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Review of  Interlanguage Request Modification

Reviewer: Wei Ren
Book Title: Interlanguage Request Modification
Book Author: Maria Economidou-Kogetsidis Helen Woodfield
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 23.4035

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EDITORS: Economidou-Kogetsidis, Maria and Helen Woodfield
TITLE: Interlanguage Request Modification
SERIES TITLE: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series vol. 217
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2012

Wei Ren, Department of Foreign Languages, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences


Although internal and/or external modification of speech acts have been
investigated by a number of individual studies for almost three decades (e.g.
Blum-Kulka, 1985; Blum-Kulka & Levenston, 1987; Economidou-Kogetsidis, 2008,
2009; Faerch & Kasper, 1989; Hassall, 2001; Trosborg, 1995; Woodfield, 2008;
Woodfield & Economidou-Kogetsidis, 2010), the present volume, “Interlanguage
Request Modification”, is the first book dedicated to exclusively examining
speech act modifiers (i.e. request modifiers in this case) in the field of
cross-cultural and interlanguage pragmatics.

In addition to an introduction, written by the two editors, the present book
includes eight papers all focusing on interlanguage request modification. The
eight papers fall naturally into four broad groups: (i) studies exploring how
second/foreign language learners use and develop internal and external
modification in their interlanguage requests (Woodfield, Göy et al.) (Chapters 1
and 2); (ii) studies investigating request modification in academic emails
(Félix-Brasdefer, Pan) (Chapters 3 and 4); (iii) studies contrasting request
modification by native speakers and learners of the target language
(Economidou-Kogetsidis, Hassall) (Chapters 5 and 6); and (iv) investigations
exploring instructional effects on request modification (Martínez-Flor,
Safont-Jordà & Alcón-Soler) (Chapters 7 and 8).

Chapter 1, “I think maybe I want to lend the notes from you: Development of
request modification in graduate learners”, by Helen Woodfield, longitudinally
examines the development of request modification strategies in eight graduate
students from Taiwan, China, Korea and Japan in a British university. The study
employs two-situations of open role-plays (i.e. status unequal, status equal) to
collect interlanguage data on three occasions over the course of eight months.
Learners’ interlanguage requests are compared with baseline data collected from
eight native speakers of English. Results indicate convergence to, and
divergence from, native speaker patterns of request modification over time. In
this study, retrospective interviews are also employed in the last phase of the
data collection to elicit qualitative data on learners’ states of
pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic knowledge in pragmatic development.

In Chapter 2, “Developmental patterns in internal modification of requests: A
quantitative study on Turkish learners of English”, Elif Göy, Deniz Zeyrek and
Bahar Otcu employ a cross-sectional design, investigating the development of
internal request modification of Turkish learners of English. The data were
collected through open role-plays. Turkish learners of English at two
proficiency levels were asked to make requests in four different situations that
varied in terms of the degree of power and distance. Their requests were then
statistically compared to the baseline data of native speakers of American
English. In addition, learners’ use of internal modifiers was evaluated in terms
of social factors (e.g. power and distance). The major findings include that
beginner learners underuse syntactic and lexical/phrasal downgraders (except the
politeness marker ‘please’) and higher proficiency learners show a slow
development in their employment of both subtypes of internal modification. No
clear correspondence between the employment of internal modifiers and social
factors is found.

Chapter 3, “Email requests to faculty: E-politeness and internal modification”,
by J. César Félix-Brasdefer, examines internal modification in natural academic
email requests to faculty by L1 English and L2 Spanish, American
university-level students. Four types of email requests are investigated in this
study, ranging from low to high levels of imposition: requests for information,
for validation, for feedback, and for action, with a focus on the
pragmalinguistic resources that such participants employ when writing email
requests to faculty in cyber consultations. The analyses of the study focus on
request head acts and internal lexical and syntactic modifiers employed to write
direct or indirect requests in the four aforementioned situations. The study
shows that the email requests are modified by various types of lexical and
syntactic modifiers, and that the employment of the modifiers is conditioned by
the level of imposition of the request. Additionally, the study shows that L2
speakers employ the two subtypes of modifiers less frequently than native

Unlike Félix-Brasdefer’s study, which collects natural email requests, Pan’s
paper, “Interlanguage requests in institutional email discourse: A study in Hong
Kong” (Chapter 4), employs an e-DCT (discourse completion task) to elicit
interlanguage requests from Chinese learners of English in Hong Kong and native
speakers of American English in email requests to their professors. The study
focuses on comparing the pragmalinguistic choices of internal and external
modifications in these status-unequal email requests made by the two groups of
participants. In addition, Pan explores sociopragmatic judgments of her
participants concerning their perception of the size of the imposition and
appropriateness of language use in such requests. In this study, the Chinese
learners of English are found to rely primarily on extensive use of internal
lexical/phrasal modifiers and external modifiers to soften their requests rather
than syntactic devices such as downgraders.

The third group of studies (Chapters 5 and 6) reports on research about
interlanguage request modification that has taken a comparative approach. In
Chapter 5, “Modifying oral requests in a foreign language: The case of Greek
Cypriot learners of English”, Maria Economidou-Kogetsidis explores the extent
and way in which low proficiency Greek Cypriot learners of English mitigate
their requests, collected through open role-plays. The focus of the study is the
analysis of patterns of internal and external modification in such participants,
and request perspective, which are compared with those of American English
speakers. It is found that the low proficiency EFL learners significantly
underuse internal modification, opting instead for external modification,
especially grounders (e.g. “Can you take me to my house BECAUSE WE LIVE IN THE
SAME AREA?” (187)).

Chapter 6, “Request modification by Australian learners of Indonesian”, by Tim
Hassall, investigates the patterns of internal and external modification in
interlanguage requests made by Australian undergraduate learners of Indonesian
in a foreign language setting using interactive role-play data. In this study,
Hassall examines internal and external modification according to request
strategy type. This reveals a more complex and subtle picture of how L2 learners
modify their interlanguage requests, which would otherwise remain hidden.
Overall, the study finds that the learners employ virtually no internal
modifiers on two of three request types (i.e. query preparatory requests and
direct questions), and although they employ external modification, they are
largely restricted to grounders (e.g. “I WANT TO BUY SOME CIGARETTES. Can we
stop at a shop for me to buy those cigarettes?” (217)).

The final group of chapters focuses on instructional effects on interlanguage
request modification. In Chapter 7, “Examining EFL learners’ long-term
instructional effects when mitigating requests”, Alicia Martínez-Flor
investigates the long-term effects of pragmatic instruction on Spanish EFL
learners’ ability to modify requests by analyzing the effectiveness of an
inductive-deductive teaching approach, not only after immediately receiving
instruction, but also four months later. The findings indicate that the positive
instructional effects are sustained over time. After instruction, the learners
employ: (i) a greater amount of request mitigators; and (ii) a variety of
internal and external modifiers.

In the final instructional study (Chapter 8), “Teachability of request act
peripheral modification devices in third language learning contexts”,
María-Pilar Safont-Jordà and Eva Alcón-Soler explore the interplay of the
effects of bilingualism and instruction in third language learners’ use of
request modifiers through a pre/post test design. The study also employs
correlational measures to investigate the association between bilingualism and
production of modifiers. The bilingual participants are found to outperform
monolinguals in the number of internal and external modifiers employed both
before and after having received instruction. Additionally, a wider variety of
modification items appear (namely those of fillers, disarmers and expanders) in
bilinguals’ production after being engaged in instruction.


This book is the first edited volume that exclusively investigates interlanguage
request modification. It is a collection of empirical studies carried out by an
international array of scholars which systematically examines speech act
modifiers and critically assesses the findings of research studies on
interlanguage modification so far. The research in this volume covers a range of
research contexts and linguistic/cultural settings. As a whole, the chapters
incorporate research with learners from a range of proficiency levels (low to
advanced) and from diverse linguistic/cultural backgrounds. The chapters
individually examine developmental patterns of interlanguage request
modification, academic requests in electronic contexts, comparative learners’
and native speakers’ requests, and instructional effects on request
modification. Concerning methodological design and data collection methods, the
research in this volume takes the reader from a consideration of natural data in
requests in email communication through to interactive open role-plays, and
elicited data from e-DCT questionnaires. Each chapter in this volume provides an
overview of research on interlanguage request modification, which allows each
one to stand on its own and gives readers a chance to focus on individual
articles should they so wish. In addition, two particular strong points are
worth highlighting. Firstly, Woodfield’s chapter successfully demonstrates the
benefits of employment of retrospective interviews in interlanguage pragmatic
research. The qualitative data collected with retrospective interviews may
provide learners with insight on their own states of pragmalinguistic and
sociopragmatic knowledge. Secondly, Hassall correctly points out the usefulness
of examining modifiers according to request strategy type. This can reveal a
more complex and subtle picture of how learners modify their interlanguage
requests, which would otherwise remain hidden.

In reviewing the chapters in this volume, a point in relation to data coding may
be worthy of note. As the editors acknowledge, the contributions in this volume
adopt two approaches to coding interlanguage request modifiers. The politeness
marker ‘please’ is coded as an internal modification in the first six studies in
the volume, keeping with previous research studies examining mitigation patterns
in requests. However, the last two studies in this volume (Martínez-Flor,
Safont-Jordà & Alcón-Soler) take a different perspective and argue for the
politeness marker ‘please’ as an external modification. In addition, syntactic
modification is not investigated in the latter approach to coding internal
interlanguage request modifiers. Thus, the editors point out that “differential
approaches to coding data from interlanguage pragmatic studies point to caution
in comparing study findings” (6).

In summary, the edited volume, “Interlanguage Request Modification”, brings
together diverse studies all focusing on interlanguage request modification. The
book contributes to the field of cross-cultural and interlanguage pragmatics by
providing insights into the understanding of patterns of interlanguage request
modification in a range of linguistic/cultural and research settings. The volume
is undoubtedly an important reference for researchers, teachers and graduate
students, not only in the field of interlanguage pragmatics, but also in second
language acquisition and teaching, and discourse analysis.


Blum-Kulka, Shoshana. 1985. Modifiers as indicating devices: The case of
requests. Theoretical Linguistics 12, 213-229.

Blum-Kulka, Shoshana & W.A. Levenston. 1987. Lexico-grammatical pragmatic
indicators. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 9, 155-170.

Economidou-Kogetsidis, Maria. 2008. Internal and external mitigation in
interlanguage request production: The case of Greek learners of English. Journal
of Politeness Research 4, 111-138.

Economidou-Kogetsidis, Maria. 2009. Interlanguage request modification: The use
of lexical/phrasal downgraders and mitigating supportive moves. Multilingua 28,

Faerch, Claus & Gabriele Kasper. 1989. Internal and External modification in
interlanguage request realization, in: Blum-Kulka, Shoshana, House, Juliane,
Kasper, Gabriele (Eds.), Cross-cultural pragmatics: requests and apologies.
Ablex, Norwood, New Jersey, pp. 221-247.

Hassall, Tim. 2001. Modifying requests in a second language. IRAL 39, 259-283.

Trosborg, Anna. 1995. Interlanguage pragmatics: Requests, complaints, apologies.
Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin.

Woodfield, Helen. 2008. Interlanguage requests in English: a contrastive study,
in: Putz, Martin, Aertselaer, J. Neff-Van (Eds.), Developing Contrastive
Pragmatics: Interlanguage and Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Mouton de Gruyter,
Berlin/New York, pp. 231-264.

Woodfield, Helen & Maria Economidou-Kogetsidis. 2010. 'I just need more time': A
study of native and non-native students' requests to faculty for an extension.
Multilingua 29, 77-118.

Wei Ren completed his PhD in Applied Linguistics at the University of Bristol in 2012. He is currently a lecturer at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. His research interests include L2 Pragmatics and Cross-Cultural Pragmatics. His recent publications include papers in EUROSLA Yearbook 2012, Journal of Pragmatics and Research Trends in Intercultural Pragmatics.