I’m sorry, but I have something else… A study of the L1 knowledge of the appropriateness of politeness strategies and its possible transfer to similar L2 knowledge

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The current article examines whether Dutch speakers of English transfer their knowledge of their native language on what (amount of) politeness strategies are appropriate to their second language. Goffman has elaborated on the notion of face and has coined the term line, which are the esteem given to the speaker and the image they uphold themselves, respectively. This prompted Brown and Levinson to propose their politeness theory, which states that interlocutors have to do face-work to protect each other’s faces and use politeness strategies in order to do so. They also proposed three factors that are relevant in selecting appropriate politeness strategies to use: the difference in power between speakers, their social relationship, and the weight of disposition. These factors share different ratios depending on the situation which, in turn, can be categorized in politeness systems (Scollon & Scollon). These were the main studies that prompted the question: To what extent does native knowledge of politeness strategies that are appropriate in the L1 transfer to the L2 in advanced learners of English with a Dutch L1? An experiment was conducted to yield results that would answer the research question. The experiment consisted of a discourse completion task, filled in in either Dutch or English, featuring three situations – each with different impositions, social distances and power differences – and an interview. The paper argues that high-proficiency Dutch speakers of English will use more politeness strategies when they are speaking English than when they are speaking Dutch and that there will be no transfer of Dutch politeness norms to their L2. It is concluded that this hypothesis is mostly correct, but that English norms are not completely accepted either, so that some kind of interstate that enables speakers to quickly switch between attitudes has to exist. Keywords: politeness strategies, Dutch L1, English L2, transfer, politeness systems, politeness theory
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