Apology Strategies of Filipino and Filipino-Chinese
Third Year High School Students
Venjie N. Oclaret
Philippine Normal University
How to teach language learners communicative competence in the target
language is one challenging task for any teacher teaching English as a second or as a
foreign language. It has become clear that teaching mastery of the rules of grammar
and vocabulary of a language is not enough. Pragmatic and cultural competence need
also be taught. Demeter (2000) in his study explains that understanding how socially
and culturally specific aspects of language function in different languages is also
important as learners should be aware of the differences between not only their native
language and the target language but also between the two cultures. That language and
culture are connected to one and the other in several other intricate and dynamic ways,
being aware not only of cultural differences but also of similarities would help the
learners better understand the target culture, and therefore use the target language in a
socially and culturally appropriate manner.
Probably the most culture specific of all language aspects, speech acts have
been the concentration of many studies carried out particularly in the areas of sociology,
anthropology, and the different branches of linguistics. Accounting for the direct
connections of culture to language is of major importance to these studies as Jaworski
and Coupland (1999) observe. According to them, the discourse is used not only for
exchanging information but also in shaping interpersonal and intergroup relations. That
is one way of saying that language does not only function as a tool for communication
but also in negotiating social relations between people either of the same or diverse
language communities where culture plays a very implicit role.
There are various definitions of speech acts, ranging from many different
perspectives, but the most common and general view of speech acts is that of Austin
(1975), i.e. speech acts are utterances that when issued perform an action. In other
words, a speech act is an utterance that serves a function in communication such as
apology, request, or greeting. There are many studies on speech acts and the majority
of these have been conducted with native speakers of English or with second or foreign
language learners of English. Ozyildirim (2010) notes, however, that in order to provide
more insights for improved intercultural communication, “speech act studies should be
carried out within and across cultures and countries, especially with respect to the
generalizability and significance of the results.”
The speech act that is the focus of the present study is apology that is
considered to be a face-threatening speech act, and also one which has serious
implications for miscommunication across cultures. The main objective of this study is to
discuss the speech act of apology and to identify the apology strategies used by Filipino
and Filipino-Chinese 3rd
year high school students from public and private schools,
1.1 Background of the Study
According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary (2001) „apology‟ can be defined as „a
regretful acknowledgement of an offence or failure; a formal expression of regret;
assurance that no offence was intended‟. Therefore, apologies carry with it the will to be
forgiven. Apologies are also defined as “primarily and essentially social acts, carrying
effective meaning” (Holmes, 1990). An apology is a fundamental speech act which is a
part of human communication that is a typical phenomenon in every culture; they are
very good indicators of distance and dominance in relationships, hence reflecting
cultural norms. According to Brown and Levinson (1987), apologies are politeness
strategies aimed at maintaining good relation between participants. They add that an
apology is a face-threatening act that requires S (speaker) to admit the responsibility for
some behavior or failure to carry out some behavior that has proved costly to H
Apologies are a means of maintaining the social order and are called for when
social norms are violated (Olshtain and Cohen, 1983). To apologize is to act politely,
both in vernacular sense and in more technical sense of paying attention to the
addressee‟s face needs (Brown and Levinson, 1987). Holmes (1990) defines an
apology as a speech act addressed to B‟s face needs and intended to remedy an
offence for which it takes responsibility, and thus to restore equilibrium between A and B
(where A is the apologizer and B is the person offended). According to Ozyildirim
(2010), an expression of an apology by the offender and a reply with silent gesture or
words by the victim is called for in order for an apology to take place. But Goffman
(1971) notes however that it is also possible that the offender may deny the
responsibility, not perceiving himself or herself responsible for the act. Ozyildirim (2010)
adds that there are indeed factors which make the offender deny the responsibility, such
as the offender‟s own perception of the degree of severity of the offence, the recipient‟s
point of view, age, familiarity, and socio-economic status.
As a generalization, an apology is the speech act that is required either when the
social norms of politeness demand the mending of a behavior or when a linguistic
expression has offended another person (Trosborg, 1995) or when somebody is
offended due to the fact that personal expectations are not fulfilled (Fraser, 1981).
Usually, this speech act requires the presence of two participants, namely the person
who is apologizing and the person who expects an apology, be it real or potential.
In the Philippines, there are only few studies done on apologies and popular
among these are the works of Bautista (1987) and Mojica (2004). Bautista‟s findings
show that the form of apologies to be used is dependent on two things: the weight of the
offence committed and social distance. Bautista also observes the following
components in the apology strategies of Filipino radio dramas: admission of the wrong,
an explicit acknowledgment of the need to apologize, an explanation or justification, and
a promise not to repeat the offence. These components were also observed to exist in
Mojica‟s study on the preferred apology strategies of Filipino-speaking couples. There is
an additional finding in Mojica‟s study, i.e. the combination of a reconciliatory remark or
gesture and an attempt to transfer guilt either to the offended party or to the subject
under discussion by way of explanation. Without the reconciliatory statement or act, the
second element, which is transfer of guilt, would not have been considered an apology
strategy at all.
It would be interesting to make a follow up study after Bautista and Mojica
although the corpora in both studies cannot be regarded as natural—Bautista having
come from scripted dialogues and Mojica‟s based on the respondents‟ choices in
contrived situations. The present paper intends to examine the differences and
similarities between Filipino and Filipino-Chinese students concerning the way speakers
apologize. The situations used in the instrument for this study were adapted from the
questionnaire used by Sugimoto (1997) to compare the apology strategies used by
American and Japanese students. The aim of this study is to investigate the strategies
high school students use in apologizing in different situations. The need for such a study
is imperative as there are few studies on apologies in Filipino and especially Filipino-
1.2 Purpose of the Study
This study investigated the following:
1. What apology strategies do Filipino and Filipino-Chinese high school students
prefer to use in certain contrived situations?
2. Do Filipino students and Filipino-Chinese students differ in their choice of
1.3 Framework of the Study
This study used the framework proposed by Blum-Kulka and Olshtain (1984). It is
almost a rearrangement of the set of strategies proposed by Olshtain and Cohen in
1983. Blum-Kulka and Olshtain (1984) provide five verbs—regret, excuse, be sorry,
forgive, pardon—beside „apologize‟ which they consider as performative verbs in
English and hence illocutionary force indicating device (IFID, hereinafter). Basic
categories with examples are given below:
A. Illocutionary Force Indicating Devices (IFIDs)
1. An expression of regret, e.g. I’m sorry
2. An offer of apology, e.g. I apologize
3. A request for forgiveness, e.g. Excuse me/Forgive me/ Pardon me
B. Explanation or account, an excuse or justification
Any external mitigating circumstances, „Objective‟ reasons for the violation, e.g.
The traffic was terrible
C. Taking on responsibility
1. Explicit self-blame, e.g. It is my fault/ my mistake
2. Lack of intent, e.g. I didn’t mean it
3. Expression of self-deficiency, e.g. I was confused/ I didn’t see you/ I forgot
4. Expression of embarrassment, e.g. I feel awful about it
5. Self-dispraise, e.g. I’m such a silly person!
6. Justify hearer, e.g. You’re right to be angry
7. Refusal to acknowledge guilt
Denial of responsibility, e.g. It wasn’t my fault
Blame the hearer, e.g. It’s your own fault
Pretend to be offended, e.g. I’m the one to be offended
D. Concern for the hearer, e.g. I hope I didn’t upset you/ Are you all right?
E. Offer of repair, e.g. I’ll pay for damage
F. Promise of forbearance, e.g. It won’t happen again
G. Intensification (use of adverbials (e.g. very) with the IFID and the repetition of
the IFID), e.g. I’m (so/ very/ really/ terribly/ awfully/ deeply) sorry/ I’m sorry,
please forgive me
The population of the study consisted of 30 Filipino-Chinese students of the
Philippine Institute of Quezon City and 30 Filipino students of Commonwealth High
School. The participants are third year high school students belonging to a private
school and a public school, respectively. The respondents are relatively heterogeneous
in terms of their cultural background (Filipino and Filipino-Chinese) and socio-economic
status (SES). The subjects varied between 14 to 16 years old. Age, gender, and SES,
however, were not taken into consideration in this study.
The data of this study was collected through an adaptation of the questionnaire
used by Sugimoto (1997) to compare the apology strategies used by American and
Japanese students. The researcher adapted the questionnaire to analyze apology
strategies used by Filipino and Filipino-Chinese students. The questionnaire consisted
of ten (10) hypothesized situations each of which involves a situation that requires an
apology. Each situation included a short description of the scenario, specifying the
setting, the social distance, status, and a blank space for subject‟s response. The
respondents were asked to put themselves in real situations and to assume that in each
situation, they would respond by writing what exactly they would say in those situations.
The researcher administered the questionnaire in the first semester of the academic
3. RESULTS AND DISCUSSIONS
3.1 Preferred Apology Strategies of the Respondents
Apology Strategies Used by Filipino Respondents
The data in Table 1 represents the 39 apology strategies used by Filipino third
year public high school students in their attempt to respond to the contrived situations
given in the questionnaire. It shows the distribution and percentage of apology
strategies used by Filipino respondents. Five of these strategies are discussed below
the table from the most to the least frequently used strategies.
Table (1) Distribution of apology strategies used by Filipino respondents
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1 A 1 8 1 3 2 2 1 2 2 1 23 7.7
2 B 0 2 2 0 2 0 1 0 1 1 9 3.0
3 C 0 3 2 5 1 0 2 1 3 1 18 6.0
4 E 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 0 4 1.3
5 F 0 0 0 2 1 0 2 0 0 3 8 2.7
6 AB 5 0 0 0 3 7 1 1 0 0 17 5.7
7 AC 2 0 3 0 4 0 0 4 3 0 16 5.3
8 AD 0 0 0 0 5 0 1 0 0 2 8 2.7
9 AE 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 2 1 1 6 2.0
10 AF 0 0 0 0 3 0 3 0 0 0 6 2.0
11 AG 0 4 0 0 0 3 2 0 2 1 12 4.0
12 BC 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0.3
13 BD 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 1.7
14 BE 3 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 3 1 10 3.3
15 BF 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 3 1.0
16 CD 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 1.0
17 CE 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 3 1.0
18 CF 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 4 1.3
19 DF 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 4 1.3
20 ABC 5 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 1 10 3.3
21 ABD 0 3 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 7 2.3
22 ABE 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0.7
23 ABG 2 0 10 0 2 3 0 0 2 5 24 8.0
24 ACE 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 3 1 7 2.3
25 ACF 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 1.0
26 ACG 2 3 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 9 3.0
27 ADF 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 1.7
28 AFG 0 0 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 5 1.7
29 ABCD 2 0 0 6 0 0 3 0 1 0 12 4.0
30 ABCE 0 0 0 4 0 8 0 3 0 0 15 5.0
31 ABDE 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 1 0 4 1.3
32 ABDF 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 7 2.3
33 ACDE 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 2 0.7
34 ACDG 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0.3
35 ACEG 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 1 0 7 2.3
36 ABCEG 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 2 1 6 2.0
37 ABEFG 0 0 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 6 2.0
38 ACDFG 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 1 6 2.0
39 ABCDEG 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 2 0.7
1. ABG. In 8% of the situations (n=24), Filipino respondents used a combination of
IFID, an explanation or account, and intensification in response to items 1, 3, 5,
6, 9, and 10. This resulted in responses such as:
a. I’m so sorry. Pasensya ka na. Sobrang lakas kasi ng hangin
„I‟m sorry, please forgive me. The wind was so strong, that‟s why‟
b. Naku, pasensya na guys. Sorry talaga. Sobrang haba ng traffic eh
„I‟m terribly sorry. The traffic was so heavy, that‟s why‟
2. A. In 7.7% of the situations (n=23), the respondents used IFIDs in all ten
situations. These are shown in the respondents‟ answers:
a. Pasensya (ka) na „Please forgive me‟
b. Sori „I‟m sorry‟
3. C. In 6% of the situations (n=18), Filipino respondents used taking on
responsibility or acknowledgment of responsibility in response to all items except
1 and 6.
a. Di ko sinasadya „I didn‟t mean it‟
b. Kasalanan ko naman talaga bakit ako na-late
„It‟s my fault why I came late‟
4. AB. In 5.7% of the situations (n=17), Filipino respondents used a combination of
IFID and an explanation or account in item 1, and items 5 to 8 as shown in the
a. Sori. Bigla na lang nag-hang yung PC eh „I‟m sorry. The PC hung up‟
b. Pasensya na. Hinintay ko pa kasi si Ate umuwi
„Forgive me. I was waiting for my sister, that‟s why‟
5. AC. A combination of IFID and acknowledging or taking on responsibility was
used in 5.3% of the situations (n=16) in items 1, 3, 5, 8, and 9 by Filipino
respondents. Shown below are responses from the students:
a. Pasensya na. Hindi kasi kayo nag-confirm kung anong oras kayo dadating
„I‟m sorry. You didn‟t confirm what time you are coming, that‟s why‟
b. Sori. Hindi ko kasalanan na nasira yang celfon mo
„Sorry. It wasn‟t my fault why your cellphone got broken‟
Apology Strategies Used by Filipino-Chinese Respondents
The data in Table 2 shows the 36 apology strategies used by Filipino-Chinese
third year private high school students in their attempt to respond to the situations given
1. ABCE. In 7.3% of the situations (n=22), Filipino-Chinese respondents used a
combination of IFID, an explanation or account, taking on responsibility, and offer
of repair in response to all items except 1, 2, 8, and 10. This resulted in
responses such as:
a. Please forgive me. The screen just turned black. I know kasalanan ko
kaya ako na lang uulit nito
„...It was my fault. I will just do from scratch again‟
b. I’m sorry. Sobrang busy ako kanina trying to finish my homework kaya
nakalimutan ko appointment natin. Babawi na lang ako ulit
„... I got too busy finishing my homework that‟s why I forgot our meeting. I‟ll
make it up to you next time‟
2. ABCEG. A combination of IFID, explanation or account, taking on responsibility,
offer of repair, and intensification was used by Filipino-Chinese respondents in
6.3% of the situations (n=19). These are shown in the respondents‟ answers in
all items except 2, 3, 6, and 7:
a. I’m very very sorry. Hindi ko sinasadya na di ma-pass yung homework mo.
Sa dami ng iniisip ko, I misplaced it somewhere. Sorry talaga ngayon ko
lang nakita. I will go to our teacher and tell her na naiwan yung sayo sa
table para makabawi ako
„...I was so preoccupied that‟s why I failed to submit your homework. I
didn‟t mean it...I‟ll just tell our teacher that she left your work behind so
she can still accept it‟
b. Hala, pasensya na talaga. Sori, sori, sori. Naligaw kasi ako kaya di ko
mahanap yung lugar. Ako na lang bahala sa kakainin natin. Sori talaga
„Oh no, I‟m really very sorry. I got a little lost finding this place. Don‟t
worry, tonight‟s my treat‟
3. ABCDG. In 5.7% of the situations (n=17), Filipino-Chinese respondents used a
combination of IFID, explanation or account, taking on responsibility or
acknowledgment of responsibility, concern for the hearer, and intensification.
This combination is used in items 1, 3, 4, 8, and 10.
a. I’m so sorry. Sobrang lakas kasi ng hangin. I didn’t hold fast sa payong
kaya nasira. Kasalanan ko. Hope di ka galit.
„...The wind was very strong. I didn‟t hold it fast, so I‟m responsible. I hope
you‟re not mad at me‟
b. Patay! I’m very very sorry. Di ko napansin yung switch, nasipa ko kasi,
then na-off na lang bigla yung computer. Ok ka lang? Naku, sensya na
„I‟m such a silly person! I‟m very very sorry. I accidentally hit the switch
and suddenly, the computer shut down. Are you alright? Please pardon
4. ACEG. In 5.7% of the situations (n=17), Filipino-Chinese respondents used a
combination of IFID, taking on responsibility, offer of repair, and intensification.
This is manifested in items 1, 3, 6, 8, and 9 as shown in the examples below:
a. Pasensya na talaga. Nakalimutan ko na may utang nga pala ako sayo.
Don’t worry I will pay you now that I remember
„I‟m so sorry. I almost forgot that I borrowed some money from you…‟
b. Anya, I’m very sorry. Nasira ko cp mo. Papalitan ko na lang as soon as I
get my allowance
„Brother, … My mistake because I broke your phone. I‟ll just replace it with
a new one when I get my allowance‟
5. ABCDEF. A combination of IFID, explanation or account, taking on responsibility,
concern for the hearer, offer of repair, and promise of forbearance was used in
items 4, 5, 6, and 9. This is 5.3% of the situations (n=16). Shown below are
responses from the students:
a. Pasensya na. Flooded kasi area namin ngayon. Ayaw ako payagang
lumabas. Nakakainis di ako nakapunta. Pero kumusta? Hope di kayo galit
sakin. Sa next meeting babawi ako. Di na mauulit
„Pardon me. Our area was so flooded and I was advised not to go out of
the house. I feel awful about not being able to join you. I hope I did not
upset you. I‟ll make up to you. This won‟t happen again‟
b. Sori. Lo-bat kasi celfon ko kaya di ko nasagot calls nyo. I didn’t mean na
injanin kayo. Sana di kayo galit sakin. May next meeting pa naman, very
surely pupunta ako. Di na talaga mauulit.
„Sorry. I was not able to answer your calls because my phone ran out of
power. I didn‟t intend to miss the meeting, so I hope you‟re not mad at me.
There‟s still the next meeting, and I promise I will be there. Anything like
this won‟t happen again‟
A Comparison of the Apology Strategies Used by Filipino
and Filipino-Chinese Respondents
The research questions I pose in the current investigation are: (1) What apology
strategies do Filipino and Filipino-Chinese high school students prefer to use in certain
contrived situations?; and (2) Do Filipino students and Filipino-Chinese students differ in
their choice of apology strategies? As presented in Tables 1 and 2, Filipino and Filipino-
Chinese third year high school students exhibited both similarities and differences in
their use of apology strategies. Of the seven given categories of apologies, Filipino and
Filipino-Chinese students alike prefer to use a combination of apology strategies.
Filipino and Filipino-Chinese participants used 39 and 36 apology strategies,
respectively. Filipino and Filipino-Chinese third year high school students used similar
types of strategies in many of the situations (28). However, Filipino participants used
eleven (11) more strategies which were not observed in Filipino-Chinese participants.
On the one hand, Filipino-Chinese participants used eight (8) more strategies that were
not observed in their Filipino counterparts.
It should be highlighted that the responses of both participants in all situations
display regular use of IFIDs, explanation/ account, and taking on responsibility. The
results also reveal that the most explicit realization of an apology is the IFID and is
accompanied by one to four strategies with adverbials or intensifiers. Tables 1 and 2
show that IFID is the first component in almost all of the apology strategies figured out.
It is apparent that the participants believe that apologies must compose of IFID as a
compulsory component accompanied by one or more strategies.
The five most common strategies used by Filipino participants are IFID +
explanation or account + intensification (ABG) with 8%, IFIDs (A) with 7.7% , taking on
responsibility (C) with 6%, IFID + explanation or account (AB) with 5.7%, and IFID +
taking on responsibility (AC) with 5.3%. Some of the Filipino respondents think that one
apology expression is already enough as in the case of A (7.7%) and C (6%), while
others think that one apology expression is not enough. However, compared to Filipino
participants, Filipino-Chinese students employed not only one or two expressions of
apology, but they even used three to six expressions of apology as Table 2 shows. For
the Filipino-Chinese students, the five most common apology strategies are IFID +
explanation or account + taking on responsibility + offer of repair (ABCE) with 7.3%,
IFID + explanation or account + taking on responsibility + offer of repair + intensification
(ABCEG) with 6.3%, IFID + explanation or account + taking on responsibility + concern
for the hearer + intensification (ABCDG) with 5.7%, IFID + taking on responsibility +
offer of repair + intensification (ACEG) with 5.7%, and IFID + explanation or account +
taking on responsibility + concern for the hearer + offer of repair + intensification
(ABCDEG) with 5.3%.
The study tried to find out the different apology strategies of Filipino and Filipino-
Chinese third year high school students. Filipino-Chinese students resorted to fewer
strategies in apologizing in comparison with their Filipino counterparts. In addition,
Filipino-Chinese students tend to use combinations of more than two expressions of
apology than Filipino students. It is also found out in this study that there is a
relationship between social distance and the apology strategy to be used. The level of
directness increases, the closer the social distance between the interlocutors. The
number of words used and the number of English words are significantly higher in the
responses written by Filipino-Chinese participants. There are also intensifiers such as
sobra „very, so‟ or talaga „really‟ used in the apologies of both groups. However, the
number of intensifiers used by Filipino-Chinese respondents is significantly higher
compared to Filipino respondents. The frequent use of intensifiers by Filipino-Chinese
participants also contributed to the directness level of the apologies in a positive way.
In summary, although the size of the population was small (60) and that the data
were collected only through a questionnaire instead of naturally occurring interactional
data, the corpus obtained from the respondents has yielded useful insights on
understanding how Filipino and Filipino-Chinese respondents value social relations.
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The researcher is conducting a study entitled Apology Strategies of Filipino and Filipino-Chinese Third Year
High School Students. You are kindly requested to answer the items of this questionnaire carefully and accurately.
There are 10 situations given below. What would you say if you were the person involved in those situations? Write
your responses exactly as they would come out of your mouth. Rest assured that the information obtained in the
course of this study will be kept confidential and used only for the purposes of academic research.
1. You borrowed an umbrella from your best friend, and the wind broke it beyond repair. What do you say to
2. You accidentally stepped on the foot of a woman in a bus and hurt her foot. This was definitely your fault
and you wanted to apologize. What do you say to her?
3. You showed up an hour late for a group practice and you are the leader. What do you say to your members?
4. You have borrowed a classmate‟s homework, submitted yours and failed to return his/ hers. What do you
say to him/ her?
5. You did not show up for a group meeting. What do you say to the students who were supposed to meet with
6. You borrowed some money from your classmate and did not repay him/ her for 3 weeks. What do you say to
7. You failed to meet a friend at the mall due to miscommunication. What do you say to him/ her?
8. You were playing with your friend‟s computer and erased the important paper s/he had been working on for
the past two weeks. What do you say to him or her?
9. You borrowed your brother‟s/ sister‟s cellphone and broke it. What do you say to him/ her?
10. You were half an hour late to a meeting with a friend and made him/ her wait standing in a crowded street.
What do you say to him/ her?
About the Researcher
Venjie Nera Oclaret (email@example.com) is an MA student in the College of Languages, Linguistics and Literature,
Philippine Normal University, Manila, Philippines. He is a high school teacher of English and Campus Journalism in
Philippine Institute of Quezon City. His research interests include motivation in learning languages, language
acquisition and ELT.