Pragmatic aspects of making and responding to complaints in an intercultural university context

Ndenguino-Mpira, Hermanno (2009-12)

Thesis (MPhil (General Linguistics))--University of Stellenbosch, 2009.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The broad topic of this study is the nature and the effects of making and interpreting complaints in intercultural interactions involving international students and South African administrative staff in two Stellenbosch University residences. It appears that during these interactions, the international students are often frustrated by the way their complaints are handled. As a speech act, the effectiveness of a complaint depends on the way it is expressed and understood and also on the social context in which it is performed. In this regard, the study examines the influence of cultural differences on the way complaints are made and responded to in the above-mentioned intercultural interactions. The study aims to analyse intercultural situations involving the making and understanding of complaints that may result in misunderstandings. The complaints data were collected through a discourse completion task, performed by 24 international students belonging to six cultural groups, namely American, Chinese, Dutch, Gabonese, German and Libyan. All the students were residents in one of two student residences of Stellenbosch University. The social acceptability judgments data were elicited from three Afrikaans-speaking South African staff members of these residences, and from an additional six Afrikaans-speaking South African students who served as informants. All the data were analyzed within the pragmatic framework of the CCSARP (Cross-Cultural Speech Act Realization Project), as developed by Blum-Kulka, House and Kasper (1989). The main findings of the analysis indicate that the six cultural groups differed in the way they made their complaints. Moreover, these differences influenced the manner in which some complaints were understood by the staff members. It was also found that the staff members’ responses to the complaints were influenced by their social acceptability judgments of the international students’ utterances. These findings lead to three main conclusions: (i) the way in which complaints are made and understood is influenced by factors that relate to cultural differences; (ii) such cultural differences may lead to misunderstandings; and (iii) conscious efforts to create greater awareness of cultural differences will lead to a better understanding of the way in which people of different cultural groups make and respond to complaints.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie handel breedweg oor die aard en effek van klagtes, soos uitgedruk en geïnterpreteer tydens interkulturele interaksies tussen internasionele studente en Suid-Afrikaanse administratiewe personeel in twee koshuise van die Universiteit Stellenbosch. Dit blyk dat die studente dikwels gefrustreerd voel oor die manier waarop hulle klagtes in sulke interaksies gehanteer word. Die effektiwiteit van ’n klagte, as ’n taalhandeling, word bepaal deur die manier waarop dit uitgedruk en verstaan word, asook deur die sosiale konteks waarbinne dit uitgevoer word. Die studie ondersoek in dié verband die invloed van kulturele verskille op die manier waarop klagtes uitgedruk en op gereageer word in die bogenoemde interaksies. Die doel van die studie is om ’n analise te maak van interkulturele situasies waar misverstande kan ontstaan by die uitdruk en interpretasie van klagtes. Die klagte-data is ingesamel deur die voltooiing van ’n diskoers-taak waarby 24 studente van ses verskillende kultuurgroepe betrek is: Amerikaans, Chinees, Duits, Gabonees, Libies en Nederlands. Al die studente was inwoners van een van twee koshuise van Stellenbosch Universiteit. Die data oor sosiale aanvaarbaarheidsoordele is verkry van drie Afrikaanssprekende Suid-Afrikaanse personeellede, en van ’n verdere ses Afrikaanssprekende Suid-Afrikaanse studente wat opgetree het as informante. Al die data is ontleed binne die pragmatiekraamwerk van die CCSARP (“Cross-Cultural Speech Act Realization Project”), soos ontwikkel deur Blum- Kulka, House en Kasper (1989). Die hoofbevindings van die analise dui daarop dat die ses kultuurgroepe van mekaar verskil wat betref die manier waarop hulle hul klagtes uitgedruk het, en dat hierdie verskille ’n invloed het op die manier waarop sommige klagtes geïnterpreteer is deur die personeellede. ’n Verdere bevinding is dat die personeellede se reaksies op die klagtes beïnvloed is deur hulle beoordeling van die sosiale aanvaarbaarheid van die internasionale studente se uitings. Drie hoofgevolgtrekkings kan op basis van dié bevindings gemaak word: (i) die manier waarop klagtes uitgedruk en geïnterpreteer word, word beïnvloed deur faktore wat verband hou met kulturele verskille; (ii) sulke kulturele verskille kan lei tot misverstande; en (iii) daadwerklike pogings om ’n groter bewussyn van kulturele verskille te skep, sal lei tot ’n beter begrip van die manier waarop klagtes uitgedruk en op gereageer word deur mense van verskillende kultuurgroepe.

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