Say please? En tværsproglig analyse af opfordringer på engelsk produceret af danske og spanske sprogbrugere med særligt fokus på høflighed og kulturelle værdier

Anja Sandfeld Arnsberg & Stine Evald Bentsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” This statement from Ludwig Wittgenstein made in 1922 finds new relevance in our globalised world where the limits of our world seem to transcend the limits of our language. Information crosses borders in the same time as it crosses the lips, and the need to communicate grows by the minute. Successful intercultural communication is often linked to the idea of Global English being the language of globalisation, a language stripped of cultural influence, serving as a neutral means of communication for all people in all countries. This thesis questions a quintessential aspect of the phenomenon ‘Global English’, namely if it is possible for a language to exist without cultural values. Based on a cultural relativistic perspective, the thesis analyses the speech acts produced in English by a group of Spanish and Danish people. It investigates how these groups produce speech acts in English, and how linguistic, cultural and interpersonal factors affect their speech. The hypothesis is that the Danish and Spanish mother tongues are reflected in the English spoken by the two groups. Given the fact that the empirical data are collected using a qualitative method, several factors are considered in terms of validity, reliability and transferability. A substantial part of the thesis is devoted to methodology, discussing the various methods to investigate how non-native speakers perceive and produce English. Having considered and tested a selection of methods, the final method is a closed role play consisting of 16 scenarios designed to produce eight subcategories of requests developed from logical modality. The linguistic philosophical foundation for the thesis is formed by the theories of linguistic supertypes, which maintain that languages fall into three main categories, i.e. reality-, speaker- and hearer-oriented languages, and that these determine the mentality of a given language and thus its perspective on the world. The theoretical part of the thesis discusses the central aspects of speech act realisations, focusing on the division of speech acts into different types, the importance of the interpersonal relationship between hearer and speaker, and the notion of face and politeness as understood by Brown and Levinson. By contrasting these universalistic perceptions with cultural values of the Danish and Spanish society, the thesis concludes its theoretical discussion with a redefinition of positive and negative face and politeness. The data analysis was conducted according to a coding scheme based on the speaker’s logical line of thought. The results of the analysis showed significant differences in the linguistic realisations of speech acts in English by the two participant groups. The Danish group displayed a heavy tendency to address the negative face of the hearer by constantly justifying or explaining their speech acts. This is most likely a result of the Danish conception of politeness and face that is intrinsically linked to the freedom from imposition, and the want that personal space is respected. In contrast, the Spanish group was highly inclined to address the hearer’s positive face by emphasising the relationship between the speaker and the hearer. This is most likely a result of the Spanish conception of politeness and face that values closeness and solidarity. When comparing the results to the linguistic supertypes of Danish and Spanish, respectively, it becomes clear that the mentality suggested by the linguistic supertype is not only reflected in its grammar, but in all levels of language, including politeness. The thesis concludes that ‘Global English’ as a language free of cultural influences is an illusion because language and culture cannot be separated. The thesis claims that the mother tongue of a given speech community is indeed reflected in the ‘Global English’ spoken by its members.

EducationsMA in International Business Communication (Intercultural Marketing), (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2009
Number of pages244