Research Article 1

Does it Matter? Speech Acts of Refusal and Pragmatic Failure in an International Business Environment in Germany  

Geraldine Royds-Betz

International Language School, Frankfurt


This study investigates the directness and indirectness in speech acts of refusals in an international business environment in Germany, specifically the differing use of semantic formulas and strategies by native speakers (NS) and non-native speakers (NNS) depending on if they are speaking to NSs or NNSs. A further aim was to explore the perceptions of business professionals about the use of direct and indirect refusal strategies and if they cause or contribute to pragmatic failure. The questions used to focus research were: Do speakers use different refusal strategies depending on if the recipient is a NS or a NNS? If so, what are the differences? Are these differences likely to cause pragmatic failure? A Discourse Completion Test designed by Beebe et al., (1990) was modified to reflect if participants were responding to a NS or a NNS. Twenty-five native speakers from the UK, USA, South Africa and Ireland and the thirty-one non-native speakers included business professionals from Germany, Russia, Romania, Japan and the Philippines. The data was analysed and categorised using the refusal taxonomy developed by Beebe et al., (1990). A written open-ended interview was completed by 27% NSs and 87% NNSs to provide additional insight. Results indicated that three times as many NSs compared to NNSs modified their responses depending on if the recipient was a NS or NNS. Where responses were modified, both NSs and NNSs preferred direct interaction with NNSs with almost three quarters of NNSs favouring direct interaction with other NNSs. Where indirect strategies were used, both NSs and NNSs tended to use similar semantic formulas and often responded the same regardless of the recipient. The main conclusions drawn from this study are that while there are some similarities in the use of directness/indirectness in speech acts of refusals there are also significant differences although these differences do not appear likely to cause pragmatic failure for this group.


Keywords: Directness; Indirectness; Pragmatic failure; Politeness; Speech acts; Face-threatening act; Interlanguage pragmatics; Business English as a Lingua Franca (BELF)