Russian request speech acts and the art of persuasion

Jeanette Owen, University of Arizona

While considerable research in cross-cultural speech act theory has been conducted across a number of languages since the 1980s, most notably the Cross-Cultural Speech Act Realization Project, or CCSARP (Blum-Kulka, House & Kasper 1989), studies involving Russian language data had been curiously few and far between with the exception of Mills (1991, 1992, 1993). In recent years, however, interest has been growing, resulting in a handful of Russian-related cross-cultural speech act studies such as those presented by Belyaeva (1996, 2001, 2004), among others, and investigations of the development of pragmatic competence among learners of a second language (Owen 2001, Frank 2002, Shardakova 2004).

The proposed paper will present the results of a cross-cultural comparison of over 100 native and non-native Russian speakers' approach to the request speech act based on data gathered from a discourse completion task survey. The presentation will draw on previous research in cross-cultural speech act theory for the purposes of categorizing various components of the request, specifically the linguistic means employed by the speaker to persuade the hearer to comply with the request. Such measures, generally referred to as supportive moves, may include everything from a promise of a reward to a threat or an effort to invoke guilt. While previous investigations generally outline variation across cultures in the approach to the request based on the age, status, gender, and degree of familiarity of the interlocutors, as well as the degree of imposition of the request, the proposed presentation will further the range of inquiry to include differences based on the transparency of the request context (i.e., the extent to which the request can be surmised based on the location and prescribed roles of the participants). In particular, the researcher will present data demonstrating similarities and differences between NS and NNS regarding the persuasive measures employed in the articulation of the request speech act, as well as similarities and differences within NS and NNS groups that can be attributed to the context of the request speech act.

Belyaeva, E. I. 1996. Advice and Soviet: A Cross-Cultural Perspective on Speech Acts. Proceedings of the 22nd Conference of Berkeley Linguistics Society. 16-23
Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., Kasper, G. 1989. Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: Requests and Apologies. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
Frank, V.M. 2002. “Ponimaesh', k tebe kakoe delo:” The Interlanguage Pragmatic Competence of Classroom-based Learners of Russian. Michigan: UMI Dissertation Services.
Mills, M. 1993. On Russian and English Pragmalinguistic Requestive Strategies. Journal of Slavic Linguistics 1 (1), 92-115.