Investigating disagreements through a context-specific approach: A case of Iranian L2 speakers

Authors

Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran

Abstract

The  current  study  investigated  the  expression  of  disagreement  by  Iranian  advanced  English
learners.  The  data  for  the  study  comprised  the  recorded  discussions  of  26  male  and  female
interlocutors  in  three  different  settings:  1)  language  institute,  2)  home  environment,  and  3)
university  setting.  Analysis  of  the  arguments  pointed  to  the  influence  of  contextual  factors.
More precisely, disagreements  were  found to be complex and  multidirectional  speech acts and
thus  various  factors,  including  the  interlocutors’  power,  relationships,  background,  and  the
situational context, influence their realization as face-threatening or face-enhancing speech acts.
Therefore,  the  linguistic  markers  cannot  safely  categorize  disagreement  turns  into
polite/impolite or preferred/dispreferred acts.

Keywords

Main Subjects


Introduction
The  importance  of  developing  pragmatic
competence has long been acknowledged by
researchers  in  the  field  of  second  language
acquisition (Bardovi-Harlig, 1999; Kasper &
Rose,  1999;  Kasper  &  Schmidt,  1996).  In
fact,  successful  communication  requires  the
mastery of social usage as well as linguistic
forms (Glaser, 2009).  
 
Among  all  communicative  activities,
argumentative  discourse  is  one  that
permeates all aspects of life, and performing
well in this discourse domain is an important
pragmatic  skill  for  every  person,  either  in
the  first  (L1)  or  second  language  (L2)
(Dippold,  2011).  To  negotiate  ones'  own
ideas  successfully  and  perform  well  in
argumentation,  a  person  should  acquire  this
important  pragmatic  skill.  Therefore,
understanding  of  how  arguing  is
accomplished  would  contribute  to  the
understanding  of  the  negotiation  of  social
structures and vice-versa.
 
Most  of  the  research  on  argumentative
discourse  focuses  on  the  expression  of
disagreement  (Hayashi,  1996;  Holtgraves,
1997;  Locher,  2004;  Rees-Miller,  2000).
This  is  because  conversation  analytic
approaches  to  the  study  of  argument  see
disagreement  as  the  ‘marked  answer’
(Dippold, 2011). Disagreement is defined as
“the  expression  of  a  view  that  differs  from
that  expressed  by  another  speaker”
(Sifianou,  2012,  p.  1).  This  speech  act  is
 

generally  considered  dispreferred
(Pomerantz,  1984)  because  it  threatens  the
speaker’s face (Brown & Levinson, 1987).
 
However,  researchers  studying  argument
and  conflict  talk  in  interaction  have
illustrated  that,  in  arguments,  ordinary
preference  structures  are  sometimes
removed  or  even  reversed;  that  is,
disagreements  may  take  preferred  forms,
while  agreements  are  produced  as
dispreferred  (Kotthoff,  1993).  Disagreement
has  also  been  observed  to  enhance
sociability and relationship in some contexts
(Angouri & Tseliga, 2010; Georgakopoulou,
2001;  Kakavá,  2002).  In  recent  research  on
disagreement,  it  is  believed  that
disagreement  is  an  "everyday  phenomenon"
that  is  needed  in  decision  making  and
problem  solving  interactions  (Angouri  &
Locher,  2012,  p.1).  It  is  suggested  that
context  plays  an  important  role  in  the
acceptance  of  disagreement  as  a  preferred
speech act.  
 
Due to such conflicting  views on the nature
of disagreement as preferred or dispreferred,
and in order to investigate possible effects of
context  on  the  expression  of  disagreement,
the  present  study  investigates  disagreement
strategies  used  in  arguments  in  the  context
of English as foreign language.  
 
Background
Disagreement:  A  multidirectional  and
multifunctional act
Brown  and  Levinson’s  (1987)  politeness
theory has been applied to various studies of
speech  act  realization  and  conversational
interaction  (Garcia,  1989).  Brown  and
Levinson  (1987)  considered  disagreements
as  acts  which  threaten  the  addressee's
negative  face  when  “a  speaker  is  imposing
her/his will on the hearer' (Sifianou, 2012, p.
65).  
 
Due  to  this  negative-face  threatening  aspect
of  disagreements,  Brown  and  Levinson
(1987)  proposed  two  positive  politeness
strategies  to  avoid  this  threat:  1.  'Seek
agreement' (e.g., by engaging in safe topics),
and  2.  'Avoid  disagreement'  (e.g.,  by  using
token  agreement,  hedging,  and  white  lies)
(p.  112–113).  They  suggested  that  more
direct  strategies  of  disagreement  are
preferred  to  less  direct  strategies  in  three
situations:  1.  when  there  is  less  social
distance between the speaker and addressee,
2.  when  the  speaker  has  greater  power  than
the  addressee,  and  3.  when  the  severity  of
disagreement is less.
 
The  notion  of  preference  can  best  be
explained  by  conversation  analytic  work  of
Pomerantz's  (1984),  according  to  which
participation  in  speech  act  involves  making
assessments, “with  an  assessment  a  speaker
claims knowledge of that which he or she is
assessing”  (p.  57).  Initial  assessments  are
followed  by  second  assessments  which  are
“subsequent  assessments  that  refer  to  the
same  referents as in the prior assessments”
(Pomerantz,  1984,  p.62).  Pomerantz  viewed
disagreements  as  dispreferred  second
assessments;  therefore,  turns  and  sequences
in  talk  should  be  structured  so  as  to  soften
the disagreement. As a result, disagreements
are expressed  with delayed components and
in  a  way  that  they  are  not  positioned  early
within  turns.  To  redress  the  threats  to  the
addressee’s  positive  face  the  speaker  may
use  partial  agreement,  colloquial  language,
and  first  person  plural.  The  use  of
interrogatives, hedges, and impersonal forms
can  soften  the  threat  to  the  addressee's
negative face (Brown & Levinson, 1987).
 
All  in  all,  the  above  theories  view
disagreement  as  “a  form  of  conflict  .  .  .
taxing communication events”  (Waldron  &
Applegate,  cited  in  Locher,  2004,  p.  94),
dispreferred  second  (Pomerantz,  1984;
 
Sacks,  1987),  which  'is  largely  destructive
for social solidarity' (Heritage, 1984, p. 268)
and  should,  therefore,  be  avoided  in  the
interest  of  interlocutors’  face  (Brown  &
Levinson,  1987;  Leech,  1983).  However,
recent studies have led to new and somehow
contradictory  findings  regarding  the
expression of disagreement.
 
Angouri  and  Locher  (2012),  in  their  review
of  the  literature  on  disagreement,  provided
new  insights  for  future  research  on
disagreement.  They  proposed  that
disagreement  is  an  everyday  speech  act
which  is  expected  in  certain  interactional
practices  such  as  problem  solving  and
decision  making.  According  to  them,  it  is
erroneous  to  consider  disagreements  as
primarily  negative;  various  aspects  of
context,  culture  and  social  norms  and
practices  determine  the  nature  of
disagreement  as  a  preferred  or  dispreferred
speech act.   
 
Sifianou  (2012)  describes  disagreement  as
“a  situated  activity,  interactionally  managed
by  interlocutors”  (p.4),  which  is  a
multidirectional  (i.e.  disagreements  can
affect  either  or  both  positive  and  negative
face of the interlocutors) and multifunctional
(i.e.  disagreements  can  serve  various
functions  such  as  establishing  hostility  or
solidarity)  speech  act.  She  believes  that  the
conceptualization  of  disagreements
primarily  as  face-threatening  acts  which
should be avoided in favor of agreements is
only a part of the story.   She argues  against
such views as follows:  
 
they  ignore  the  possibility  that
even  agreements  may  be  face
threatening if, for instance, they
are  interpreted  as  insincere,
manipulative  or  ingratiating.
Moreover, agreements may also
be  self-face  threatening  acts  if
one  feels  impeded  in  voicing
one's  own  views  openly  and
freely. (Sifianou, 2012, p. 6)
 
On  the  other  hand,  she  emphasizes  on  the
face-enhancing  function  that  disagreements
may play in various situations. For example,
the  speaker  may  display  interest  in  his/her
interlocutor's  argument  through
disagreement  (i.e.  through  involvement  in
interaction  rather  than  indifference  by  just
agreeing  or  being  silent)  or  help  in
investigating  different  perspectives  in  a
discussion to find a solution which is helpful
to  the  addressee  (Georgakopoulou,  cited  in
Sifianou,  2012).  Disagreements  can  also  be
face  enhancing  in  the  case  of  self-belittling
statements  or  even  compliments.  In  these
cases, the speakers protect their face through
disagreement  as  agreeing  with  self-praise  is
face-threatening  (Pomerantz,  1984).
Disagreement may also enhance one’s face
when  speakers  disagree  to  present
themselves  as  skillful  contesters
(Hernandez-Flores, 2008; see, also, Angouri
& Tseliga, 2010; Corsaro & Maynard, 1996;
Kakavá,  2002;  Locher,  2004;  Tannen,
1984).  
 
Therefore,  recent  studies  on  disagreement
can  help  us  to  view  this  speech  act  not
simply  as  a  threat  to  our  interlocutors'  face,
but  as  a  multidimensional  act  which  may
foster  solidarity  among  people  in  their
interactions.
 
Disagreement and context of interaction
Viewing  disagreement  as  a
multidimensional  and  multifunctional  act
has  led  researchers  to  investigate  the
expression  of  this  speech  act  in  relation  to
the context of interaction. They have tried to
explore  the  possible  effects  of  contextual
variables  such  as  age,  gender,  power,
solidarity,  personal  traits,  and  the  degree  of
 
 
formality  of  the  interaction  on  the
expression of disagreement.
 
Sifianou  (2012)  believes  that  context  is  not
static and simple and disagreement is not by
itself  impolite  or  self-threatening;  rather,  it
is  the  context  of  interaction  which  makes
disagreement  face  threatening  or  face
enhancing. She views interlocutors' personal
traits and relational histories as influential in
predisposing them to particular strategies:
 
Some  individuals  are  more
argumentative  than  others,
and some may be aversive to
any  kind  of
opposition…some  people
object  to  certain  kinds  of
FTAs  [face-threatening  acts]
more than others. It is highly
likely  that  such  personal
traits  will  influence  both
interlocutors’  linguistic
behavior. (Sifianou, 2012, p.
5)
 
Parvaresh  and  Eslamirasekh  (2009)
investigated  the  effects  of  contextual
variables  of  solidarity  and  deference  on  the
ways  in  which  young  women  in  Iran  argue
in  their  first  language  (i.e.  Persian).  They
have concluded that the non-western culture
of  Iran  causes  the  interlocutors  to  seek
deference  rather  than  solidarity  while
disagreeing  with  their  close  male  friends.
However,  they  observed  that  their
participants  used  ‘conflictives’  in  cases
where  their  interlocutor  was  of  the  same
gender.  
 
In  another  study,  Mehregan,  Eslamirasekh,
Dabaghi, and Jafari Seresht (2013) explored
the  effect  of  gender  and  the  degree  of
formality  of  situation  on  the  expression  of
the  speech  act  of  disagreement  in  Persian.
They  observed  that  the  degree  of  formality
of  the  situation  causes  their  participants  to
disagree conservatively.  
 
In  another  study  on  the  effect  of  context  on
the  production  of  disagreement,  Netz  (in
press) supported the claim that disagreement
is  not  inherently  face-threatening  and  needs
to  be  contextualized.  The  author  studied
disagreements  in  the  gifted  classes  and
found  that  in  this  context  disagreement  was
unmarked  and  less  mitigated  and  did  not
undermine solidarity among interlocutors.  
 
Georgakopoulou (2001, p. 1881) argues that
future  research  on  disagreement  should  be
“context-sensitive”.  In  his  study  of  Greek
conversations  between  young  people,  he
found  that  disagreements  were  implied  and
indirectly  constructed  through  a)  turn-initial
markers, b) stories used as analogies for the
debated  issues,  and  c)  questions.  However,
he  argued  that  this  indirectness  in  the
expression  of  disagreement  was  neither  an
indication  of  sociability  nor  was  due  to
increased  politeness.  Instead,  he
demonstrated  that  disagreements  in  his  data
were  shaped  by  contextual  factors  such  as
the  participants'  relationship,  their  shared
background information, type of activity and
the norms of argumentation.
 
Other  studies  have  considered  contextual
factors like power, severity of disagreement,
ethnicity,  personal  traits,  relational  histories
(Rees-Miller,  2000;  Sifianou,  2012),  and
professional  training  (Edstrom,  2004)
important in the expression of disagreement
in  interaction.  Garcés-Conejos  Blitvich
(2009,  p.  282)  argues  for  the  importance  of
interlocutor's identity in the interpretation of
what is said.  
 
The  above  findings  call  for  further  context-sensitive research on disagreement in natural
settings. Therefore, the present study tries to
investigate  the  expression  of  disagreement

 
in  arguments  through  conversation  analysis
techniques in various contexts of interaction.  
 
Theoretical framework
In  this  study  the  argument  transcripts  were
analyzed  according  to  Rees-Miller’s  (2000)
taxonomy.  Rees  Miller  categorized  the
expression  of  disagreement  as  softened
disagreement,  aggravated  or  strengthened
disagreement  and  disagreement  which  is
neither  softened  nor  aggravated  (see  Table
1). She justified the use of this taxonomy in
contrast  to  the  existing  taxonomies  by
Brown  and  Levinson  (1987)  and  Blum-Kulka, Shoshana, House, and Kasper (1989)
and argued that description of the content of
interaction by using terms like 'head act and
adjunct'  (Blum-Kulka  et  al.,  1989)
presupposes  a  discrete  speech  act  which  is
accomplished  in  one  adjacency  pair  and
does  not  apply  to  the  natural  data  of
disagreement.  
 
On  the  other  hand,  she  argues  against  using
ambiguous  terms  such  as  'direct  and
indirect'  (Brown  &  Levinson,  1987)  as  a
particular  disagreement  turn  may  appear
direct  or  indirect  to  different  observers.  In
her  taxonomy,  the  category  of  softened
disagreement  is  divided  into  positive  and
negative  politeness.  In  positive  politeness,
the  speaker  uses  some  softeners  and
linguistic  markers  that  increase  solidarity
with  the  addressee,  such  as  positive
comment and inclusive first person pronoun
(we,  us).  In  negative  politeness,  the  speaker
avoids imposing on the addresses’ autonomy
and uses softeners such as questions or verbs
of uncertainty (Rees-Miller, 2000).
 
On  the  other  hand,  some  turns  of
disagreement  are  considered  as  neither
softened  nor  strengthened  by  explicit
linguistic  markers.  These  turns  were
recognized  as  disagreement  because  they
contradicted  their  previous  utterance  by
using a negative, the words ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or
repeating a previous speaker's utterance with
altered  words  or  intonation  ('verbal
shadowing')  (Rees  Miller,  2000,  p.  1094).
The  other  type  of  disagreement  is
aggravated  disagreement  in  which  the
disagreement  is  strengthened  by  the  use  of
rhetorical  questions,  intensifiers,  the
personal  accusatory  you,  or  judgmental
vocabulary. 

Method
The  study  of  speech  acts  has  gained  much
attention in analyzing pragmatic competence
of  L2  users.  However,  the  method  of
analysis  has  often  been  discourse
completion  tests  (DCT)  which  fail  to
provide  natural  discourse  data  (Bardovi-Harlig  &  Hartford,  1993;  Bardovi-Harlig  &
 
Salsbury,  2004;  Johnston,  Kasper,  &  Ross
1998;  Kasper  &  Dahl,  1991;  Rose,  1992;
Rose  &  Ono,  1995).  These  written  tests  are
of  limited  use  in  the  analysis  of  talk  in
interaction  (i.e.  discourse)  since  written
production  differs  from  the  actual
conversation  in  that  it  allows  planning  time
and it is non-interactional (Bardovi-Harlig &
Salsbury,  2004).  As  the  study  of  talk  in
actual  interaction  provides  a  deeper  insight
into  what  people  do  with  talk,  in  this  study
natural  arguments  were  used  instead  of
written tests.
 
Data Collection
All of the participants were informed of the
research  purpose  before  the  discussions  and
they  were  asked  to  express  their  arguments
on different aspects of the mentioned issues.
The  researchers  participated  in  all  the
discussions  as  participant  observers.  The
recordings  were  then  transcribed  by  the
researchers.  The  analysis  of  the  arguments
was  focused  on  the  disagreement  turns
following Rees-Miller’s (2000) taxonomy of
linguistic markers of disagreement.  
 
Participants
The  participants  in  this  study  were  26
Iranian English-as-a-foreign-language (EFL)
learners  within  the  age  range  of  18-50  (see
Table 2). As the context of interaction is an
important  factor  which  influences  the  ways
disagreement  is  expressed,  the  researchers
collected  the  data  in  three  different  settings
to  see  the  relationship  between  the
expression  of  disagreement  and  contextual
factors.  The  three  settings  were  chosen  by
following  these  criteria:  1.  the  settings
should have differing degree of formality (to
investigate  disagreement  in  formal  versus
informal  interactions),  2.  There  should  be
both male and female participants to see the
effect  of  gender,  3.  The  participants  should
have  different  relationships  (e.g.  family,
friends,  classmates)  to  see  the  effect  of
interlocutors'  relationship  on  the  ways  they
disagree.  
 
A  private  language  institute  in  Tehran
provided the first setting for the collection of
the  data.  Fifteen  female  students  who  had
enrolled in FCE (First Certificate in English)
and  IELTS  exam-preparation  courses
participated in this setting. The students had
been  put  in  these  exam-preparation  classes
through  a  placement  test.  Their  proficiency
levels  were  B2  and  C1  on  the  Common
European Framework of Reference (CEFR).
They  had  learned  English  through
communicative methods in private language
schools.  A  total  of  70  minutes  of  argument
were  recorded  on  the  topic  of  male  and
female  roles  in  society  and  the  educational
system.  
 
In  the  second  setting  that  was  home
environment,  there  were  5  participants.
Three  of  them  were  female  and  the  other
two were male. Two of the participants were
close  friends,  and  the  remaining  three  were
family  members.  Two  of  these  participants
(family  members)  had  lived  in  English
speaking  countries  for  6  years.  Arguments
took  place  in  the  participants'  personal
dwellings. A total of 70 minutes of argument
on  the  topic  of  mixed  or  single-sex  schools
and  the  advantages  and  disadvantages  of
education  abroad  was  recorded  in  this
setting.  
 
The third setting  was  a  Graduate University
in  Tehran.  Six  MA  students  of  TEFL
(Teaching  English  as  a  Foreign  Language)
took  part  in  this  environment.  Of  the  six
participants  three  were  male  and  three  were
female. They had a 40-minute discussion on
the topic of male and female roles in society
and their cultural background.

Results and discussion
Disagreement  turns  were  identified
according to the definition of this speech act
as  an  utterance  which  is  ‘Not  P’  (i.e.
proposition)  in  response  to  a  proposition
which  is  P  (Sornig,  cited  in  Rees-Miller,
2000, p. 1088).
 
The  linguistic  markers  which  identify  the
type  of  disagreements  were  located  and  the
frequency  of  each  type  in  the  three  settings
was found. The results are shown in Table 3.

It  has  been  argued  that  as  learners  develop
their  pragmatic  competence  they  use  more
native-like  disagreement  strategies;  that  is
they  move  toward  using  more  mitigation
strategies and avoiding more direct forms of
disagreement  to  save  both  aspects  of  face
(Bardovi-Harlig  &  Salsbury,  2004;  Behnam
&  Niroomand,  2011;  Dippold,  2011).  In
setting 1, in which participants are preparing
themselves  for  proficiency  exams,  there  is
little difference in the frequency of different
types  of  disagreement.  However,  in
 
 
comparison  with  the  other  two  settings,
there is a higher number of ‘neither softened
nor aggravated disagreements’ (32 %).  
 
A  closer  look  at  the  data  reveals  that  the
participants  in  setting  1  have  used  more
contradictory  statements  than  disagreements
which  are  neither  softened  nor  aggravated.
This  may  account  for  the  fact  that  their
interlanguage competence is developing and
they  have  not  yet  mastered  strategies  to
mitigate  disagreement  to  save  the
addressee’s face or their own face. Example
1 shows one instance of direct disagreement:
 
Example 1
1      S:  I  think  e(hh)  men  and  women  equal  to
each other in most of the situations because  
2     e(hh)I think that e(hh) they have e(hh) they
have some capacity (.) they have some  
3        abilities  that  they  are  same  to  each  other  
and they can e(hh) somehow they can
4     complete to each other  …….
5 M: Yes (.) but (.) do you think in our society
men and women are equal ↑? they are  
6  not  (.)because  we-  when  we  are  child
(.)when we want to do something they say
7  that  let  your  father  or  brother  do  it  he  is
stronger ↑(.) he can do it better, and
8 we believe that we are weak in these things
and when we grow up we believe
9 that OK↑ we cannot do these things I have
my father  he can do it better than me
10 S: So if we (.) OK maybe it’s wrong e(hh)
– I don’t know- it’s a wrong opinion if  
11 we accept these things OK in the future all
girls should think like this and after
12  sometimes  after  some  years  nothing
change. So we should start from ourselves
13 - we should start- [we  
14 M:                         [They won’t they won’t
let us to start  
15 …………
16 S: OK we should change [these things  
17 M:                                    [we can’t change
(.) Our father says let me talk with  
18  this  man  or  the  teacher  we  can’t  say
anything  
 
In  this  example  the  speakers  expand  their
disagreement  over  a  number  of  turns  which
is  a  sign  of  higher  proficiency  level
(Dippold,  2011);  however,  the  use  of
contradictory  statements  as  direct
disagreement  may  be  due  to  their  lower
pragmatic competence.  
 
Georgakopoulou  (2001)  found  the  type  of
activity  as  an  influential  factor  in  shaping
disagreements  as  face-threatening  or  face-enhancing.  Dippold  (2008,  p.147)
distinguishes  between  the
‘argument/discussion  frame’  and  ‘language
task  frame’.  In  the  language  task  frame
learners  try  to  display  their  accuracy  and
fluency  and  do  not  care  much  about  face
requirements.  As  it  was  observed,  learners
used  direct  and  'yes,  but'  disagreement
strategies  more  than  complex  and  indirect
strategies.  It  is  assumed  that  in  this  setting
the  participants  may  have  considered  the
argument  as  a  language  task.  However,  in
the  other  settings,  which  included  natural
arguments  between  friends  and  family
members  and  graduate  students,  the
interlocutors argued in the discussion frame.
 
The  interlocutors’  relational  history  is  also
considered  influential  in  the  amount  and
types  of  disagreements  expressed  in
arguments  (Georgakopoulou,  2001;
Sifianou, 2012).  
 
In  the  first  setting,  participants  were
classmates  and  they  knew  each  other  well.
The  outstanding  point  was  that  although
there  was  not  any  significant  difference
among  the  three  types  of  disagreements
expressed  by  the  participant,  softened
disagreement  was  the  most  employed  type
(40%).  Interestingly  enough,  positive
politeness  strategies  were  employed  more
that  negative  ones  (see  Table  2).  The
participants  sought  solidarity  through  using
positive  strategies  in  the  expression  of
 
 
disagreement.  On  the  other  hand,  the
percentage  of  expressing  softened
disagreements in setting 3 (39.5%) was very
much similar to that of setting 1 (40%). This
can  be  due  to  the  same  relational  histories
among the participants of these two settings.
In  setting  3  all  the  participants  were
classmates  and  knew  each  other  for  two
years.   
 
In  setting  2,  in  which  family  members  and
friends  were  present,  the  lowest  total
number  of  disagreements  (15)  occurred.
This implies that in this setting disagreement
is considered as a more face-threatening act.
Most  of  these  disagreements  (73.5  %)  were
softened  and  more  politeness  markers  were
used  to  maintain  social  harmony  (Rees-Miller,  2000).  Unlike  setting  1  in  which
positive politeness strategies were employed
more than the negative ones, in setting 2 the
use  of  negative  politeness  strategies  was
significant  (72%).  The  influence  of
participant relationships on the expression of
disagreement  is  clear  here.  By  using  these
negative  politeness  strategies  the  speakers
try  to  avoid  direct  disagreement.  Members
of the family who participated in arguments
were  a  couple  and  the  wife's  father-in-law.
The relationship among these participants in
the  Iranian  culture  may  have  contributed  to
the  use  of  more  negative  politeness
strategies  by  the  son  and  her  wife  to  avoid
imposing  their  ideas  on  their  interlocutor
(father in law).
 
In  the  following  example  the  son  of  the
family  starts  disagreeing  indirectly  with
what his father has said by asking a question
and  using  phrases  like  'I don’t know'  which
are negative politeness strategies.
 
Example 2
1  Son:  well  (.)  just  before  you  go  to  the  next
topic speaking about critical thinking  
2  and  other  things  …  (.)  ok  for  example
something which is not available  
3  here  in  our  country  but  is  more  valued  in
Europe or in I don’t know  
4 English system countries is critical thinking ok
but the question I have is  
5 that so (.) what is the benefit of going abroad
and doing this critical  
6 thinking↓ is it just having a short experience of
being in an  
7  environment  in  which  critical  thinking  is
fostered and you know > what  
8  I  wanna  say  is that    ok  you  go there  and  stay
there for 4 or 5years you do  
9 your phd< and when you are back here I mean
at the end of the day
10  you  wanna  come  back  to  your  own  country
for example………
11 they still don't have (.) I don’t know (.) that
they don’t have the chance
12  for  preparing  an  environment  for  critical
thinking one question I have
13 from dad is that do you really believe that the
critical thinking is
14  something  that  comes  with  system  or  is  it
dependent on professors or
15 individuals↑
16  Dad:  (it’s  the  system)  let  me  give  you  an
example…
 
Among the politeness strategies used in this
context,  downtoners  such  as  ‘maybe’  and
verbs  of  uncertainty  such  as  ‘seems’  and
‘may’ and the preface ‘I  think’  were used
more  than  the  others.  In  the  following
example two friends are discussing the issue
of  mixed  schools.  In  the  disagreement  turn,
speaker  A  uses  ‘you  know’,  ‘I  think’  and
‘may’ to soften the disagreement and avoid
imposing  her  personal  view  on  the
addressee.
 
Example 3
1S:  Because  two  genders  should  have  some
experience living together growing  
2 up and there is no problem (.) it seems there is
no problem if they grow up  
3 together (.) but in high school level it seems it
distracts them and=
4  A:  =you  know  (.)  I  think  that  it's  just  more
things about this separation and  

 
5  mixing  sexes  I  think  that  if  we  want  to
segregate schools or universities or to  
6 mix them we should do something basic …
 
The significant  finding in setting 3 was that
the  total  number  of  disagreements  in  this
setting  was  higher  than  the  other  two,
though  they  took  place  in  a  shorter  time
period (40 minutes). This may be due to the
fact  that  graduate  students  know  how  to
delve  into  academic  topics.  Despite  Brown
and  Levinson’s  conceptualization  that  all
disagreement  acts  are  face  threatening  acts
(FTAs),  Sifianou  (2012)  argues  that  the
context  determines  if  disagreements  are
polite  or  impolite  acts.  In  some  contexts
disagreements  threaten  the  addressee’s
positive  face  to  claim  solidarity  with  the
speaker,  but  in  some  other  contexts  such  as
political  debates  or  social  science
discussions,  disagreements  present  the
speaker  as  a  skillful  contester,  so  it  is  face-enhancing.
 
In  setting  3  the  frequency  of  aggravated
disagreements  is  higher  than  the  other  two
settings and rhetorical question was the most
often  used  linguistic  marker  by  the
interlocutors.  The  use  of  linguistic  markers
which strengthened the  disagreement in this
setting  can  be  attributed  to  the  severity  of
disagreements.  According  to  Rees-Miller
(2000,  p.  1098),  severe  disagreements
“threaten  the  personal  or  professional
identity,  worth,  beliefs,  or  values  of  the
interlocutors.  The  more  personally
threatened  the  interlocutors  feel,  the  more
severe the disagreement.”  In  this  setting  the
topic  of  argument  was  people’s  ‘cultural
background’  and  as  participants  were  of
both  male  and  female  genders,
disagreements were expressed severely. The
following  example  shows  a  rhetorical
question to aggravate the disagreement.
 
 
 
Example 4
1  M:  Ali  says  that  cultural  backgrounds
somehow fueling this trend of thought =  
2 A: =a (hh) cultural backgrounds say that that
women are weak!? and women cannot  
3 be for example in this position ?
 
In some contexts a severe disagreement that
threatens  the  speaker’s  beliefs  and  identity
may  attract  more  aggravated  disagreement.
In  these  cases  one’s  own  face  is  more
important  than  the  addressee’s  face.  This
was  again  the  case  in  the  third  setting  in
which  graduate  students  are  talking  about
people’s  ‘cultural  background’.  The  topic
threatens  some  participants’  beliefs  and
makes  them  use  strong  disagreements  such
as using the personal accusatory ‘you’ and a
verb like ‘must’ in the following example.
 
Example 5
1  A:  yes  we  are  just  drawing  circle  around  the
wrong I don’t know e(hh) – negative
2 points and if you do not look at the context and
around that yes cultural background
3  would  be  the  worst  thing  in  our  all  life  so  we
should omit it!
5  M:  if  you  say  that  cultural  background  is  a
complete thing that for example leads you to
6 perfection so you mustn’t ignore the negative
things (.) you know (.)
7 if there is a negative thing
 
In this example speaker A tries to defend her
opinion,  so  uses  ‘we’  to  soften  her
disagreement.  However,  M  uses  ‘you’  to
force A to consider negative aspects of one’s
cultural background too.  
 
Use  of  disagreement  generally  has  been
considered  a  dispreferred  second  pair  part
that is likely to be delayed and elaborated to
enhance  politeness.  However,  in  many
situations  like  the  academic  setting,
disagreement has been viewed as a preferred
act  (Tannen,  2002).  In  this  setting,  as
suggested  by  data,  disagreement  is  a  means
 
 
of  “sociability  rather  than  disaffiliation”
(Sifianou,  2012,  p.  11)  and  the  number  of
disagreement turns (38) is much higher than
the other two settings.
 
Another  point  worthy  to  be  mentioned  here
is that participants in setting 3 used softened
disagreements  (39.5  %)  to  the  same  degree
as  aggravated  types  of  disagreement  (39.5
%). This may be due to the influence of their
relationship  on  the  expression  of
disagreement.  As  participants  in  this  setting
were  classmates  and  friends,  in  some  parts
they  tried  to  soften  their  disagreement  to
avoid  threatening  their  interlocutors'  face.
Furthermore,  similar  to  setting  2,  the
proportion  of  negative  politeness  strategies
employed in this setting is more than that of
positive  politeness  strategies.  Also,  in
setting  2  the  proportion  of  softened
disagreements was much higher than that of
aggravated  disagreements.  This  finding
again  reminds  us  of  the  argument  over  face
threatening  nature  of  disagreement  and  the
belief  that  as  learners  develop  their
pragmatic  competence to the level of native
speakers,  they  move  toward  using  more
mitigation  strategies  and  avoiding  more
direct  forms  of  disagreement  to  save  their
interlocutors'  face  (Bardovi-Harlig  &
Salsbury,  2004;  Behnam  &  Niroomand,
2011; Dippold, 2011). Participants in setting
2  learnt  English  in  an  English  environment
and  were  more  native-like;  similarly,  in
setting  3  participants  were  were  highly
proficient in the pragmatic sense.  
 
Conclusion
The  findings  of  the  current  study  suggest
that disagreement cannot be studied without
consideration  of  context,  and  that  the
linguistic  markers  cannot  simply  categorize
disagreement  turns  into  polite/impolite  or
preferred-dispreferred acts.  
This  paper  had  the  advantage  of  analyzing
longer  discourse  in  natural  settings;
however,  it  was  not  without  limitations.
According  to  Sifianou,  (2012)  “our  daily
encounters  are  not  finished  products  but
processes  related  to  previous  and  future
ones”  (p.  8),  and  that  being  preferred  or
disprefferd  acts  for  disagreements  may  also
depend  on  previous  encounters  of
interlocutors.  Sifianou  further  argued  that
controlling the effect of all these factors may
not  be  possible.  Not  being  an  exception,  in
our  study,  some  intervening  contextual
variables  unknown  to  the  researchers  might
have  influenced  our  participants'  use  of
linguistic markers.
 
Future studies are therefore suggested with a
larger sample size merging various methods
of  data  collection  such  as  discourse
completion  tests  and  conversation  analysis
to  gain  richer  data.  As  the  literature  on
disagreement  has  shown,  L1  culture  and
social norms (Angouri & Locher, 2012) may
influence  the  way  people  disagree.  This
study, therefore, suggests future comparative
research to investigate firstly how the speech
act of disagreement is expressed in different
languages and secondly to what extent one's
practice  of  disagreement  in  L1  can  have
effects on L2.

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