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Desperately Seeking Reassurance: Analyzing Requestive Hint Miscommunication in an Email Exchange


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This article seeks to determine reasons for the miscommunication of a requestive hint within an authentic email exchange between two native speakers.It includes the analysis of the interaction from …

This article seeks to determine reasons for the miscommunication of a requestive hint within an authentic email exchange between two native speakers.It includes the analysis of the interaction from the perspectives of i) speech act theory,ii) implicature, relevance, and prior email history between the two interlocutors, and iii) politeness.

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Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University [Journal Detail]
東洋学園大学紀要 16 pp.57-65

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  • 1. Toyogakuen University 57 De rate Se king Re spe ly e assurance: Analysing Requestive Hint Miscommunication in an Email Exchange Andrew Boon Abstract This artic see to de le ks termine reasons f the misc or ommunication of a requestive hint within an authe ntic email exchange be twe two native spe en akers. It includes the analy of the inte tion f sis rac rom the perspec tives of i) spe ch ac theory ii) e t , implicature rele , vanc , and prior e e mail history betwe the two inte en rlocutors,and iii) politeness. 1 Introduc . tion By providing a quic c ap and e ie me k, he ffic nt ans of communicating with family f , riends, contacts and colleague re s gardle of geographic boundaries and time constraints, e ss al mail has transforme the way we c d ommunicate (Sule 20 ; Raine , 20 ; Waldvogel, 20 . As an r, 03 y 04 02) asynchronous medium, compose c take the time to care ully craf a me rs an f t ssage whic c h ontains most if not all of the f atures of traditional snail mail text. M ore of e ten than not, however, to facilitate spe d of transmission e e mail writers think in speech- mode (Grosvenor,1998 ,utilizing ) more informal, immediate unplanne and f , d ragmented syntactic and semantic choices to encode their message and produc writte te s e n xts which share many of the charac ristic of spoke te s n language. Email communication can also support near- nchronous inte sy raction in situations where senders be ome aware of the online pre c sence of recipients via almost- instant response to s se message re nt- s sulting in the likely increase of speed, brevity inf , ormality and spontane of ity language use in the imme d diate re . De ply spite being fast and convenient, email is devoid of the many nonverbal cues (tone pitc prosody gaze f , h, , , acial expressions and gesture) whic can aid h communication betwee interloc n utors and email of n reduce inte te s raction to the exchange of minimalist (Waldvogel,20 2 51 0 ,p. )messages whic may assume a gre de f h at al rom the recipient in the decoding proce Thus, the is a great pote ss. re ntial f misc or ommunication between the intention of the sende and the unde r rstanding of an email message by its recipient (Kruger,Eple , y Parker & Ng, 20 5 0 ;Raine , 2 0 ;Waldvogel, 20 2) y 04 0 . This article seeks to de rmine re te asons f the miscommunic or ation of a requestive hint within NII-Electronic Library Service
  • 2. Toyogakuen University Arti l Ti e c e tl :De rate y se ki re spe l e ng assuranc :Anal si e y ng 58 reque ve hi mi ommuni ati i an e sti nt sc c on n mai e hange l xc an authentic email exchange betwe n two native spe e akers.It includes the analy of the interac- sis tion from the perspe tive of i) spe c act the , ii) implicature, relevance, and prior email c s eh ory history betwee the inte n rlocutors, and iii) politeness. 2. Background context 2.1 The interlocutors: John ( pse a udony , a new distance doc m) toral stude at B university has been in re nt , gular email contac with his f nd, Ste ( pseudony who is a sec t rie ve a m) ond- e student on the same y ar Applied Linguistic c s ourse.The interlocutors me while unde t rtaking a distance learning M aster s degree with A university Whilst John was se . nior to Ste at the fi time of meeting in the ve rst respec of having ne t arly completed the M aster s degree the ne course at B university has , w reversed this situation with John now being his junior. 2.2 The email e hange: xc The email thread has continue be d twe the interloc en utors over a numbe of exchanges with r regards to the B university course.Being a common practic amongst course participants at A e university Ste has agre d to an earlie re , ve e r quest and sent John his assignment to he him gain lp a perspective on the require nts of e me ssaywriting f the particular course module or .John has then requeste to know the grade Ste re e d ve c ived f the piece of work: or Email 1: From: Steve Date: Thursday August 17 20 6 6: 8 AM , , 0 4 To: John 1]Hi John, 2]I think that was my be sc st oring assignment actually - 3]8 ( 5 distinction). 4]I remembe reading somewhe that we nee an average r re d 5]of credit to advanc ― y ll be able to do that OK. I e ou 6]got lower grade than y with A university ( s ou Bs) but had 7]mainly distinctions with B university This might change . 8]soon though ― assignments are getting harder! 9 ]I m writing one now ― c I se it to y some an nd ou time ] 10 early ne we xt ek?The deadline is age away -but I s NII-Electronic Library Service
  • 3. Toyogakuen University Arti l Ti e c e tl :De rate y se ki re spe l e ng assuranc :Anal si e y ng reque ve hi mi ommuni ati i an e sti nt sc c on n mai e hange l xc 59 ] 11 want to knoc one on the head during the holiday k s. ] 12 all the best ] 13 Steve ( ve pe Ste , rsonal communication, August 17 2006) , Email 2: From: John Date: Thursday August 17 20 6 6: 1 AM , , 0 5 To: Steve 1]Steve, 2]Thanks f the inf ! or o! 3]Sure ― I also have one due in 2 weeks which I haven t started y ! et! 4]John. (John, personal communication, August 1 2 ) 7, 006 Email 3: From: Steve Date: Thursday August 17 20 6 6: 2 AM , , 0 5 To: John 1] y -send it ove ep r. ( ve pe Ste , rsonal communication, August 17 2006) , 2.3 The miscommunication: In email 2(line 3 ,John use a re stive hint with the intention of see ) s que king reassuranc f e rom the more expe nc d Ste that two we rie e ve eks is indee e d nough time in whic to c h omple an te assignment. Howe r, in the se ve cond- pair part of the re st- que acceptance adj nc pair ( ace y email 3 -line 1) it be omes c ar that Ste has misinte , c le ve rpreted the hint as being the same reque he st himself has made in email 1 (lines 9-1 , name that of having the c 1) ly omple d assignment re te ad through and commente on by a f llow c d e ourse participant. 3 Analy . sis 3.1 The utteranc is succ ssfully understood as be e e ing an indire request ct Along with the lite me ral aning or locutionaryf e,the utterance in email 2( orc line 3)performs NII-Electronic Library Service
  • 4. Toyogakuen University Arti l Ti e c e tl :De rate y se ki re spe l e ng assuranc :Anal si e y ng 60 reque ve hi mi ommuni ati i an e sti nt sc c on n mai e hange l xc a number of diff re illoc e nt utionary acts. Firstly the item s , ure f tions as a commissive that unc pledge compliance to Ste s prior implie re st to read and provide f e s ve d que e dbac on his assign- k ment (Email 1 Line 9- ) The se ond part of the utteranc I a o ha o due in 2 w e s s 10 . c e, ls ve ne ek, functions to asse the f t that the write is in a similar situation to Ste of having to write an rt ac r ve assignment within a certain time rame and I hav n t s f e tarte y t! that this assignment is y t d e! e to be started.M ore importantly,howe r,the assertive is intende by the write and understood ve d r by the recipient to pe orm the f tion of a non-onventional indirect request ( rf unc c Blum- Kulka, 1987).The recipie s unde nt rstanding of this illocutionary intent occurs even though the requestive hint itself is opaque containing neithe re ere e to Steve ( or example: Co r f nc f uld y u. . .?) nor o statement of a future act whic is de h sired of him (John s intention Te me w the tw w e s ll he r o e k is lo e o le n s ignme /Steve s inte ng nough to c mp te a a s nt rpretation -Re d a p vide f e a k o a nd ro e db c n my a s s ignme a w ll) Ashe and Lasc nt s e . r arides ( 01 argue that indirec spe 20 ) t ech acts: must be understood relationally be ause suc e ully pe orming them is logic , c c ssf rf ally dependent on the content of an ante de utte ce nt ranc p. 8 ) e e( 1 8 .In mail 2(line 3)the use of the additive particle also by John anaphorically links to the paralle situation of assignme writing asse d by Steve as l nt rte his pre- que move in e re st mail 1 (line 9) ― I m writing one now and the pronoun one (email 2 ― line 3 re ) peats Steves anaphoric re e f rence (line 9) to the continued topic of a s s ignments (email 1 line 8 .In this respec ) t,the position of the utteranc e e( mail 2-line 3)within the ongoing email exchange (Indire t re ue t → Ac e ta e → c q s c p nc / → Ac e c p- tanc helps to constrain Ste e) ves understanding of it functioning as a request. 3.2 The intende pe d rlocutionary eff c of the re et questive hint is unsuc ssful ce Although understood as an indirec re t quest, the hint achieve a diff re pe s e nt rlocutionary eff t than inte d by the write whic is signalle in the c ec nde r h d ompletion of the reque ac ptanc st- ce e adj ncy pair in email 3 ( ace line 1)in which Ste acc ve epts the re st y p ,but the dire John que e n cts to send it ( implie c the d omple d assignment)to him rathe than providing the sought reassur- te r ance: Conventionally Indirec Request t Steve: c n I s nd it to y u s a e o ometime e rly ne t w e a x e k? Ac ptanc ce e : John: Sure ― NII-Electronic Library Service
  • 5. Toyogakuen University Arti l Ti e c e tl :De rate y se ki re spe l e ng assuranc :Anal si e y ng reque ve hi mi ommuni ati i an e sti nt sc c on n mai e hange l xc 61 Hint / Implied Counter Re st que ( ): I a o hav o due in 2 w e w h I have t s rte y t! ls e ne e ks hic n ta d e ! Ac ptanc ce e ( ): Steve: yp e send it over There are a numbe of possible re r asons f Ste s interpretation of the re or ve questive hint: 1] Assuming that the interlocutors are operating unde the Coope r rative Principle (Grice 1975 , , ) that the utteranc in email 2( e line 3)is optimally relevant ( rbe & Wilson,1 ) Spe r 986 ,and recognis- ing that the maxim of quantity is being flouted by John, in terms of being less informative than required in orde to indire r ctly re st a f que uture action of the recipie ( fl which Ste has nt a out ve already made use of in email 1 line 9-0 , Ste see to inf r John s inte in ge s 1) ve ks e nt nerating the implicature. Howe r, as the re ve quest in email 2 (line 3)is framed non- conventionally it cre s , ate a range of diff rent plausible interpretations of its relevanc in the ongoing email exchange e e (Blum- Kulka,1 7 .It c be inte 98 ) an rpreted as an assertion (literal meaning),an assertion being used as a directive to re st f edbac f que e k rom the recipie on the writers assignme ( nt nt implie meaning) d or reassuranc f e rom the re ipie ( c nt implied meaning),or even as an expressive to complain about the strictness of the deadline (implie meaning) d .Sinc the indirec ss of the utterance increase e tne s the cost of processing f the re or cipie as outweighe to the benefi of its succ nt d t essf decoding, ul Steve seeks to fi the quic st route to its implic rele nd ke it vance. Thus, both contextually and co- xtually the inte te , rpretation whic re h quires the least amount of processing is that the writer wishes the reciproc ac al tion of the re st Steve has made in email 1 que : Background knowledge context: On the M asters degree both inte , rlocutors have the experi- e e of providing assignment f nc eedbac to course partic k i- pants. Co-textual context: a)Ste s implied reque ― Ca I s nd it to y u s me ve st n e o o time e rly ne t w e ? a x ek b)Anaphoric links to prior reque ― als , one se m to st o e imply a similar re st is be que ing made of the recipient. NII-Electronic Library Service
  • 6. Toyogakuen University Arti l Ti e c e tl :De rate y se ki re spe l e ng assuranc :Anal si e y ng 62 reque ve hi mi ommuni ati i an e sti nt sc c on n mai e hange l xc Most relevant interpretation: e ks ― If John has agree to I a o hav o due in 2 w e ls e ne d c ck Steve s assignme re he nt, ciprocation of the ac is to be t expec d. te 2] Weigand ( 999)states: any diff re 1 e nce in the communicative worlds of the interlocutors may bring about dive nt unde rge rstandings ( 76 . In a later e p. 6) mail (Appendix 1) explaining his interpretation of the requestive hint, Ste state that he had approache the decoding process ve d d with the overriding assumption of interlocutor mutual c ern f providing assignment f onc or eedback and due to having greate e rience on the course had f re out ( r xpe ilte d Steve,Personal communi- cation, August 1 20 ) the time manage nt c 9, 06 me oncerns of the new student, John. 3] The spee of the e d mail e hange ( xc Email 2 6: AM / Email 3 51 6 5 AM )contribute to .2 d afurther reduction in proc ssing time and sele e ction of the interpretation requiring the le eff ast ort (Appendix 1). 4] High freque y usage of re stive hints between regular interlocutors can f nc que acilitate their interpretation (Rinne & Kobay rt ashi, 1999;Zagura, 200 . Howe r, in previous emails be 6) ve tween John and Steve John has te d to c , nde hoose more conventionally indire ( examples) or direc ct 6 t forms ( example whe making requests ( 1 ) n Appendix 2 . ) 5] Emoticons or exaggerate punc d tuation marks are of n used in e te mail discourse to compensate f the lack of nonve or rbal cues. Exclamation marks, f e or xample can be use f emphasis or to , d or lighten the mood of the message (Sule 2 0 . Although the double exc r, 0 3) lamation marks in email 2(line 3) were used to subtly imply a sense of conce regarding the assignment de rn adline ( I have t s rte y t!! ) the were too individualistic and ambiguous to aff t the dominant n ta d e , y ec interpretation. 3.3 The requestive hint is framed to maintain face at the e nse of c xpe larity As potential f e thre ac - atening ac ( ts FTAs) reque are of n f , sts te rame indire d ctly to increase politeness, help maintain interlocutor f e and minimize the imposition of the action de ac sired of the recipient.In email 1( s 9-0 ,Steve use the conve line 1 ) s ntionallyindirect Can I..? form to make his request on record, with re ssive ac dre tion (Brown & Levinson, 1987, p.69)to atte to and nd preserve the negative f e of John ( ac and his desire to be f e f re rom any imposition Brown & Levinson,1 )byse king pe 987 e rmission to pe orm the ac of se rf t nding the assignment with the fairly clear implication that by doing so, John will re through it and provide him with f dback. ad ee NII-Electronic Library Service
  • 7. Toyogakuen University Arti l Ti e c e tl :De rate y se ki re spe l e ng assuranc :Anal si e y ng reque ve hi mi ommuni ati i an e sti nt sc c on n mai e hange l xc 63 However,by choosing to go offrecord (Brown & Levinson,198 )and use a hint in e 7 mail 2(line 3) John risks the danger of a re st which may lack pragmatic clarity ( , que Rinne & Kobay rt ashi, 1999) Why not then strive f a greate balanc be . or r e twe c en larity and polite ss when making a ne request?Rinne and Kobay rt ashi ( 999)state the more the speake risks loss of f 1 : r ace by perform- ing a request, the more indire t the strate he or she will use ( 1174 . In the social role of c gy p. ) university course participant, the asymmetric relationship or relative power betwe John and en Steve has been reversed: John as Senior Ste as Se ve nior A B university university Steve as Junior John as Junior Thus,John s re st f re que or assurance from Steve and its implie admittanc of lac of confi nc d e k de e is an act which thre ns John s positive f e ( ne to be respecte as a f llow ac ate ac the ed d e ademic)and influenc the c es hoice of offrec - ord strate whe perf gy n orming the FTA (Frase 1990) By using r, . a requestive hint, John not only generate an implic s ature and place a gre r onus on Ste to s ate ve arrive at a relevant interpretation but c ates a situation whereby the implied me re aning c be an denied, if nee d, and the write s f de r ace save For e d. xample: 1. Hint: I a o ha e one due in 2 w e s w h I ha n t s ls v e k hic ve tarte y t! d e! 2. Possible fac thre ning re e- ate sponse: Stop w rry o ing, y u idio o t! 3. Canc llability of implicature e : I didn t me tha I me nt. . . an t, a Conclusion M imicking the more spontaneous f ature of spoke language and y lacking important e s n et nonverbal c s and the ability to gain immediate f dback on whe ue ee ther the decoding proce has ss been succe ul ( ssf Raine ,2 00) y 0 ,the potential f inte or rlocutor miscommunication whe perf n orming non- conventional indire spee h ac via email is gre ct c ts atly enhanc The use of a more conve ed. n- tional indirec re st or inte t que rrogative in email 2 (line 3 by the write ) r: I als ha one due in 2 w e s w h I have t s o ve e k hic n tarte y t! Do y think I hav e d e! ou e nough time? NII-Electronic Library Service
  • 8. Toyogakuen University Arti l Ti e c e tl :De rate y se ki re spe l e ng assuranc :Anal si e y ng 64 reque ve hi mi ommuni ati i an e sti nt sc c on n mai e hange l xc may not have lengthened the inf ntial path be ond reasonable limits ( ere y Blum- Kulka, 1 7, p. 98 141)and may have resulte in re d assurance being give by the re n cipient. Thus,it is important for writers to conside more c f r are ully the cost to face versus the bene t of having a re st fi que understood whe c n omposing emails. Alternatively if miscommunic , ation prevails, they can alway re s sort to using the telephone. Refe nces re Asher, N. & Lascarides, A. ( 001 . Indire spee ac Sy , 2 ) ct ch ts. nthe e, 128 ( ) 183 228 s 2, - . Blum- Kulka, S. (1987) Indirec . tness and politene in re sts:Same or diff nt?J urnal of Pragmatic 11, ss que ere o s, 131 146 - . Brown, P. & Le , vinson, S. (1987) Polite s : Some unive als in la . ne s rs ngua us ge age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Fraser, B. (1990) Pe . rspectives on politeness. J urnal of Pra o gmatic 14, 21 236 s, 9- . Grice H. ( , P. 1975) Logic and c . onversation. In P. Cole and J. M organ (Eds) Sy , ntax and Semantic 3: Spe c s eh Ac ( 41- ) Ne York:Academic Press. ts. pp. 57 . w Grosvenor, L. ( 998 . Hy 1 ) brid language A study of email and miscommunic : ation. Soc ty o Te hnic ie f c al Communication Co e nc Proc e nf re e e dings (1998). Re ved Se trie ptember 1, 200 f 6 rom http: / / www. . / stc org confproce / ed 1998 PDFs/ 90 PDF #search=%22hy / 000 . brid%20email%20grosvenor%22. Kruger,J.,Epley ,Parker,J. ,N. ,& Ng,Z.( 5) 200 .Egocentrism ove e r mail:Can we communicate as well as we think?J urnal of Pe o o rs nality and Soc Ps hy ial c ology 89 ( ) 925 936. , 6, - Rainey,V.( 0) 200 .The potential f miscommunic or ation using email as a source of communication.So ie f c ty or De ign a s nd Pro e s Sc nc 4 ( , 2 43. Re ved Se cs ie e, 4) 1- trie ptember 1, 200 f 6 rom http: / / www.sdpsnet. / org vol4- htm. 4. Rinnert, C. & Kobay , ashi, H. ( 999) Requestive hints in Japane and English. J 1 . se ourna of Pra l gmatic 31, s, 117 12 3- 01. Spe r, D. & Wilson, D. ( 6) Re v e Communic tion a rbe 198 . le anc : a nd cognition. Oxford:Blackwell. Suler, J. ( 03) Email c 20 . ommunication and relationships. The Ps c y hology of Cy e p e. Re ved September b rs ac trie 6 rom http: / 1, 200 f / www.rider. / suler/ cy / edu psy ber emailrel.html. Waldvoge J. ( 02 . Some f ature of workplace emails. Ne Ze land Englis J l, 20 ) e s w a h ournal 16. 4 52. Re 2- trieved Se r , 00 rom http: / ptembe 1 2 6 f / www.vuw. nz/ / ac. lals publications/ s/ pdf nzej pdf / 02- s/ - s 20 pdf NZEJ%20 02- 20 Joan%20Waldvoge pdf l. . Weigand, E. ( 999) M isunderstanding:The standard c . J urnal of Pra 1 . ase o gma s 31, 76 785 tic , 3- . Zagura, N. ( 6) The f 200 . unctional and formal aspec of the communic ts ative act of request in interlanguage: English and Estonian in institutional context.Unpublis d Mas rs the is.Retrie d Septe he te s ve mbe 1,20 f r 06 rom http: / / www.utlib. / ee ekollekt/ / diss enne/mag/ 30/ 08 zaguranatalj / a zaguranatalj pdf a. . Appendix one From: Steve Date: Saturday August 1 2 , 9, 006 10 37 AM : To: John ] 1 Hi John, ] 2 I think it s because I read your email very quickly, ] 3 and I d be thinking how good it will be to give en ] eedback to eac other on assignme 4 f h nts. NII-Electronic Library Service
  • 9. Toyogakuen University Arti l Ti e c e tl :De rate y se ki re spe l e ng assuranc :Anal si e y ng reque ve hi mi ommuni ati i an e sti nt sc c on n mai e hange l xc 65 ] 5 Also, on the discussion threads with B university I ve read ] ople writing many times that the have two 6 pe y ] 7 assignments due in only 1 we etc -so it might have ek ] ust 8 j got filtere out -I didn t see any ne to reply d ed 9 ]to it. ] 10 So I was j f ust ocuse re d ally on the ide of us helping a ] ach other on f 11 e eedback content rathe than any thought r ] 12 to how y ll do time manage nt. I know that y ll ou - me ou ] 13 have no problems getting the essay done in time - ] specially be 14 e cause y re on holiday ou . (Steve, personal communication, August 19, 2006) Appendix 2 Example of previous e s mail requests made by John to Steve: 1. Conventionally indire re ct quests: 1] Can I be cheeky and ask what y got f it? ou or (John, personal communication, August 16, 2006) 2] I was wondering if I could take a pe at what y wrote f the module assignment. ek ou or (John, personal communication, August 10, 2006) 3] Can y give me some more inf about Nagano? ou o (John, personal communication, January 17, 2006) 4] Can y send a re . & page no. when it is published so I can update the old CV? ou f (John, personal communication, October 22 2 ) , 005 5] Can I j chec that we re mee ust k ting at the station? (John, personal communication, August 26, 2005) 6] Can y remind me of the date again f the me ou s or eting? (John, personal communication, July 4, 2005) 2. Direc requests: t 1] Keep me in the loop and if I don t make it, I ll see y at the conf ou erence (John, personal communication, June 6, 2005) NII-Electronic Library Service
  • 10. Toyogakuen University NII-Electronic Library Service