Pragmatics of Russian Directives: A Cross-Cultural Analysis

Yelena Belyaeva-Standen, Saint Louis University

The paper explores features of Russian directive speech acts from a cross-cultural perspective with the view of establishing specific linguisitic and pragmatic regularities in Russian directive discourse in comparison with American. The overall analysis of speech acts is placed into a broader cultural context in order to provide an interpretation of speech behavior as a reflection of cultural values and attitudes.

In addition, the paper addresses some pedagogical implications of the research that may inhance acquisition of pragmatic competence among American learners of Russian.

Based on an extensive study of Russian and American public directives, invitations, offer, request and advice, the paper will focus on the following:

1) What forms comprise the verbal repertoire of directive discourse in Russian and how they differ form the American directive nomenclature?

2) What is the difference in pragmatic evaluation of these forms by Russians and Americans?

3) What forms do Russians and Americans prefer to use in similar communicatuive contexts?

4) What strategies are favored by Russian and Americans in issuing directives and how are these strategies are motivated by cultural assumptions?

5) What is the negative cultural transfer in second-language performance and how can it be minimized?

Drawing on recent developments in cross-cultural pragmatics (Blum-Kulka et al, 1989, 1933, Mills 1992,1993, Wierzbicka 1991,1994), I will challenge the universalistic approach to speech acts (Frazer, 1985, Searle 1983) that claims that strategies of realization of spech acts are essentially the same across cultures although the implemintations of these strategies may differ. I will argue that: a) discourse forms and strategies preffered by Russians and Americans for expressing directives are culture specific and are rooted in the national 'culture scripts'; therefore b) the perseption and realization of L2 directive speech acts cannot be adequately interpreted without idetifying and spelling out the cultural values they reflect.

For example, elicited data showed that American respondents marked as 'less polite' all the direct forms of expressing advice (Imperatives, Performatives with 'I advise you', and obligation statements) and displayed a strong tendency to avoid these forms in their directive discourse in Russian. They prefered indirect strategies, such as expressing opinion or giving mitigated and conditioned suggestions. In contrast, Russian respondents did not stigmatize direct and explicit forms and showed little hesitation to use them when issuing advice. Interpreted from the cultural point of view, Russian speech strategies in this case are based on the cultural assumption that givivng advice is a socially approved behavior that presupposes a high degree of commitment and personal involvement; therefor, directness is percieved as the most adequate way of showing this commitment. The American preference for indirect strategies in advice and request reflect Anglo-American culture which places a high value in individual freedom of choice and independence of making decisions.

In conclusion, I shall specify certain pragmatic failures in direcitive performance of American learners of Russian which are due to the negative cultural transfer and outline a mechanism of adequate translation of the communicative intension across cultures. Finally, I will give some practical recommendations how to minimize pragmatic errors in directive discourse of American learners.