LINGUIST List 23.4035

Fri Sep 28 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics; Discourse Analysis; Pragmatics; Sociolinguistics: Economidou-Kogetsidis & Woodfield (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 28-Sep-2012
From: Wei Ren <>
Subject: Interlanguage Request Modification
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Announced at
EDITORS: Economidou-Kogetsidis, Maria and Helen WoodfieldTITLE: Interlanguage Request ModificationSERIES TITLE: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series vol. 217PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2012

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


Although internal and/or external modification of speech acts have beeninvestigated 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, “InterlanguageRequest Modification”, is the first book dedicated to exclusively examiningspeech act modifiers (i.e. request modifiers in this case) in the field ofcross-cultural and interlanguage pragmatics.

In addition to an introduction, written by the two editors, the present bookincludes eight papers all focusing on interlanguage request modification. Theeight papers fall naturally into four broad groups: (i) studies exploring howsecond/foreign language learners use and develop internal and externalmodification in their interlanguage requests (Woodfield, Göy et al.) (Chapters 1and 2); (ii) studies investigating request modification in academic emails(Félix-Brasdefer, Pan) (Chapters 3 and 4); (iii) studies contrasting requestmodification by native speakers and learners of the target language(Economidou-Kogetsidis, Hassall) (Chapters 5 and 6); and (iv) investigationsexploring 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 ofrequest modification in graduate learners”, by Helen Woodfield, longitudinallyexamines the development of request modification strategies in eight graduatestudents from Taiwan, China, Korea and Japan in a British university. The studyemploys two-situations of open role-plays (i.e. status unequal, status equal) tocollect interlanguage data on three occasions over the course of eight months.Learners’ interlanguage requests are compared with baseline data collected fromeight native speakers of English. Results indicate convergence to, anddivergence from, native speaker patterns of request modification over time. Inthis study, retrospective interviews are also employed in the last phase of thedata collection to elicit qualitative data on learners’ states ofpragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic knowledge in pragmatic development.

In Chapter 2, “Developmental patterns in internal modification of requests: Aquantitative study on Turkish learners of English”, Elif Göy, Deniz Zeyrek andBahar Otcu employ a cross-sectional design, investigating the development ofinternal request modification of Turkish learners of English. The data werecollected through open role-plays. Turkish learners of English at twoproficiency levels were asked to make requests in four different situations thatvaried in terms of the degree of power and distance. Their requests were thenstatistically compared to the baseline data of native speakers of AmericanEnglish. In addition, learners’ use of internal modifiers was evaluated in termsof social factors (e.g. power and distance). The major findings include thatbeginner learners underuse syntactic and lexical/phrasal downgraders (except thepoliteness marker ‘please’) and higher proficiency learners show a slowdevelopment in their employment of both subtypes of internal modification. Noclear correspondence between the employment of internal modifiers and socialfactors is found.

Chapter 3, “Email requests to faculty: E-politeness and internal modification”,by J. César Félix-Brasdefer, examines internal modification in natural academicemail requests to faculty by L1 English and L2 Spanish, Americanuniversity-level students. Four types of email requests are investigated in thisstudy, ranging from low to high levels of imposition: requests for information,for validation, for feedback, and for action, with a focus on thepragmalinguistic resources that such participants employ when writing emailrequests to faculty in cyber consultations. The analyses of the study focus onrequest head acts and internal lexical and syntactic modifiers employed to writedirect or indirect requests in the four aforementioned situations. The studyshows that the email requests are modified by various types of lexical andsyntactic modifiers, and that the employment of the modifiers is conditioned bythe level of imposition of the request. Additionally, the study shows that L2speakers employ the two subtypes of modifiers less frequently than nativespeakers.

Unlike Félix-Brasdefer’s study, which collects natural email requests, Pan’spaper, “Interlanguage requests in institutional email discourse: A study in HongKong” (Chapter 4), employs an e-DCT (discourse completion task) to elicitinterlanguage requests from Chinese learners of English in Hong Kong and nativespeakers of American English in email requests to their professors. The studyfocuses on comparing the pragmalinguistic choices of internal and externalmodifications in these status-unequal email requests made by the two groups ofparticipants. In addition, Pan explores sociopragmatic judgments of herparticipants concerning their perception of the size of the imposition andappropriateness of language use in such requests. In this study, the Chineselearners of English are found to rely primarily on extensive use of internallexical/phrasal modifiers and external modifiers to soften their requests ratherthan syntactic devices such as downgraders.

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

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

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

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


This book is the first edited volume that exclusively investigates interlanguagerequest modification. It is a collection of empirical studies carried out by aninternational array of scholars which systematically examines speech actmodifiers and critically assesses the findings of research studies oninterlanguage modification so far. The research in this volume covers a range ofresearch contexts and linguistic/cultural settings. As a whole, the chaptersincorporate research with learners from a range of proficiency levels (low toadvanced) and from diverse linguistic/cultural backgrounds. The chaptersindividually examine developmental patterns of interlanguage requestmodification, academic requests in electronic contexts, comparative learners’and native speakers’ requests, and instructional effects on requestmodification. Concerning methodological design and data collection methods, theresearch in this volume takes the reader from a consideration of natural data inrequests in email communication through to interactive open role-plays, andelicited data from e-DCT questionnaires. Each chapter in this volume provides anoverview of research on interlanguage request modification, which allows eachone to stand on its own and gives readers a chance to focus on individualarticles should they so wish. In addition, two particular strong points areworth highlighting. Firstly, Woodfield’s chapter successfully demonstrates thebenefits of employment of retrospective interviews in interlanguage pragmaticresearch. The qualitative data collected with retrospective interviews mayprovide learners with insight on their own states of pragmalinguistic andsociopragmatic knowledge. Secondly, Hassall correctly points out the usefulnessof examining modifiers according to request strategy type. This can reveal amore complex and subtle picture of how learners modify their interlanguagerequests, which would otherwise remain hidden.

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

In summary, the edited volume, “Interlanguage Request Modification”, bringstogether diverse studies all focusing on interlanguage request modification. Thebook contributes to the field of cross-cultural and interlanguage pragmatics byproviding insights into the understanding of patterns of interlanguage requestmodification in a range of linguistic/cultural and research settings. The volumeis undoubtedly an important reference for researchers, teachers and graduatestudents, not only in the field of interlanguage pragmatics, but also in secondlanguage acquisition and teaching, and discourse analysis.


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

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

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

Economidou-Kogetsidis, Maria. 2009. Interlanguage request modification: The useof lexical/phrasal downgraders and mitigating supportive moves. Multilingua 28,79-112.

Faerch, Claus & Gabriele Kasper. 1989. Internal and External modification ininterlanguage 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 ContrastivePragmatics: 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': Astudy 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.

Page Updated: 28-Sep-2012