A cross-cultural study of request speech act: Iraqi and Malay students

Authors

1 Australian Technical Management College (ATMC), Australia

2 Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics, Payame Noor University, Iran

Abstract

Several  studies  have  indicated  that  the  range  and  linguistics  expressions  of  external
modifiers  available  in  one  language  differ  from  those  available  in  another  language.  The
present study aims to investigate the cross-cultural differences and similarities with regards
to  the  realization  of  request  external  modifications.  To  this  end,  30  Iraqi  and  30  Malay
university  students  are  selected  as  the  participants  of  this  study.  Spencer-Oatey's  (2008)
rapport  management  theoretical  framework  is  used  to  examine  how  face  rapport  is
managed through the use of external modifications.  The corpus consists of responses to a
Discourse  Completion  Test  (DCT)  consisting  of  eight  situations.  The  questionnaires,
adopted  from  Rose  (1994),  were  distributed  among  Iraqi  students  and  Malaysian  Malay
students  studying  at  Universiti  Sains  Malaysia,  Malaysia.  The  corpus  was  then  analyzed
based on Blum-Kulka, House and Kasper’s (1989) classification of external modifiers. The
primary  objective  of  this  paper  is  to  compare  the  effect  of  situational  factors  on  the
realization  patterns  of  request  modification  between  Iraqi  and  Malay  university  students
.The findings indicated that grounders are the most common external modifier used by the
subjects.  Results  also  show  more  similarities  than  differences  between  the  subjects  under
study  in  terms  of  the  use  of  mitigation  devices  such  as  apologies,  compliments  and
gratitude.  However,  both  Iraqis  and  Malays  differ  in  their  perception  of  the  situational
factors. Finally,  the  study suggests some pedagogical implications  for both ESL and EFL
teachers.

Keywords

Main Subjects


 

Introduction

Making  a  request  is  an  important  act  in
people’s  daily  life.  Many  people  view
request  as  a  panel  from  where  they
enhance  social  relationships.  Asking
someone  to  do  something  for  you  would
give  anyone  an  opportunity  to.  Based  on
the  definition  provided  by  Cambridge
advanced  learner’s  dictionary,  request
refers  to  the  act  of  politely  or  officially
asking  for  something  as  in  the  sentence  I
requested  a  taxi  for  eight  o'clock.  Asking
for  help  or  requesting  something  is  an  act
that  is  socially  understood  as  a  way
through which people tend to express their
feelings to support and help each other and
thus  be  connected.    However,  the  act  of
making a request may vary from culture to
culture  and  also  different  cultures  have  a
different  view  of  what  is  considered  a
polite  request  in  much  the  same  way  that
they  have  a  different  view  of  the  value  of
contextual  factors  such  as  participants’
social status and social distance as well as
the  perception  of  other  factors  like
imposition,  obligation  and  right.  
Accordingly,  the  request  can  serve  as  an
illuminating  source  of  information  on  the

 
socio-cultural  values  of  a  speech
community and provide important insights
into the social norms that are embedded in
cultures.
 
Requests,  the  speech  act  chosen  for  the
present  study,  have  the  intended  meaning
(i.e.,  illocutionary  force)  of  affecting  a
hearer’s behaviour in such a way that they
get  the  hearer  to  do  something  (Blum-Kulka,  1991).  House  and  Kasper  (1987,
p.252)  define  requests  as  directives  by
which  “S  (Speaker)  wants  H  (Hearer)  to
do p (p is at a cost to H)”.  Requests have
been  viewed  as  a  face-threatening  speech
act  (Brown  &  Levinson,  1978,  1987).
Since  requests  have  the  potential  to  be
intrusive  and  demanding,  there  is  a  need
for  the  requester  to  minimize  the
imposition involved in the request. This is
done  through  the  use  of  peripheral
elements  (also  known  as  internal  and
external  modifications)  to  get  addressees
to support their requests. Accordingly, the
present  study  aims  at  investigating  the
cross-cultural  differences  and  similarities
in  the  way  Iraqi  and  Malay  university
students  manage  the  face  rapport  through
the use of external modifications.  
 
Request as a face-threatening act
Brown  and  Levinson  (1978,  p.  61)
developed  the  face-saving  view  of
politeness  theory  based  on  the  universal
notion  of  face  as  the  “public  self-image
that  every  member  wants  to  claim  for
himself”.  The  theory  posits  that
maintaining  the  face  of  the  speaker  or  the
hearer is the primary concern of politeness
strategies.  In  this  sense,  Brown  and
Levinson  were  trying  to  provide  a  sample
picture  of  what  happens  in  everyday  life
communication  where  people  do  attempt
to  avoid  conflict  and  try  their  best  to
cooperate.  Eelen  (2001)  indicated  that  in
everyday  conversation,  people  generally
try to avoid embarrassing the other person
or  making  them  feel  uncomfortable.
Speakers  attempt  to  choose  the  most
effective course of action to avoid conflict
with  hearers,  while  minimizing  the
imposition  and  the  cost  of  losing  their
face.  
 
Face,  according  to  Brown  and  Levinson
(1978,  p.66),  is  ‘something  that  is
emotionally invested, and that can be lost,
maintained  or  enhanced,  and  must  be
constantly attended to in interaction’. This
means  that  one’s  own  face  can  only  be
sustained  by  the  actions  of  others,  thus
they assume that all members of a society
would co-operate in order to maintain each
other’s faces.  In  other  words,  they  claim
that  all  members  of  a  society  are
concerned  about  their  ‘face’,  the  self-image they present to others, and that they
assume  that  other  people  have  similar
‘face’ wants. In fact, Brown and Levinson
identified  two  main  kinds  of  face,  i.e.
‘negative  face’  and  ‘positive  face’.  To
them,  these  two  types  of  face  are
universals  and  do  identify  two  essential
desires  of  any  person  in  any
conversational  exchange  (Reteir  Márquez,
2000).  Positive  politeness  refers  to  a
person’s desire to be unimpeded by others,
to  be  free  to  act  without  being  imposed
upon.  Whereas  negative  politeness  refers
to  a  person’s  wish  to  be  desirable  to  at
least  some  others  who  will  appreciate  and
approve  of  one’s  self  and  one’s
personality.  
 
In  relation  to  the  notion  of  face,  Brown
and  Levinson  indicated  that  certain  acts
inherently threaten the ‘face’ needs of one
or  both  participants.  Brown  and  Levinson
(1987, p.65) regard “face-threatening  acts
(FTAs) as those acts which run contrary to
the  addressee’s  and/or  the  speaker’s
positive  and/or  negative  ‘face’.  Their
research  focuses  mainly  on  speech  acts.
Examples  of  acts  that  are  considered  as  a
threat to the ‘negative face’ are requests,
threats,  suggestions  and  advices  because
the  speaker  will  be  putting  some  pressure
on  the  addressee  to  do  or  refrain  from
doing a specific act.  In the case of making
a  request,  the  speaker  infringes  on  the
 
recipient’s freedom from imposition. The
recipient  may  feel  that  the  request  is  an
intrusion  on  his/her  freedom  of  action  or
even  a  power  play.  As  for  the  requester,
s/he may hesitate to make requests for the
fear  of  exposing  a  need  or  out  of  the  fear
of  possibly  making  the  recipient  lose  face
(Blum-Kulka  et  al,  1989).  In  this  sense,
requests  are  face-threatening  to  both  the
requester and the recipient.  
 
Bowe and Martin (2006, p.35) refer to the
fact  that  “Brown  and  Levinson’s  theory
has  provided  an  important  foundation  for
analyzing  linguistic  politeness”. However,
despite its influence on and contribution to
the  literature  on  politeness,  Brown  and
Levinson’s  theory  has  a  significant
weakness.  It  overlooks  the  importance  of
culture  in  cross-cultural  and  intercultural
communication.    Fukada  and  Noriko
(2004)  referred  to  many  studies  which
criticized  Brown  and  Levinson’s
politeness  theory  as  being  constructed  on
the basis of European Anglo-Saxon culture
and it cannot be applied in other cultures”.
More specifically, it has been criticized for
its  overemphasis  on  the  notion  of
individual freedom and autonomy.
 
In  fact,  Brown  and  Levinson’s  theory  of
politeness  was  criticized  for  many  issues
such  as  the  legitimacy  of  the  term
politeness.  Spencer-Oatey  (2000)  cast
doubt on the appropriateness to be labelled
as  politeness  the  study  of  evaluation  of
what  constitutes  polite  and  impolite
behavior  in  social  interactions.  As
mentioned previously, politeness is hard to
define  since  it  is  a  context-dependent
evaluative  judgment  and  the  linguistic
constructions  in  themselves  do  not  bear
any property of being polite or rude, rather
this  is  determined  by  the  conditions  of
usage.  The  researchers  do  agree  with
Spencer-Oatey  argument  as  well  as
Arendholz  (2013)  who  believed  that
politeness  is  as  a  purely  metal  notion
which  is  strongly  dependent  on  the
interpreting  mind  in  terms  of  scope  of
applicability, i.e. a person’s willingness to
label an utterance an action polite. In other
words,  politeness  depends  on  the
evaluation  of  individual  interlocutors  at
individual  moments  in  individual
circumstances.   
 
Another  issue  can  be  seen  in  the  mutual
With  regard  to  politeness  strategies,
Brown  and  Levinson’s  Politeness  Model
has been criticized for their overwhelming
concern  of  politeness  strategies  in  the
context  of  face  threatening  acts.  Yet
interaction  is  not  restricted  to  face
threatening  acts.  Bowe  and  Martin  (2006,
p.  31)  indicated  that  “the  building  of
positive relationships, through mutual care
and  assistance  over  time  is  surely
important,  and  is  usually  accompanied  by
the  expression  of  mutual  appreciation  and
praise.  Such  actions  contribute  to  the
building  of  positive  face  between
individuals, in an ongoing way”. However,
in  their  view,  Brown  and  Levinson’s
model  only  treats  this  in  passing  as  they
mentioned.
 
These  criticisms  and  issues  mentioned
above  were  based  on  a  number  of
shortcomings  from  which  this  theory
suffered. Accordingly, this theory brings a
number  of  limitations  when  trying  to
explain the concept of politeness. The first
limitation  can  be  seen  in  the  neglect  of
cultural values. Song (2012) indicated that
Brown  and  Levinson  (1987)  had  argued
that  regardless  of  culture,  politeness
utterances  are  based  on  contextually
expected  concerns  for  face,  which  they
refer  to  as  ‘weightiness’.  According  to
them, politeness weightiness is universally
applicable and determined by factors such
as  the  distance  (familiarity)  between  the
communicators,  relative  power  of  the
speaker and the hearer, and the imposition
of the task. However, these factors are not
likely  to  have  the  same  effects  on
culturally different verbal expressions (and
perceptions) of politeness. For instance, an
old  man  and  a  young  boy  in  East  Asia
 
 
cannot  be  friends  because  of  the
hierarchical nature of the culture, but such
friendship  is  possible  in  Western  culture.
In  other  words,  distance  and  relative
power  between  the  communicators  are
likely  to  vary  according  to  the  cultural
values of each.  
 
Bowe and Martin (2006, p. 32) mentioned
that “in Asian cultures, the expression of
deference and respect is almost mandatory
with  addressees  who  are  senior  in  age,
experience or status”. Examples of cultural
difference  in  the  perception  of  these
factors  that  determine  politeness  can  be
seen in the use of the honorifics, greetings,
speech formulas used for rituals, and many
other  formal  speech  elements  employed
according  to  social  conventions  of  a
culture  like  Japanese  culture.  This  would
put  Brown  and  Levinson’s  theoretical
framework  into  question.  The  researchers
do agree that such a theory promotes only
a  rational  or  a  logical  use  of  strategy  in
expressing  politeness.  That  is  why  the
researchers  do  agree  with  the  fact  that
Brown  and  Levinson’s  (1987) theoretical
framework  is  essentially  based  on  British
analytical  logic  and  North  American
psychology.
 
Moreover,  Arendholz  (2013)  also
supported  the  view  that  these  three
remarkable  vague  terms  fell  well  short  of
covering  all  influencing  factors.  In  fact,
Brown  and  Levinson  (1987,  p.  16)
themselves  reached  the  conclusion  that
“there  may  be  a  residue  of  other  factors
which are not captured within the P, D and
R  dimensions”.  Accordingly,  one  would
say  that  their  theory  oversimplified  the
complexity of human relation. This can be
proven  by  a  number  of  studies  that  later
looked  at  the  many  factors  that  affect  the
realization  of  speech  acts  in  terms  of
politeness  such  as  the  realization  of
request.  Barron  (2003)  indicated  that
factors like right and obligation may affect
the  value  of  social  variables  in  request
realisation.  According  to  Blum-Kulka  and
House (1989, p.146), estimates of the right
the speaker has to issue the request and the
relative degree of obligation for the hearer
to  comply  with  the  particular  request  are
considered to affect request realisation, i.e.
the  level  of  directness  in  a  correlational
relationship:  the  greater  the  right  of  the
speaker  to  ask  and  the  greater  the
obligation of the hearer to comply, the less
the motivation for the use of indirectness.
 
In  terms  of  politeness  strategies,  Brown
and Levinson’s ignored the cultural aspect.
Brown  and  Levinson  (1987),  as  cited  in
Marti  (2006),  claimed  that  there  is  an
intrinsic ranking of politeness strategies in
terms  of  indirectness.  However,  the
authors  neglected  the  fact  that  some
cultures  used  direct  strategies  as  part  of
solidarity  and  closeness  and  thus  would
never  be  perceived  as  impolite.  For
example  with  the  speech  as  of  request,
Brown  and  Levinson’s  (1987)  influential
theory  have  underlined  parallels  between
the  notions  of  indirectness  and  politeness.
In  other  words,  indirect  requests  are  the
most polite ones. However, studies such as
Blum-Kulka’s  (1987)  showed  that  such
relationships  do  not  always  hold.  Blum-Kulka  proposed  a  scale  based  on  degrees
of  illocutionary  transparency.  She
described  directness  as  “the  degree  to
which the speaker’s illocutionary intent is
apparent from the illocution” (Blum-Kulka
et  al.,  1989).    They  also  presented  three
main  levels  of  directness.  (1)  an  explicit
level, the most direct, realised through the
linguistic form of imperative, as in “Come
to  my  dorm  tomorrow”,  (2)  a
conventionally  indirect  level  realised  by
conventional  linguistic  means  known  as
indirect  speech  acts,  as  in  “Let’s  have
lunch one day”, and, (3) a least direct level
realised by hints, as in “Is this seat taken?”
(Blum-Kulka  et  al.,  1989).    Blum-Kulka
noted  that  the  rating  of  strategies  on  the
politeness  scale  reveals  disparity  in  the
relative  position  on  the  directness  scale.
The thrust of her argument is that a certain
degree of clarity is an indispensable part of
 
politeness.  Politeness  is  identified  as  the
interactional  balance  between  two  needs:
the  need  to  avoid  being  coercive  and  the
need  to  be  pragmatically  unambiguous.
The  balance  is  achieved  in  the  case  of
conventionally  indirect  speech  acts,  rated
as  the  most  polite.  Thus,  favouring  either
pragmatic clarity or avoiding coerciveness
would  decrease  politeness,  as  direct
strategies  may  be  injurious  to  the
interlocutor’s  face,  and  non-conventional
indirect  strategies,  i.e.  hints,  may  be
perceived  as  impolite  because  of  their
pragmatic opacity (Blum-Kulka,1987).
   
Taking these arguments into consideration,
the  present  study  follows  a  modified
framework  for  conceptualizing  face
proposed  by  Spencer-Oatey  (2008).    She
called  her  new  approach  as  “rapport
management,  i.e.  the  management  of
harmony–disharmony  among  people”
(p.13).  This  framework  consists  of  three
main  interconnected  elements.  The  first  is
the  management  of  face  which  involves
the  management  of  face  sensitivities.  The
second one is the management of sociality
rights  and  obligations  that  deal  with  the
management  of  social  expectations  or
entitlements  that  a  person  effectively
claims  for  him/herself  in  his  interactions
with  others.  The  last  one  is  the
management  of  interactional  goals  which
involves the specific task and/or relational
goals  that  people  may  have  when  they
interact  with  each  other.  Within  this
framework,  requests  are  perceived  to  be
threatening/enhancing  of  face  or
infringing/supporting of sociality rights (or
a combination of these), depending on the
range  of  circumstantial  and  personal
factors.  In  other  words,  requests  are
rapport  sensitive  speech  acts,  and  thus
need to be managed appropriately.
Spencer-Oatey (2008, p. 21) indicated that
“every  language  provides  a  very  wide
range of linguistic options that can be used
for managing face and sociality rights, and
hence for managing rapport”. One of these
ways  in  terms  of  the  illocutionary  domain
can be seen in the use of modifiers within
the  scope  of  speech  act  realization.  For
example, since requests can easily threaten
rapport  because  of  their  influence  on
autonomy, freedom of choice and freedom
from  imposition,  there  is  a  need  for  the
requester  to  minimize  the  imposition
involved  in  the  request.  This  is  done
through  the  use  of  optional  clauses  that
modify  the  request  to  help  minimize  the
imposition  involved  in  the  request.  This
includes  both  internal  and  external
modifications.  
 
Based on the selected studies cited  above,
it  can  be  deduced  that  there  is  a  strong
connection  between  the  act  of  making  a
request  and  losing  face  in  daily  life
interactions.  This  is  due  to  the  fact  that
requesting  involves  different  types  of
strategies  which  reflect  the  social  norms
and  assumptions  of  different  communities
and  cultures.  Accordingly,  the  present
study  is  to  examine  how  face  rapport  is
managed  through  the  use  of  external
modifications.  
 
Request external modification
External  modification  plays  a  central  role
in  mitigating  or  aggravating  a  requesting
force.  External  modifiers  consist  of
supportive  moves  which  in  some  way
prepare  the  ground  for  the  actual  request
and  are  located  outside  it.  External
modification “is achieved through the use
of  optional  clauses  which  either  mitigate
or  emphasize  the  force  of  the  whole
request”  (Blum-Kulka  et  al,  p.  128).
Supportive  moves  are  acts  that  may
precede  or  follow  head  act  strategies  and
may  serve  as  down-graders  to  check  on
availability.  They  may  also  serve  as
attempts  to  obtain  a  pre-commitment  or
they  may  provide  a  reason  for  the  request
(Blum-Kulka et al, 1989).  
 
Head act: it is the smallest unit which can
realise  a  request.  It  is  the  core  of  the
request sequence, which can be modified.
 
Alerter: it is an opening element preceding
the actual request. These opening elements
draw the hearer’s attention to the ensuing
speech act.  For example, terms of address
or  attention  getters  like  “excuse  me,”
“professor,” “hello,” “hey,” or “well”. The
term “opener” is used in this study to refer
to alerters.
 
Mitigation  is  achieved  through  the  use  of
optional  clauses  which  mitigate  the  force
of the whole request such as the following:
 
  Preparator  refers  clauses  used  to
prepare  the  requestee  for  the
ensuing  the  request  e.g.  I'd  like  to
ask you something,  
  Getting a pre-commitment refers to
clauses  provided  by  the  requestor
to  indicate  his  commitment  e.g.
Could you do me a favour....
  Grounder  refers  to  clauses
provided by the requestor to justify
his  request,  e.g.  Judith,  I  missed
class  yesterday.  Could  I  borrow
your notes?
  Disarmer refers to clauses ‘disarm’
the  requestee  from  the  possibility
of refusale.g. I know you don't like
to lend out your notes, but could. . .
  Promise  of  reward  refers  to  the
clauses  used  by  the  requester  to
indicate a promise to be done once
the  request  is  fulfilled  e.g.  Could
you  give  me  a  lift  home?  I'll  give
you something for the petrol.
  Imposition  downgrader  refers  to
the  clause  used  by  the  requester  to
help  reduce  the  imposition  of  the
request e.g. Could you lend me that
book,  if  you're  not  using  it  at
present?
 
Aggravation is achieved through the use of
optional clauses which aggravate the force
of the whole request such as  
  Insult,  e.g.  You've  always  been  a
dirty pig, so dear up!
  Threat,  e.g.  Move  that  car  if  you
don't want a ticket.
  Moralizing,  e.g.  If  one  shares  a
flat, one should be prepared to pull
one's  weight  in  cleaning  it,  so  get
on with the washing up!
 
From the description above, it is clear that
requests’ linguistic realization depend on a
number  of  strategies.  Hence,  there  is  a
concern for cross-cultural and intercultural
communication.  Accordingly,  the  present
study  is  to  examine  how  face  rapport  is
managed  through  the  use  of  external
modifications.   
 
Selected studies
The Cross-Cultural Speech Act Realisation
Project  (CCSARP)  is  perhaps  the  most
extensive  empirical  investigation  of  cross-cultural  pragmatics.  It  is  the  first  major
attempt to study speech acts across a range
of languages and cultures, carried out by a
group  of  international  researchers.  They
investigated  whether  there  are  universal
principles  in  request  and  apology  speech
act  realisations  and  what  the  patterns  may
be. The instrument used was a DCT which
consisted of 16 situations (8 requests and 8
apologies).  The  DCT  situations  were
designed  to  represent  all  possible
combinations of the two variables of social
distance  and  social  dominance.  Data  were
collected  from  more  than  a  thousand
subjects  and  analyzed  by  native  speakers
in  respective  countries,  with  a  shared
analytical  framework.  The  CCSARP
investigated  native  speakers  of  Danish,
three  dialects  of  English  (American,
Australian, and  British),  Canadian French,
German,  Hebrew,  and  Argentinean
Spanish  and  non-native  speakers  of
English,  German,  and  Hebrew.  The
project’s  coding  scheme  was  based  on
frames  of  primary  features  expected  to  be
manifested  in  the  realisation  of  requests
and apologies. For example, requests were
classified  into  a  nine-point  scale  of
mutually  exclusive  categories  ranging
from  the  most  direct  (imperative)  to  the
most  indirect  (mild  hints).  The  data
analysis  also  considers  the  choice  of
| 41 A p p l i e d   R e s e a r c h   o n   E n g l i s h   L a n g u a g e ,   3 ( 2 )  
 
perspective  as  an  important  source  of
variation in requests as well as the internal
and  external  modifications.  Findings
showed  both  situational  and  cultural
factors  influence  use  of  these  request
strategies. Different cultures seem to agree
on  general  trends  of  situational  variation
(Blum-Kulka et al., 1989).  
 
A  number  of  studies  have  followed  the
framework  built  up  by  Blum-Kulka  et  al.
(1989)  more  particularly  focusing  on  how
learners  use  modification  in  order  to
mitigate  or  aggravate  their  speech  acts.
Within the speech act of requesting, it has
been  mostly  examined  in  relation  to
politeness  and  language  proficiency  by
investigating  whether  the  two
language/cultural groups use combinations
of  internal/external  modifiers  in  the  same
way and to the same extent. What follows
is  a  review  of  some  selected  studies
conducted on requests’ modifications.
 
Otcu  and  Zeyrek’s  (2008)  study  aims  at
investigating the acquisition of requests by
Turkish learners.  They considered the role
of  language  proficiency  in  the  acquisition
of  requests,  more  particularly  the  way
these  learners  modify  their  requests.  The
authors  also  compared  the  learners’
requesting  strategies  to  those  of  English
native  speakers.  They  investigated  four
groups:  19  low  and  31  high  proficiency
Turkish  learners  of  English,  13  English
native  speakers,  and  50  Turkish  native
speakers.  The  instruments  used  were
discourse completion tasks and role plays.
Findings  suggested  that  there  is  a  strong
link  in  the  way  learners  modify  their
request  and  their  level  of  proficiency.  For
example,  they  found  that  English  learners
with  a  lower  proficiency  level  used
formulaic utterances, lacking the ability to
create  with  the  language  while  the  more
advanced  learners  were  able  to  do  more
with the L2, but this did not guarantee the
control of pragmatic constructions.  
 
In  line  with  Otcu  and  Zeyrek’s  (2008)
study,  Huangfu  Wei  (2012)  also  focused
on  request  modifications  and  language
proficiency. The author compared the uses
of  the  English  request  speech  acts  among
native  speakers  of  English  and  Chinese.
He  also  examined  the  effects  of  social
status  and  familiarity  on  request
modifications. There were three groups, 20
low,  20  high  proficiency  and  20  native
speakers.  An  oral  discourse  completion
task (ODCT) was used to collect data. The
ODCT  included  two  parts:  questionnaire
direction  and  the  statement  of  12
scenarios,  in  which  every  statement  was
ended  with  a  question  requiring  the
participant  to  make  a  request.  The  ODCT
was  embedded  with  two  social  variables,
social  status  and  familiarity.  Chi-square
analysis  method  was  applied  to  examine
the data. Findings suggested that there was
a  difference  in  the  way  English  and
Chinese  modify  their  requests.  Results
indicated  that  Chinese  native  speakers
used more thanking strategies than English
native  speakers,  while  English  native
speakers  preferred  to  use  preparator,
grounder  and  disarmer  in  most  of  the
situations.  The  author  argued  Chinese
native speakers’ difficulties in performing
request  speech  acts  can  be  traced  back  to
the  linguistic  and  cultural  aspects.
Moreover, results also indicated the effects
of  social  status  and  familiarity  on  the  two
groups  as  the  findings  showed  different
usages  of  internal  and  external
modifications.  
 
Another study looked at how learners of a
language differ from native speakers in the
way  they  phrase  their  requests  is  that  of
Economidou-Kogetsidis  (2009).  The
author focused on those areas of deviation
from  native  usage  as  far  as  the  learners’
production  is  concerned.  The  participants
were  83  Greek  learners  (ESL  learners  of
English  and  86  native  speakers  of  British
English.  The  instrument  used  was  a
discourse  completion  task  including  three
situations.  Results  indicated  that  grounder
42 |   A   c r o s s - c u l t u r a l   s t u d y   o f   r e q u e s t   s p e e c h   a c t
 
 
as  an  external  modifier  is  by  far  the  most
popular  softener  for  both  groups  in  all
three situations. Disarmer is considered as
the second most popular device in the data
collected,  while  all  other  external
mitigators were used particularly sparingly
by  both  groups.  Both  groups  employed
more  combinations  of  external
modification devices than combinations of
internal  modification.  However,
comparing  the  external  modification
combinations  with  the  internal
modification  combinations,  the  results
indicated  that  while  the  native  speakers
employed  more  combinations  of  devices
of  internal  modification,  the  learners
employed  more  combinations  of  devices
of  external  modification.  The  researcher
justified  the  use  of  external  modifications
to  many  reasons.  She  argued  that  learners
might  feel  more  confident  to  use  external
modification  in  order  to  be  adequately
polite  because  external  modifiers  are
longer  and  derive  their  politeness  value
directly from the propositional context and
the  illocutionary  meaning  of  the  move
itself.  Another  reason  can  be  related
learners linguistic proficiency.
 
Previous research, however, has also dealt
mainly  with  perceptive  data  elicited  from
different instruments involved in the use of
request  modifications.  For  example,
Eslami  Rasekh  (2012)  examined  the
validity of speech act data taken from two
of  the  most  popular  speech  act
instruments,  namely,  written  DCT  and
closed  role  play.  The  focus  was  on  the
speech  act  of  request  as  realized  by  forty
Iranian  university  students  in  their  native
language (Persian). Findings indicated that
modification  devices  used  in  the  oral  data
had  a  softer  tone  and  in  terms  of  the
request  perspective  the  oral  data  provided
more  impersonal  responses  while  the
requests  in  the  written  data  were  more
hearer-oriented.  Based  on  his  findings,  he
claimed that the data gathered through role
play is more natural than DCT.  
Abdolrezapour  and  Eslami-Rasekh  (2012)
investigated  the  possible  correlation
between request compliance and the use of
mitigation  devices  among  Iranians  and
Americans.  Four  role-play  interactions
followed  by  stimulated  recall  procedures
were used to collect the required data. The
results  obtained  from  the  analysis  of  data
revealed  that,  in  similar  situations,
American requestors are comparably more
certain  than  Iranians  that  the  addressee
would  comply  with  their  requests  using
fewer  mitigation  devices;  while,  as  far  as
the  requestees  are  concerned,  Americans
are  more  influenced  by  the  use  of
mitigation  devices  on  the  part  of
requestors than Iranians.
 
Koosha  and  Dastjerdi  (2012)  explored  the
use  of  request  forms  presented  in
Richard’s Interchange Series, Books I, II,
and  III,  widely  used  in  Iranian  foreign
language  teaching  institutes.  For  this
purpose, Alcon et al’s (2005) taxonomy of
peripheral  modification  devices  used  in
requests was used to locate the instance of
request  forms  in  such  texts.  Results
showed  that  the  series  fail  to  include
materials which are needed for meaningful
and,  at  the  same  time,  face  saving
communication when resorting to different
kinds  of  requests  is  required.  The
researchers  found  that  there  is  no  balance
between  the  presentation  of  internal  and
external  modifications  in  the  different
books  they  studied.  The  study  concluded
with  some  implications  for  textbook
writers,  materials  developers,  language
teachers and learners, highlighting the fact
that  modifications  should  receive  more
attention  in  terms  of  frequency  of
exposure.  
 
Within  the  context  of  Iraqi  subjects,
Aldhulaee’s (2011) study looked at Iraqis
requesting  behaviour.  He  focused  on
exploring  the  differences  and  similarities
between  Australian  English  native
speakers  and  Iraqi  Arabic  native  speakers
in the way they modify their requests. The
| 43 A p p l i e d   R e s e a r c h   o n   E n g l i s h   L a n g u a g e ,   3 ( 2 )  
 
subjects  were  14  Iraqi  Arabic  native
speakers  and  14  Australian  English  native
speakers.  The  instrument  used  was  role-play  interviews  which  were  conducted  in
each  group’s  first  language:  Australian
English or Iraqi Arabic. Findings indicated
some  cultural  and  linguistic  factors  that
influence  the  use  of  request  mitigations  in
the Australian and Iraqi cultures. As far as
the  use  of  external  modifiers,  they  were
pervasive  in  both  groups'  requests.  The
most  frequent  external  devices  were
grounder and alerter.  
 
Similarly,  there  have  been  some  attempts
looking at the requesting behaviour within
the  Malaysian  context.  These  studies
examined  the  request  strategies  in  relation
to other factors such as proficiency, social
and  situational  factors.  For  example,
Youssef (2012) studied the similarities and
differences  in  the  request  strategies  and
modifications  by  Malaysian  and  Libyan
postgraduate  students  at  Universiti  Sains
Malaysia,  Malaysia.  Data  used  in  this
study  are  from  existing  literature  on
natural  conversations  and  role-play.  In
terms  of  external  modifications,  both
groups  used  the  same  external  modifiers
consisting  of  preparators,  sweeteners,  cost
minimizers  and  grounders.  Both  groups
mostly  favour  the  grounders.  Malaysian
students  employed  fewer  internal
modifications  and  more  external  formulae
than Libyan university students to enhance
request efficiency do.
 
By  looking  at  the  research  that  has  been
conducted in the realm of the speech act of
request, it is found that there has been little
research  done  when  it  comes  to  the
performance  of  non-native  speakers  of
English such as Iraqis and Malays. In other
words,  when  comparing  the  extensive
research  conducted  on  other  speech  acts
such  as  requests  by  speakers  of  other
languages, it is clear that research on non-native speakers of English failed to fill the
gap  in  pragmatic  research  within  the  area
of  giving  advice.  More  research  is  needed
on  unexplored  speech  communities  as  it
can  be  extensively  beneficial  to  the
understanding  of  the  culture  of  its  speech
community.  It  is  also  found  that  there  has
been little research done when it comes to
request  modifications  as  compared  to
request  strategies.  Requests  involve
different  types  of  mitigation  strategies
which  reflect  the  social  norms  and
assumptions  of  different  communities  and
cultures.  The  speech  act  of  request
includes  real  life  interactions  and  requires
not  only  knowledge  of  the  language  but
also  appropriate  use  of  that  language
within  a  given  culture.  Thus,  further
research  may  provide  us  with  a  more
global  view  of  the  cultural  tendencies  in
the  act  of  requesting  among  Iraqis  and
Malays.
Methodology  
Subjects  
The  researchers  used  a  random  sampling
method  of  selecting  30  respondents  for
each group. The subjects were first given a
background questionnaire. This instrument
was  addressed  to  all  participants  in  the
form of a questionnaire written in English.
The  purpose  of  this  questionnaire  is  to
record  data  about  their  personal
information  like  gender,  age,  etc.  (See
Table 1).

Based  on  the  table  above,  thirty  Iraqi  and
thirty  Malay  university  students
participated  in  this  study.  The  choice  of
Malaysian  Malays  only  is  to  keep  the
homogeneity  of  the  subjects.  The  Malay
group  consists  of  seven  males  and  twenty
three  females,  whose  ages  range  twenty-one  and  twenty-six.  The  Iraqi  group
consists of fifteen males and five  females,
with  an  age  range  of  between  twenty-seven  and  thirty-five.  It  should  be  noted
that  age  and  gender  effects  were  not
considered in this study.
Each  group  was  met  individually  by  the
researchers at USM. Researchers provided
the  subjects  with  detailed  instructions
about the tasks. Each subject was given 30
minutes  to  complete  the  provided  task  in
both  English  and  their  mother  tongue,  i.e.
Bahasa  Malay  and  Iraqi  Arabic.  Subjects
were  presented  with  the  written  situations
and  were  asked  to  write  down  what  they
would say under each situation.  
Instrument
Building on the work of earlier researchers
on  different  speech  act  realizations,
Discourse  Completion  Task  (DCT)  has
been  used  as  instrument  for  studying  the
realization  of  speech  acts  (Beebe  and
Cumming,  1996;  Kasper  and  Dahl,  1991;
Sasaki,  1998).  The  DCT  used  in  the
present  study  has  adopted  Rose’s  (1994)
study  on  requests.  It  included  eight
situations in which subjects were placed in
the role of a student making a request. Each
situation  was  based  on  two  social
variables:  “relative  power”  and  “social
distance” between the interlocutors. In other
words,  each  situation  consists  of  variation  in
social  factors:  an  equal  status  (=P)  and  high
status  (+P).  It  also  looks  at  request realization
between  familiar  interlocutors  (-D)  and
strangers (+D).

Furthermore,  to  make  sure  that  the
different  perceptions  of  the  situations
would  not  affect  the  modifying  elements
used  in  the  request  patterns,  both  groups
were asked to rate on a 1–5 scale (adopted
from  Barron,  2003)  the  degree  of
imposition  of  each  situation.  Brown  and
 
Levinson (1987, p.77) define the degree of
imposition  as  "a  culturally  and
situationally  defined  ranking  of
impositions  by  the  degree  to  which  they
are  considered  to  interfere  with  an  agent's
wants  of  self-determination  or  of
approval".  In  addition,  they  were  also
asked  to  rate  two  social  parameters  right
and  obligation  since  both  right  and
obligation are considered to be relevant for
the  choice  of  the  request  form  (Blum-
Kulka  et  al.,1989).  Barron  (2003)
indicated  that  factors  like  right  and
obligation  may  affect  the  value  of  social
variables.  According  to  Blum-Kulka  and
House (1989, p.146), estimates of the right
the speaker has to issue the request and the
relative degree of obligation for the hearer
to  comply  with  the  particular  request  are
considered to affect request realisation, i.e.
level  of  directness  in  a  correlation
relationship:  the  greater  the  right  of  the
speaker  to  ask  and  the  greater  the
obligation of the hearer to comply, the less
the  motivation  for  the  use  of  indirectness.
The  rating  of  those  situational  factors  was
done  by  answering  the  following
questions:  
How  much  an  imposition  does  the
speaker's  request  put  on  the  hearer  in  this
situation?  
 
1 low      
2 mid-low    
3 mid      
4 mid-high     
5 high   
 
Does the other person have an obligation to
accept your request?  
 
1 no obligation at all    
2 no obligation  
3 no real obligation    
4 an obligation    
5 a strong obligation  
 
 
 
Do you have the right to pose request?  
 
1 no right at all           
2 no right          
3 no real right       
4 a right      
5 a strong right   
 
Data analysis  
Data were analyzed based on Blum-Kulka
et al.’s (1989) coding scheme used in the
CCSARP  study.  According  to  the  coding
scheme  in  the  CCSARP,  a  request
sequence  consists  of  a  head  act  and  other
parts  such  as  internal  and  external
modifications  which  are  optional  and
nonessential  for  realizing  a  request.  For
example:  
 
Judith,  I  missed  class  yesterday.  Do  you
think I could borrow your notes? I promise
to return them by tomorrow.
The  example  shows  that  the  request
sequence  may  include  several  strategies
including    alerters,  such  as  address  terms
(Judith),  proposed  supportive  moves  (I
missed  class  yesterday),  the  request
proper,  or  Head  act  (I  could  borrow  your
notes),  optionally  elaborated  with  down-graders  (do  you  think)  or  up-graders  and
post-supportive moves (I promise to return
them  by  tomorrow).  However,  in  the
present  study,  only  external  modifications
were coded and included in the analysis.
 
Results and discussion
Perception of situational factors  
Table  (3)  includes  the  evaluation  of  the
situational  factors  (see  Appendix).  The
findings of the t-test showed that there was
a  statistically  significant  difference  in  the
perception  of  obligation  P=.01*  in  S5
where  18  (60%)  out  of  30  Iraqi  subjects
perceive that the other person is obliged to
accept the request given while 19 (63.3%)
out  of  30  Malay  subjects  perceive  no  real
obligation  for  the  other  person  to  accept
the request.  
 
 
Sociality  rights  are  social  or  personal
expectancies  or  entitlements  that
individuals claim for themselves (Spencer-Oatey  2000,  p.14).  Some  are  constantly
negotiated,  while  others  are  culturally  or
situationally determined beforehand. Since
interlocutors  expect  these  rights  to  be
respected,  they  create  expectations  which,
if  unsatisfied,  may  affect  rapport
management.  Thus  in  situation  5,  these
rights  and  obligations  are  determined  by
the  nature  of  Iraqi  friendship  context
which  is  inseparable  from  social
obligations.  In  the  sense  that  part  of  a
‘‘healthy’’ friendship among Iraqis is that
a  friend  ‘‘must’’  feel  indulged  to  fulfill
certain  obligations  such  as  offering  help
and  doing  everything  he/she  can  to
comfort  a  friend.  They  comprise  the
friend’s  obligation  to  help  and  the  other
person’s  right  to  be  adequately  treated
appropriately.    Thus,  Iraqi  subjects
perceive that the other person is obliged to
accept  the  request  in  such  a  situation.
However,  the  case  is  obviously  treated
differently  within  the  Malaysian  context
where  such  obligations  are  negotiated  and
not determined.  
 
Another difference in the perception of the
situational  factors  is  evident  in  the
perception  of  imposition  in  S7.  The
findings  of  the  t-test  show  that  there  is  a
statistically  significant  difference  in  the
perception  of  imposition  P=.01*  in  S7.  In
S7,  the  22  (73.4%)  out  of  30  Iraqis
subjects  do  not  feel  any  imposition  when
asking  a  friends'  mother  for  more  food
during dinner at the friend’s house.  Their
perception  was  between  a  little  lower  and
mid. The subjects’ requesting behaviour is
influenced  by  the  high  familiarity  between
the  interlocutors  as  well  as  the  informal
setting.  Iraqis’ socio-cultural  norms  stress
hospitality.  Thus,  upon  accepting  an
invitation for dinner at a friend’s house, it
is  a  social  norm  for  the  host  to  keep  on
asking  the  guest  to  eat  just  a  bit  more.
Therefore,  asking  for  more  food  would
never  be  an  imposing  act  on  the  part  of
both  the  requester  and  the  requestee.    The
person  who  posed  the  request  is  sure  that
his request would never be refused.  There
is a great expectation of compliance on the
part  of  the  hearer.  However  18  (60%)  out
of  30  Malay  subjects  perceive  high
imposition when requesting in this situation.
Iraqi  subjects  perceived  this  situation
according  to  their  cultural  norms  of
invitation.  However,  for  Malays  the
interpretation of imposition is quite high in
this  situation.  There  are  still  limits  in
asking  for  more  food  within  this  culture
where such as act is considered to be rude
even with close relations.  
 
External modifiers
The  responses  were  coded  and  analyzed
based  on  Blum-Kulka  et  al.’s  (1989)
classification  and  the  coding  scheme  used
in  the  CCSARP  as  mentioned  before.  The
results  are  demonstrated  in  table  4  (See
Appendix).  
 
Table  3  shows  that  ‘grounder’ is the most
common  external  mitigator  used  by  both
subjects.  In  a  grounder,  the  speaker  gives
reasons,  explanations,  or  justifications  for
his or her request, either before or after the
main  request.  The  use  of  grounders  in
other  situations  like  S4  (Photo)  S6  (Bus)
and  S7  (Food)  is  not  frequent  due  to  the
use  of  other  external  modifiers  by  the
subjects.  
 
A closer look at the situation number three
shows  that  the  effect  of  the  participants’
relation  is  influencing  the  use  of  rapport
management  through  the  use  of  grounders
in  this  situation.  Grounder  is  highly
employed  by  Malaysians  in  S3  (Test)
93%.  Power  as  a  contextual  variable  can
be seen in terms of unequal role relations,
e.g.    Professor  –student.  A  professor  can
be  perceived  to  have  coercive  power,
reward power, expert power and legitimate
power.  As  Song  (2012,  p.33)  put  it  out,
“College  professors  and  school  teachers
are  highly  respected  in  East  Asia  because
of  the  influence  of  confucianism,  which
 
means  that  the  society  values  education.
As  a  result,  students  accept  teacher’s
disciplinary  acts.”  Request  in  such  a
situation  should  be  worded  in  a  way  to
gain  a  successful  face  rapport  in
interaction.  Thus,  the  request  looks  less
blunt  when  it  is  mitigated  by  the  use  of
justification or explanation.  
 
Grounders are used mostly when making a
request  to  someone  with  a  higher  status.
Aldhulaee  (2011)  justified  the  use  of
grounder  by  the  fact  that  a  university
lecturer  has  a  high  social  status  in  the
Arabic  social  hierarchy  as  an  individual
with much academic knowledge. In such a
case,  making  a  request  to  someone  with  a
higher  status,  the  speaker  should  manage
the  face  rapport  through  justifying  and
mitigating  his/her  request.  The  reason  for
using  a  grounder  might  probably  be
viewed  in  a  way  that  the  speaker  is  trying
his best to build the rapport and achieve a
smooth  interaction  with  an  expectation
that  this  reason  would  have  an  impact  on
the addressee to be more co-operative and
understanding to his situation. “ The use of
reasons  or  grounders  can  be  seen  as  a  co-operative  strategy  towards  harmonious
exchanges  since  by  giving  reasons  the
speaker  expects  the  addressee  to  be  more
understanding  and  willing  to  co-operate”(
Aldhulaee,  2011,  p.  129).  This  is  in  line
with  Faerch  and  Kasper  (1989)  who
pointed  out  that  grounders  are  effective
mitigating  strategies  because  they  can
open up “an emphatic attitude  on  the  part
of  the  interlocutor  in  giving  his  or  her
insight into the actor’s underlying motive
(s)” (p. 239). Examples of grounders taken
from Iraqi and Malay data:
 
Saya terpaksa balik ke kampong. Bolehkah
saya ambil ujian terlebih dahulu?
I have to go back to my village. Can I seat
for the test in advance?
 
Saya  tak  dapat  hadir  pada  hari  ujian.
Boleh tunda tarikh ujian?
I  cannot  come  to  the  test  day.  Could  you
postpone the test date?
 
In  the  examples  above,  subjects  mitigate
the request by using a grounder. Then they
realised  the  request.  In  the  first  example,
the  speaker  tries  his  best  to  manage  face
rapport  through  the  use  of  mitigation
where  he  justifies  his  demand  to  take  the
test  in  advance  by  saying  Saya  terpaksa
balik ke kampong.  It should be mentioned
that  Malay  subjects  adherence  to  their
culture  is  defined  by  a  politeness  system
which  is  characterized  as  being
hierarchical.  In  other  words,  “The  way
language is used, the intonations of speech
and  the  ways  people  are  addressed
according to a status hierarchy, are part of
the  polite  system”  (Storz,  1999,  p.119).
This  shows  that  the  level  of  politeness  is
determined  by  the  rank  by  the  society  in
Malaysia.
 
However,  Iraqi  subjects  used  another
common  device  to  mitigate  the  request  as
they  begin  their  request  by  defining  the
relationship  between  their  interlocutors
and  themselves  with  regard  to  social
status. This is accomplished by referring to
the  rank  of  the  hearer  (e.g.  .,  professor,
doctor)  or  by  using  a  formal  address  term
such  as  ‘‘professor’’  یذاتسا.  In  addition,
Iraqi  subjects  tend  to  linguistically
mitigate  their  request  with  more  detail.
The  following  examples  illustrate  the
point:
 
استاذی عندی شغل خارج المدینة ارید تأجیل الامتحان
Prof., I have something to do out of town, I
want to postpone the test.
 
استاذی اموری مزدحمة اکدر امتحن هذا الاسبوع
Prof., I’m busy, can I take the test next
week?  
 
In  the  example  above,  subjects  mitigate  a
request  by  using  an  address  term  then
followed by an explanation of being away
outside  town  to  justify  the  requested  act
which  is  postponing  the  test.  However,  in
 
the second example, the mitigation is done
by using an ambiguous grounder where the
speaker  justifies  his  absence  by  being
busy.  Not  much  information  is  mentioned
for  the  status  of  being  busy,  yet  a
successful face rapport is built through the
second  part  of  the  request  where  the
subject  offered  to  take  the  test  for  this
week.  This  secures  the  professor’s
obligations and rights of his job and gives
him  more  space  to  be  cooperative  and
complying  with  the  request.  Despite  the
use  of  mitigation  in  the  second  example,
the  request  sounds  blunter  than  the
previous, this probably due to the fact that
the  speaker  fails  in  providing  enough
details  for  justifying  his  request.  This
reflects  the  Iraqi  cultural  norms  where
hierarchical  relations  are  dominant  in
everyday life interaction.
 
The  third  example  is  an  elaborated
realisation  of  a  request  where  the  speaker
starts  with  a  greeting  form  and  an  address
term.  The  speaker  provides  a  detailed
explanation  to  justify  his  request  then
followed  by  a  thanking  and  commitment
so that if the professor would comply with
his  request  that  would  be  considered  as  a
favour.  Thanking  and  expressions  of
favours are very common in Iraqi culture.   
 
Another  common  type  of  mitigation  is
achieved  through  the  use  of  an  apology.
The use of forms like ‘aasif/ aasfa’ (I am
sorry)  or  ‘al  afu’  (I  beg  your  pardon)  is
common  in  Iraqi  Arabic  as  well  as  in
Bahasa  Malayu  “  Maaf”  as  a  way  of
redressing  the  face-threatening  act  of
request  especially  when  interacting  with  a
speaker  of  high  authority  or  when
interacting  with  strangers.  The  speaker
infringes on the recipient’s freedom from
imposition  by  making  a  request.  The
recipient  may  feel  that  the  request  is  an
intrusion  on  his/her  freedom  of  action  or
even a power play. Using the apology as a
mitigation  device  would  help  soften  the
interaction  and  manage  the  face  rapport.
Examples given by Iraqi subjects:   
اعتذر استاذ بس عدنه حفلة کرابینا ضروری احضرها ممکن أجل الامتحان 
I  apologize,  prof.,  but  we  have  a  wedding
party  that  I  should  attend.  Can  I  postpone
the test?
 
العفو ممکن اکعد بصفک؟
Sorry, can I sit beside you?
 
العفو ممکن تنصی الصوت؟
Sorry, can you slow down the sound?
 
العفو استاذ الکتب ثقیل مساعدتک فی فتح الباب
Sorry,  prof.,  the  books  are  so  heavy,  help
me by opening the door.
 
العفو ما اکدر اوکف ممکن اکعد هنا؟
Sorry, I can’t stand. Can I sit here?
 العفو اخویة ممکن تنصی صوت الموسیقیلان أرید أقرأ؟
Sorry  brother,  can  you  turn  down  the
sound of the music I want to study?
 
Examples  of  apology  given  by  Malay
subjects:
 
Maafkan  saya  kerana  tidak  dapat
menduduki  ujian  itu.  Saya  harap  dapat
mengambilnya semula.  
I  am  sorry  because  I  cannot  seat  for  the
test. I hope I can reseat it.
 
Saya  minta  maaf  kerana  tak  dapat  hadir
untuk  ujian  itu  kerana  saya  perlu  pulang
ke  kampong  untuk  menghadiri  satu  majlis
perkahwinan.  Boleh  tak  tolong
pertimbangkan  untuk  tunda  tarikh  ujian
itu?  
I  am  sorry  I  cannot  come  to  the  test
because I have to go back to my village to
attend  a  wedding.  Could  you  please
consider postponing the test date?
 
Another  way  of  modifying  a  request  can
be  done  by  using  a  ‘sweeteners’.  This  is
reflected  in  the  use  of  formulaic
expressions  like  compliments  which  are
used  for  daily  social  interactions  by  Iraqis
to  soften  the  social  distance  and  show
 
more  friendliness.  In  the  present  study,
“sweeteners” occurred quite frequently  in
the  Food  situation.  Bella  (2011,  p.  1734)
stated that, “A speaker in such a condition
seems  to  invest  in  pragmatic  routines
whose  formulaic  nature  can  guarantee  a
politeness effect.” It should be noted that
the  use  of  compliments  such  as  ‘Ashet
iedek’ (literally, ‘God save your hands’ are
very  common  and  routine  in  Iraqi  culture.
The  English  equivalent  would  be  ‘That’s
really tasty’ or ‘Mmm.. That’s yummy’ or
any other complimentary remark regarding
the  food).    They  are  used  to  stress
closeness and intimacy.  
 
Examples given by Iraqi subjects:
 
امک تطبخ کلش زین و نفسها طیب بالاکل
Your mother’s cooking is very good and
she has a very good taste in food
 
اکلکم طیب ناشونی بعد ماعون 
Your  food  is  delicious,  give  me  another
plate.
 
عاشت ابدج خالة الاکل کلش طیب ممکنِِ أخذ شوبة
God  save  your  hands,  aunty.  The  food  is
very delicious, can I have a little more?  
 
عاشت الابادی طبخکم ممتاز
God  save  your  hands  ..your  cooking  is
excellent
 
 لاول مرة اذوک هیجی اکل طیب...عاشت ابدیها لامک
It’s the first time that I taste such  a  nice
food.. God save your mother’s hands  
 
Based  on  the  realisation  of  the  above
examples, it should be noted that the guest
expects  the  right  to  be  respected  and
treated well based upon the cultural norms
of  Iraqi  hospitality.  Thus  he/she  creates
expectation  which,  if  unsatisfied,  may
affect  rapport  management.  Being  a  host,
she  is  obliged  to  present  her  best  to
comfort her  guest. The  guest, on the other
hand,  creates  expectations  that  determine
the interaction of the whole situation.  It is
a  social  norm  for  the  host  to  keep  on
asking the guest to eat just a bit more. The
rights  and  expectations  rise  when  the
familiarity  is  high.  Therefore,  the  guest
would  be  expected  to  be  appreciated  the
host  by  asking  for  more  food.  There  is  a
great  expectation  of  compliance  on  the
part  of  the  hearer,  i.e.  the  mother.  This
would  also  be  regarded  as  a  sign  of
friendliness and closeness.  
 
Malay subjects show a similar tendency in
using  sweeteners  as  mitigation  strategy.
The  use  of  such  strategies  might  be
explained  by  the  fact  that  it  perhaps  helps
in  managing  the  face  quality  of  the  hearer
that is the mother’s desire to be positively
evaluated by her guests on the basis of her
personal features, i.e. skillful in cooking.
 
Examples  of  sweeteners  given  by  Malay
subjects:
 
Sedapnya  masakan  makcik  hari  ini.  Boleh
saya tambah sikit?  
Auntie’s cooking is delicious. Can I have
some more?  
 
Masakan  mama  sedap  sekali.  Untung
Rashid  ada  emak  macam  mama.  Saya
ambik lagi ye.  
Mama’s cooking is so delicious. Rashid is
so  lucky  to  have  a  mother  like  you.  I  take
some more (food).
 
Conclusion  
The  present  paper  is  a  cross-cultural
research  between  Iraqi  and  Malay
university  students  by  studying  the
requesting  behaviour  and  the  social,
cultural norms of these groups. This would
enhance  our  understanding  of  the  way
these two groups modify their requests. In
fact,  both  Iraqi  and  Malay  cultures  are
classified  as  types  of  collectivistic
cultures. One of the distinctive features of
this  type  of  culture  is  that  the  hierarchical
relationships  and  the  reciprocal  obligation
are  basic  features  of  the  cultural  system.
Having  examined  the  types  of  mitigations
used  by  the  participants,  the  findings
 
 
indicated  that  grounders  are  the  most
common  external  modifier  used  by  the
subjects.  This  is  in  line  with  Hassall
(2001)  who  argued  that  grounders  can  be
found  in  all  languages  and  considered  as
the  main  type  of  external  modifiers.  The
importance  of  this  modifier  seems  to  be
related  to  its  function  as  a  means  of
sustaining the speaker’s endeavour to get
cooperation and build the rapport with less
face-threatening  to  the  hearer’s  face
(Aldhulaee, 2011).   
 
Though  the  results  of  the  present  study
show  more  similarities  than  differences
between  the  subjects  under  study  in  terms
of  mitigation  devices  use  such  as
apologies,  compliments  and  thanking,
further  research  may  provide  us  with  a
more  global  view  of  the  cultural
tendencies in mitigating  the act of making
requests  among  Iraqis  and  Malaysians.
Ongoing  research  in  the  study  of  real  life
encounters  in  which  requests  are
performed  would  give  more  insight  into
the  cultural  tendencies,  and  may  be  more
authentic  if  the  responses  were  verbal  as
opposed to written as done in this study.    
 
Moreover,  from  examining  the  results  of
the  rating  scale,  it  became  clear  that  both
Iraqis and Malays differ in their perception
of  the  situational  factors.  The  dominance
and  the  influence  of  Islamic  culture  are
clearly  demonstrated  within  the  Iraqi
culture. Thus, concepts such as hospitality,
sharing,  involvement,  obligations  and
closeness are promoted by the whole Iraqi
society.  In case of Malays, they might still
be  dominated  by  the  Anglo  culture  in
terms of adherence to the etiquette and the
manners  of  not  asking  for  more  food
where  the  requester  feels  a  great
imposition  since  he  is  exposing  a  need.
Feeling  of  embarrassment  and  being
ashamed  might  be  the  reason  behind
feeling  such  a  burden  when  asking  for
more food.  
 
Accordingly,  the  findings  of  this  study
might  be  utilized  by  English  language
teachers  within  the  ESL/EFL  contexts.
This  study  supports  the  importance  of
understanding  speech  acts  across  cultures
and  the  fact  that  understanding,  or  lack
thereof,  can  either  hinder  or  strengthen
communication  exchanges  between
cultures.  It  is  believed  that  teaching  the
cultural  aspects  of  language  is  a  vital  part
of  teachers’  duty  to  aid  their  students  in
becoming  successful  second  language
speakers.  ESL  teachers  should  design
contextualized,  task-based  activities  that
expose  learners  to  different  types  of
pragmatic  information  along  with  the
linguistic  means  needed  to  perform  a
particular  speech  act.  In  addition,  because
of the function of different social variables
(e.g., social status) in speech acts, students
should  be  taught  how  to  perform  speech
acts  appropriately  based  on  the  relative
status levels of the interlocutors.
 
Finally,  it  should  be  mentioned  that  there
are  some  certain  limitations  in  the  present
study which should be taken into account.
The  present  study  utilised  DCT  as  an
instrument  for  data  collection.  It  is  true
that  DCTs  do  not  provide  samples  of  an
interactive language in a real life situation.
Instead,  they  provide  data  of  high
comparability  due  to  the  controlled  nature
of  the  situation  given.  However,  DCT  can
still  be  used  as  an  instrument  in  assessing
the  knowledge  of  how  a  particular  speech
act  might  be  performed  but  not  how  it  is
actually  performed.  Thus,  a  rating  scale  is
used  in  addition  to  DCT  as  a  way  to
compensate  the  major  issues  related  to
DCT  validity  and  reliability  in  terms  of
authentic  discourse.  More  research  might
be  conducted  for  cross-cultural  studies  to
capture  the  ideal  data,  i.e.  naturally
occurring data. 

Aldhulaee  (2011).    Request  mitigating
devices  in  Australian  English  and
Iraqi Arabic: A comparative study.
Unpublished  Master’s  thesis,
Deakin  University,  Victoria,
Australia.   
Arendholz,  J.  (2013).  Appropriate  online
behaviour: A pragmatic analysis of
message  board  relations.
Amsterdam;  Philadelphia:  John
Benjamins Publishing Company.  
Abdolrezapour,  P.  &  Eslami-Rasekh,  A.
(2012).  The  effect  of  using
mitigation  devices  on  request
compliance  in  Persian  and
American  English.  Discourse
Studies, 14(2), 145-163.
Barron,  A.  (2003).  Acquisition  in
interlanguage  pragmatics.
Learning  how  to  do  things  with
words  in  a  study  abroad  context.
Philadelphia,  PA,  USA:  John
Benjamins Publishing Company.
Beebe, L. M. & Cummings, M. C. (1996).
Natural  speech  act  data  versus
written  questionnaire  data:  How
data  collection  method  affects
speech  act  performance.  In  S.  M.
Gass  &  J.  Neu  (Eds.),  Speech  acts
across cultures (pp. 65-86). Berlin:
Mouton de Gruyter.
Bella, S. (2011). Mitigation and politeness
in  Greek  invitation  refusals:
Effects  of  length  of  residence  in
the target community and intensity
of  interaction  on  non-native
speakers’ performance. Journal  of
Pragmatics, 43(6), 1718–1740.
Bowe,  H.  &  Martin,  K.  (2006).
Communication  across  cultures:
Mutual  understanding  in  a  global
world.    Cambridge:  Cambridge
University Press.  
Brown,  P.  &  Levinson,  S.  C.  (1978).
Universals  in  language  usage:
Politeness  phenomena.  In  Esther
Goody  (ed.),  Questions  and
politeness  (pp.  56-289).
Cambridge,  U.K:  Cambridge
University Press.
Brown,  P.  and  Levinson,  S.  C.  (1987)
Politeness:  Some  universals  in
language  usage.  Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press
Blum-Kulka, S. (1987). ‘Indirectness and
Politeness  in  Requests:  Same  or
Different?’ Journal  of  Pragmatics,
11, 131–146.
Blum-Kulka,  S.  (1991).  Interlanguage
pragmatics:  The  case  of  requests.
In  R.  Phillipson,  E.  Kellerman,  L.
Selinker,  M.  Sharwood  Smith,  &
M.  Swain  (Eds.),  Foreign/  second
language  pedagogy  research  (pp.
255-272).  Clevedon,  UK:
Multilingual Matters.
Blum-Kulka,  S.  and  House,  J.  (1989).
‘Cross-Cultural  and  Situational
Variation in Requestive Behavior’.
In  Shoshana  Blum-Kulka,  Juliane
House, and Gabriele Kasper (Eds.),
Cross-cultural  pragmatics  (pp.
123–154). Norwood, NJ: Ablex,.
Blum-Kulka,  S.,  House,  J.  &  Kasper,  G.
(1989). Cross-cultural pragmatics:
Requests  and  apologies.  Norwood,
N.J.:  Ablex  Publishing
Corporation.
Economidou-Kogetsidis,  M.  (2009).
Interlanguage  request
modification:  The  use  of
lexical/phrasal  downgraders  and
mitigating  supportive  moves.
Multilingua, 28, 79-112.
Eelen,  G.  (2001).  A  critique  of  politeness
theories.  Manchester,  UK,  and
Northampton,  MA:  St.  Jerome
Publishing.
Eslami-Rasekh,  A.  (2012).  Eliciting
Persian request: DCT and role play
data.  World  Journal  of  Education,
2(3), 80-86.  
 
Færch,  C.  and  Kasper.  G.  (1989).  Internal
and  external  modification  in
interlanguage  request  realisation.
In  Blum-Kulka,  S.,  House,  J.  and
Kasper,  G.  (Eds.),  Cross-cultura

pragmatics:  Requests  and
apologies  (pp.221-247).  Norwood,
NJ: Ablex.  
Fukada,  A.  &  Noriko,  A.  (2004).
Universal  politeness  theory:
application  to  the  use  of  Japanese
honorifics.  Journal  of  Pragmatics,
36, 1991–2002.  
Hassall. T. (2001). Modifying requests in a
second  language.  International
Review  of  Applied  Linguistics  in
Language  Teaching  (IRAL),  39,
259 – 283.
House,  J.  &    Kasper,  G.  (1987).
Interlanguage  pragmatics:
Requesting  in  a  foreign  language.
In  W.  Lörscher  &  R.  Schulze
(Eds.), Perspectives on language in
performance  (pp.1250-1288).
Tübingen: Narr.  
Huangfu,  W.  (2012).  Cross-Cultural
Comparisons  of  English  Request
Speech Acts in Native Speakers of
English  and  Chinese.  Cross-Cultural Communication, 8(4), 24-29.  
Kasper,  G.  &  Dahl,  M.  (1991).  Research
methods  in  interlanguage
pragmatics.  Studies  in  Second
Language  Acquisition,  13,  215-247.
Koosha,  B.  &  Dastjerdi,  H.  V.  (2012).
Investigating  Pragmatic
Competence: The Case of Requests
in Interchange Series. Asian Social
Science, 8(1), 45-61.
Marti,  L.  (2006).  Indirectness  and
politeness  in  Turkish–German
bilingual  and  Turkish  monolingual
requests.  Journal  of  Pragmatics,
38, 1836–1869.
Otcu, B. &  Zeyrek, D. (2006). Requesting
in  L2:  Pragmatic  development  of
Turkish  learners  of  English.
Proceedings  of  the  31st
international  LAUD  symposium.
Intercultural  pragmatics,
linguistics,  social  and  cognitive
approaches.  Landau,  Germany:
Universität Duisburg-Essen.
Reiter  Márquez,  R.  (2000).  Linguistic
politeness in Britain and Uruguay.
Amsterdam:  John  Benjamins
Publishing Company.
Rose,  K.  (1994).  On  the  validity  of
discourse  completion  tests  in  non-western  contexts.  Journal  of
Applied linguistics, 15(1), 1-14.   
Sasaki,  M.  (1998).  Investigation  EFL
student’s  production  of  speech
acts:  A  comparison  of  production
questionnaire  and  role-plays.
Journal  of  Pragmatics,  30,  457-484.
Spencer-  Oatey,  H.  (2000)  Culturally
speaking.  Managing  rapport
through  talk  across  cultures.
London: Continuum.
Spencer-Oatey,  H.  (2008).  Culturally
speaking:  Culture,  communication
and  politeness  theory.  Continuum
International Publishing Group.
Song, S. (2012).  Politeness  and culture in
second language acquisition. Great
Britain: MACMILLAN.
Storz,  M.  L.  (1999).  Malay  and  Chinese
values  underlying  the  Malaysian
business  culture.  International
Journal  of  Intercultural  Relation,
12(1), 117-131.
Youssef,  A.  M.  (2012).  Study  of  request
strategies  employed  by  libyan  and
Malay  postgraduate  students  at
USM.  International  Journal  of
Learning  &  Development,  2(2),
144-151.