocutors more or less share (see also Wierzbicka, 1991, 1997). It seems speech acts are jumping board for various cultural schemas.

The study

This paper sets out to qualitatively investigate gratitude strategies Persian speaker use in their L1 to make a coding scheme for Persian gratitude strategy. The paper is also interested in the strategies Persian speakers utilize to express their gratitude in social events in L2 to see how and what strategies are transferred. Moreover, the paper is interested to understand if these strategies are affected by speakers' cultural schemas. In other words, this study is intended to answer the following research questions:

What gratitude strategies Persian speakers use in their L1?

How these strategies are different in their L2?

Are these strategies affected by cultural schemas? If yes, how do they realize in speech act?

The rest of this paper elaborates on an empirical attempt that was carried out to further explore the Persian cultural schema of Sharmandegi and its realization in gratitude speech act. The following section is on the methodology that was employed in the study.


To examine the extent to which cultural schemas are reflected in L1 and L2 (English) gratitude responses of Persian speakers, the study employed a three situation role play to collect data from70 EFL learners. Participants, male (43%) and female (57%), ranged in age from 19 to 40 with a mean of 23 years. They were studying English as their foreign language for an average of 5 years. They categorized as intermediate and upper intermediate students of English. Also, they participated in the study voluntarily.

Role play was selected to serve the purpose of this ethnographic research since the study was interested in assessing pragmatic communicative features in the production of Persian speakers. In addition, to gain control over the conversation as well as the variables influencing the interaction, role play seemed the best alternative. As Kasper (2000, p. 323) mentioned it, role play "permit[s] us to design contexts and roles that are likely to elicit specific speech events and communicative acts."

To collect the data, participants first performed in L2 (English) and after an interval of 3 weeks, they were asked to perform the same situations in their L1 (Persian). This order was selected to avoid the possible interference of L1 on L2. Participants were given instruction manual in order to play in three gratitude situations (Appendix A) as realistically as possible. The situations, taken from natural every day conversations, are about a) the time the participant is on the bus and tired, a stranger offered a seat to him/her, b) a dinner party with a friend and c) asking an acquaintance a favor. It is worth noting that the situations are designed in three levels of solidarity.

The gratitude situations were played along with a 28 year old female native speaker who was born and raised in Canada. Data were collected during her 3 month stay in Iran. All data were taped recorded.

Data analysis

Data, drawn from the interactions, were transcribed. In order to identify different patterns employed by Persian speakers in their L1 and L2 gratitude speech act, a qualitative contrastive analysis was carried out. Cheng's (2005) gratitude coding scheme (see Appendix B) was utilized as a basis for categorizing Persian gratitude strategies. Also, a further focus was on the extent to which participants' talk instantiate cultural schemas of Sharmandegi. To ensure the reliability of Persian coding categories, a second rater coded 50% of the data. Cohen's kappa reached for interrater reliability was .87 which indicates a considerable consensus between the two coders (Landis & Koch, 1977).

In transcription of the data, the original speech is given in '' in the first line and the literal word by word translation is give at the second line, finally the English equivalent is given in italic in the last line. The following section elaborates qualitatively on the analysis of each situation in the role plays.

Situation 1

You are exhausted, it's about an hour you're waiting for a bus. Finally it arrives but the bus is full. It's dark and late so you get on the bus anyway. After 15 minutes, a young man calls you and gives up his seat for you. You're so tired; therefore, you accept his offer and say:

The most frequent expression to this situation, as it is shown in Table 2, is thanking. Thanking constitutes almost all of the responses alone or in combination with other strategies. Below are some instances of thanking combination strategies in response to situation one:


'Dastet dard nakone, mersi.'

Hand you ache no-do, thanks.

Thank you.

The expression above, literally translated as 'your hand does not ache' is a very common expression of saying thank you in Persian.

'Kheili mamnoon' (baa labkhand)

Very thanks (with smile)

Thanks very much (with smile)

'Dastet dard nakone. Dige naa nadaashtam.'

Hand you ache no-do. More capacity no-have.

Thank you. I could not stand on my feet any more.

Thanking + Appreciation:

'Loft kardi, mersi.'

Favor do-you, thanks.

I appreciate that, thanks.

The expression 'lotf kardan' is taken to be similar in concept to 'appreciation' in English. Therefore, in Cheng (2005) coding scheme, this expression was classified under Appreciation.

Thanking +Pray:

'Mersi javoon, elaahi kheir az javoonit bebini'

Thanks young, god good from youth-you see-you

Thanks young lady. May you be blessed.

'Khodaa kheiret bede. Dastet dard nakone.'

God good-you give. Hand-you ache no-do.

May you be blessed. Thank you.

'Praying' was an interesting finding in Persian gratitude expressions since it was not included in Chen (2005) classification of gratitude strategies. Apparently, it is one of the most frequent strategies used by Persian speakers (see Table 2).

Thanking +Expression of feelings:

'Mamnoon, sharmande be khodaa. Dige nemitunestam vaaysam.'

Thanks, sharmande to God. More no-can-I stand.

Thanks, I'm really sharmande. I could not stand any more.

The frequency of Sharmandegi schema in this situation was very little. Four participants employed this schema to express their thankfulness toward the interlocutor. This might be due to the fact that there is a low solidarity between the participants and the interlocutor, a stranger on a bus.

In Cheng's (2005) coding scheme, Sharmandegi was classified under the category of 'Positive feelings'. Since gratitude expression in Persian includes a very wide range of feeling, from feeling inferior and sad to feeling happy and cheerful, the name of this category was changed to 'Expression of feelings' in Persian. Also, Sharmandegi schema is a member of this category.

Thanking + Appreciation + Apology:

'Kheili mamnoon. Lotf kardin khaanom. Bebakhshid jaatoono gereftamaa!'

Very thanks. Favor do-you lady. Sorry place-you get-I.

Thanks very much. I appreciate it lady. Sorry to get your seat.

It seems, Persian speakers employ several gratitude strategies in a situation to expression their gratefulness. As the table shows, there are only 3 categories Thanking, Pray and

For your engagement, you invite your friend to a dinner. You enjoy having dinner with him/her and talk a lot. You notice you have forgotten your wallet. Your friend pays for dinner. You say:

It seems this situation, inviting a friend to a dinner and not having money to pay, is so embarrassing that it calls for more combination strategies activating cultural schema of Sharmandegi. This schema had its most frequency in this situation. 62 out of 82 responses reflected the schema. In other words, it seems the more embarrassing situation it is, the more strategy combination there is:

Thanking + Expression of feelings+ Repayment:

'Dastet dard nakone. Sharmandam kardi. Talaafi mikonam.'

Hand-you ache no-do. Sharmande-me did-you. Repay do-I.

Thank you. You made me sharmande. I will repay.

'Mersi. Fadaat besham. Be khodaa sharmandatam. Ishaalaa naamzadi khodet jobraan konam.'

Thanks. Die-you become-I. To God sharmande-I. Ishala engagement yourself repay do-I.

Thanks. I die for you. I'm really sharmande. Ishala I will return the favor.

Thanking + Expression of feelings +Apology + Repayment:

Mamnoon. Sharmande kardi. Bebakhshid, man baayad hesaab mikardam. Ishala jobraan konam.

Thanks. Sharmande made-me. Excuse me I should pay did-I. Ishala repay do-I.

Thanks. You made me sharmande. I'm sorry I had to pay. Ishala I will repay.

Expression of feelings + Appreciation + Repayment:

'Vaay, sharmandamoon kardi aziz. Lotf kardi. Ishaalaa dafeye dige too ye resturane aali az khejaalatet dar miyaaym.'

Oh sharmande made-I dear. Favor did-you. Ishala time next in one restaurant excellent from shy-you out become.

Oh, you made us sharmande, dear. I appreciate it. Ishala next I will pay you time in an excellent restaurant.

It worth noting that interjection expressions such as 'vaay [oh], aakhey [ahh], etc' were counted as a new classification under the category of Expression of feelings in Persian gratitude strategies.

Moreover, an interesting case was the following example:

'Lotf kardi. Sharmandeye to ham shodim. Hamishe too jibam boodaa. Ghesmat bood indafe to hesaab koni.' (baa khande)

Favor did-you. Sharmande you too became. Always in pocket-I was. Ghesmat was this time you pay.

I appreciate it. You made me sharmande. I had it always in my pocket. It was ghesmat you pay this time. (with laugh)

Here, the participant not only drew on the cultural schema of Sharmandegi but also he instantiated cultural schema of ghesmat. Mackenzie (1971) defined this schema literally as 'apportion and distribution'. Generally this schema refers to the notion that God's will or some forces beyond Human's control are the determiners of an individual's life events. However, nowadays, Persians believe 'ghesmat' is an act of God "who knows what is best for each individual to happen at that moment since men are ignorant of the fact that what may seem unpleasant at first may be for their benefit in the end." (Shirinbakhsh, Eslamirasekh, & Tavakoli, 2011, p. 145).

In example A, Sharmandegi cultural schema was reflected in both L1 and L2. Interestingly, the participant used the same word of 'Sharmande' in her L1 and L2 responses as if 'I'm ashamed' does not convey the same concept. In example B, however, the schema was only reflected in L2 and was absent in L1 of the same participant's response. It could be infer that cultural schemas have a dynamic interaction with languages. Apparently, it dose not matter which language an individual employs to communicate, L1 or L2, cultural schemas are instantiated dynamically across languages (Sharifian, 2008).

Summary and discussion

Adopted from Cheng (2005) coding scheme, Persian gratitude strategies could be classified as the following scheme:

a. Thanking

Participants say "thank you" in three ways:

a. thanking only by using the word "thank you" (e.g. Thank you very much)

b. thanking by stating the favor (e.g. Thank you for giving up your seat for me)

c. thanking and mentioning the imposition caused by the favor (e.g. Thank you for paying the bill)

b. Appreciation

a. using the word appreciate (e.g. I appreciate it!)

b. using the word "appreciate" and mentioning the imposition caused by the favor (e.g. I appreciate the time you gave me)

c. Expression of feelings

a. expressing a positive reaction to the favour giver (hearer) (e.g. You are an angel!)

b. expressing a positive reaction to the favour receiver (speaker) (e.g. I'm happy you accepted it)

c. expressing a positive reaction to the object of the favor (e.g. your help saved me out)

d. expressing Sharmandegi (e.g. I'm sharmande for putting you in trouble)

e. expressing interjections (e.g. oh, wow)

d. Apology

a. using only apologizing words (e.g. I'm sorry)

b. using apologizing words and stating the favor or the fact (e.g. I apologize for taking your seat)

e. Recognition of imposition

a. acknowledging the imposition (e.g. I know you are busy and may not have enough time)

f. Repayment

a. offering or promising service, money, food or goods (e.g. Next time I will pay)

b. promising future repay/return (e.g. I will repay you)

c. indicating indebtedness (e.g. I owe you )

g. Pray

a. praying for the benefit of favor giver (e.g. may God bless you)

To be representative of Persian gratitude strategies, two categories 'Others' and 'Attention getter' have been removed and the category 'Pray' has been added to the scheme. Also, some subcategories such as 'Sharmandegi' and 'interjection' have been added while some others such as 'criticizing or blaming oneself' and 'promising future self-constraint or self-improvement' have been omitted or changed.

By comparing gratitude responses in L1 and L2 of Persian speakers it was revealed that Persians are likely to utilize more strategies in number and in combination in their L1. While keeping combination strategy habit online, they tend to use less variety of strategies in their English. This constant tendency of the speakers to employ combination strategy in most situations makes Persian language a multi-gratitude strategy language.

Moreover, this study has some significant implications for cross-cultural communication studies. Firstly, cultural schemas might be instantiated in speech acts in different situations. It seems some situations calls for more cultural schemas while others less. As an instance, in this research situation two had the most frequency of Sharmandegi cultural schemas than the other two. This also indicates the dynamic nature of cultural schemas in L1.

On the other hand, while the transfer of gratitude speech act to L2 might be predictable and following the same pattern, - for example there was a descending trend in the transfer of gratitude strategies from L1 to L2- transfer of cultural schemas do not follow any order across languages. Putting another way, "speakers do not seems to be imprisoned in the house of their cultural conceptualizations but draw upon them in a dynamic manner" (Sharifian, 2008, p. 74). For example, one Persian speaker employed the schema of Sharmandegi both in his L1 and L2. Another speaker used this schema only in her L1 and another one only in his L2. Therefore, the dynamic nature of cultural schemas is also true across languages.

Finally, findings of this study was in consensus to the study conducted by Sharifian (2008) regarding the manner of cultural schemas in L1 and L2. It seems there is no order for the instantiation of cultural schemas. However, further research is needed to investigate if type of situation and personality of the speakers play any role in the activation of cultural schemas.


The present paper is hoped to make a contribution to understanding of Persian culture in particular and intercultural communication in general and calls for more studies to be conducted on the explication of schemas that embody different cultures and languages. Studies of this kind can highlight the differences and similarities among divergent cultural systems to enhance our intercultural competence and prevent cultural misunderstandings.