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Review of  Request Strategies

Reviewer: Ann Kronrod
Book Title: Request Strategies
Book Author: Yong-Ju Rue Grace Qiao Zhang
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Issue Number: 20.1261

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AUTHORS: Rue, Yong-Ju; Zhang, Grace Qiao
TITLE: Request Strategies
SUBTITLE: A Comparative Study in Mandarin Chinese and Korean
SERIES: Pragmatics and beyond New Series, 177
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2008

Ann Kronrod, Tel-Aviv University

This book is a cross-cultural comparative socio-linguistic study which explores
similarities and differences between request strategies in Mandarin Chinese and
Korean. The study uses authentic data from role-plays and recordings of natural
conversations. The main purpose of this study is to examine the effect of social
factors, such as power hierarchy and familiarity, on the performance of request
speech acts by native speakers of different non-Western languages in
naturalistic situations. The researchers state that in the same social situation
there may be a difference between cultures in choice of request strategies. The
methodology employed in this study is a modified version of Blum-Kulka, House
and Kasper's (1989) study, which used Cross-Cultural Speech Act Realization
Project (CCSARP). The modifications are mainly in order to adjust the coding
system to the two East Asian languages explored.

The book is purely scientific, in the sense that it does not include wide and
general theoretical presentations, but rather most of it is devoted to
description of the study and its results:

Chapter 1 is a technical introduction which sets forth the terms, goals and
methodology of the study.

Chapter 2 provides brief theoretical background on Speech Act theory, a short
description of conversation analysis, background on previous studies of
politeness and face, including specifications in Chinese and Korean, and
description of the technique used in CCSARP.

Chapter 3 deals with the methodology employed in the study. After a sketch of
different data collection methodologies the researchers provide a detailed
description of their method of data coding and analysis.

Chapters 4-7 are the core of the study. Data concerning request strategies is
presented according to the different conversation or social situations, in a
comparative manner which considers Chinese and Korean strategies in the same

Chapter 4 presents data from 9 individual situation comparisons. The situations
differ in the type of request and social relations, such as hierarchical
positions and familiarity of the interlocutors. Each situation includes
role-play and, if possible, a relevant natural conversation recoding. The
purpose of the chapter is solely for data presentation; discussion and comments
appear in Chapter 6.

Chapter 5 is organized according to different combinations of social variables,
such as the degree of familiarity between the interlocutors and degree of power
of the hierarchically higher interlocutor over the lower one, which create
several social situations. Request strategies employed by Chinese and Korean
speakers are compared in each situation.

Chapter 6 is a general discussion of the data presented in Chapters 4 and 5. The
discussion relates to the 9 situations presented in Chapter 4 and to the social
variables addressed in Chapter 5, as well as additional issues such as openers
and modifications in each of the languages.

Chapter 7 is a sequential analysis of turn-taking in the 9 situations, ending up
by a comparison of request sequences in Chinese and Korean.

Chapter 8 presents conclusive remarks on the issues of patterns in the use of
request strategies, the impact of social variables on request strategy choice,
methodological significance and implications of this study.

1. Definition:
Requests have received many definitions throughout the history of request
philosophy and research. The definition in this book is as follows: ''A request
is to ask someone to do / not to do something, or to express the need or desire
for something'' (1).

Although it is not the purpose of the book, it must be said that even a short
definition, and maybe especially when the definition is short, it should be very
clear. I must say that the definition in this case could be more accurate. For
example, one can easily express a need without requesting, so this part of the
definition should have been omitted for the sake of clarity. At any rate, as
mentioned before, this book is by all means not theoretical; therefore, readers
who are interested in its contents would probably not expect it to provide an
entire discussion of request definition.

2. Claims:
One of the basic claims, which directs the research in this book, is that
requests are face-threatening acts (from Brown & Levinson, 1987) which entail an
imposition on the addressee. Although the book is not about the theory of
requesting, it is important to note here that imposition is a questionable
implication of a request (e.g. Vanderveken, 1990). The point of view presented
in this book is not agreed upon by all researchers, so conclusions and
interpretations should be read with this remark taken into account.

Another fundamental claim in the book is that ''in most cases the intent of a
speaker making a request is to require the addressee to perform some kind of
action which is of benefit to the speaker at the cost of the addressee'' (1).
This is an interesting remark - is the request necessarily performed at the cost
of the hearer and for the benefit of the addressee, and is it relevant to the
question or request strategies?

In Searle's (1969) definition of request one of the conditions is that the
hearer wouldn't have done the act on his own initiative. It seems reasonable
then to assume that this act was not in his plans and therefore requesting him
to do so implies a change in his plans. In this sense I would agree that there
is a certain cost for the hearer once he agrees to comply with the request. And
as a result of that, Rue & Zhang state: ''To achieve this (that the addressee do
something) the speaker needs to employ strategies and modifications that will
minimize the potential imposition of the illocutionary act of a request that
threatens the addressee's face and may give the addressee burden. The speaker
should utilize less impositive request strategies'' (1). So the use of strategies
is not so much because a request, by nature, is face-threatening, but probably
because it is a burden to the addressee.

3. Strategies:
Below is a sketch of the analysis framework employed in the book:

The researchers use conversation analysis, i.e. they analyze request sequences
(and not phrases). They divide each request into 3 parts:

1. Pre-request: this is to alert the hearer's attention to the upcoming request,
to check his ability to fulfill the request, or to allow for the hearer to make
an offer. This part includes openers and external modifications (supportive moves).

2. Request: head act, main request act.

3. Post-request: this is to emphasize, mitigate, justify or conclude the
request. It includes external modifications (supportive moves).

The different strategies are presented in three tables which appear in Chapter 3:

Table 1:
The table of head-acts is divided according to the three strategies of
Blum-Kulka et al. (1989): 1) Direct strategy head-acts, such as obligation
statement ( ''you should come back earlier''), 2) Conventionally indirect head
acts, such as query preparatory (''can you lend me your mobile?''), 3)
Non-conventionally indirect head acts, such as mild hint (''are you busy?''
intent: asking the addressee to open the window).

Table 2:
The table of lexical (internal) modifications lists strategies such as
politeness marker (''please'', ''sir'', ''miss'', ''excuse me''), downtoners (particles
which minimize the request), and some strategies are divided into lexical
downgrades, such as honorific (''respectful'', ''honorable you'' etc.) and lexical
upgrades, such as repetition of request (''come here!', ''come here quickly!'').

Table 3:
The table of external modifications includes strategies such as preparator (''I
have something to say to you'') or grounder (''I lost my wallet'' intent - to ask
for money), and most strategies fall either under downgrading type, such as
apology (''sorry''), humbling oneself (''I can't handle this well''), sweetener (''I
know you are very good at this''), or under upgrading type, such as moralizing
(''is your behavior appropriate?'') or confirmation of request (''are you clear
about what I said?'').

4. General comments:
This work is of a descriptive type. It avoids statistical data analysis for the
sake of deeper conversation analysis. Its main strength is in the naturalistic
nature of the data; The findings of this work are unique in that they represent
real situations. Difficulties, such that not all results were possible to be
obtained (e.g. ''Data on natural conversation in S1 [situation1] is only
available in Korean'' (180)), seem not to damage the efficiency of data
collection and the discussion manifests intriguing differences between the two

Finally, the discussion in chapter 6 reveals many interesting differences in
choice of request strategies as an effect of cultural differences. For example,
it was found that, for Korean speakers, the lower the familiarity of the hearer,
the lower is the usage of strong hints, probably because the speaker is not sure
the hearer will be able to decode the hint. Chinese speakers were generally
found to use more direct strategies with unfamiliar hearers than Korean
speakers. The researchers also report differences between role-plays and natural
conversations, which, according to their interpretation, are a result of a
different setting (natural vs. non-natural). This difference is important for
methodological reasons and should be taken into account when a cultural research
is planned.

The reader should not expect advanced explanations of and suppositions regarding
the results and further references to other findings that support or contradict
them. Being faithful to the purpose of this work, the authors provide a
discussion which is dedicated to a systematic and clear conclusion of the
findings, sometimes followed by explanations or comments.

Although the authors refer to fundamental research such as Blum-Kulka et al.
(1989) or Brown and Levinson (1987), those and other works are not discussed in
depth, since this work is not aimed at people who are not well acquainted with
the issue of requests. As mentioned earlier, this book presents a comparative
cross-cultural linguistic study. It does not intend to teach or educate, but to
show and discuss comparative cross-cultural data. Therefore it is very brief in
theoretical introduction. The major part of the book consists of a clear,
systematic and very well organized description of a natural speech database. The
exhaustive comparison, which addresses both linguistic and social aspects of
request situations, may serve as an excellent starting point for those who wish
to get acquainted with socio-linguistic difference between East Asian cultures.

Blum-Kulka, S. House, J. and Kasper, G. (1989). _Cross-Cultural Pragmatics:
Requests and Apologies_. Norwood, NJ: Albex.

Brown, P. and Levinson, S. (1987). _Politeness: some Universals in Language
Use_. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Searle, John (1969). _Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language_.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Vanderveken, Daniel (1990). _Meaning and Speech Acts_. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press.

Ann Kronrod is a Ph.D. student in Tel-Aviv University, Israel. She is currently
engaged in a multi-disciplinary work on Request Modularity. The work examines
the philosophical and cognitive definition of requests and then inquires into
the question of modularity of requests, taking into account recent modularity
theories and research on requests conducted in the fields of psycho-linguistics,
socio-linguistics, neuropsychology of language and developmental psychology. Two
other projects being under development are demarketing environmental requests
from consumers and consumers' request strategies in retail shops.