Sociopragmatic Analysis of Korean Requests

The article refers to a sociopragmatic experiment conducted by interlanguage pragmatic researches who are interested in the use of language, acquisition and performance of a language learner and the use of a target language within a culture or social context. The study was done to analyze the pragmatic characteristics of speech acts of requests done by native speakers of English who are learning Korean as a foreign language in comparison with native speakers of English and Korean. The experiment included three groups of female participants: a group of Korean native speakers, a group of American Korean Foreign language learners and a control group of American English native speakers.

The purpose was to analyze the influence of social norms in the pragmatic speech act of request and the way language learners behave when communicating in the target language considering the implications of pragmatic expressions in the context. The study sought to understand the influence that the L1 may have over the L2 and if there is pragmatic transference from L1 to L2 in different social contexts as well as analyze the accurateness of cultural stereotypes. The experiment only used participants that lived in their native language country or that were learning Korean in an American classroom setting because people that live in the target language tend to adopt the social and linguistic patterns of the culture. The participants were asked to answer to 12 questions and make a request for each response.

The experiment compared KFL and Korean native speakers to recognize their understanding of the language and the difference in the acts of request performed by each group. The American native speakers and the Korean Foreign Language Learners were compared to analyze the influence of the native language over the L2 and the type of requests made by each one. I think that been Korean an honorific language, there had to be notable cultural differences among both groups as well as in the pragmatic preferences of both parties when performing the act of request. Korean native speakers used more indirect requests and a formal speech whereas American learners were more informal and unaware of the cultural references.

The data was collected in two ways: request head act which is the main utterance and the peripheral elements which are the linguistic elements used in the request (hedges, boosters, etc) and the Discourse Completion Task was the methodology used for the study. The experiment focused on two variables: power to determine social status (+/-) and distance among hearer and speaker to determine social familiarity (+/-). I thought it was interesting that they included the variables and analyzed the implications they have to foreign language learners’ social interaction. The data also included the use of apology speech acts, compliments and gratitude which demonstrated that Americans and Koreans have a different concept of the speech act of apology and use it differently in their communicative language.

The results showed that KFL participants used more negative politeness and tried to use more politeness strategies in the L2 which could be a transfer from the L1 and, to my perception, a cultural assumption. The results showed that advanced learners tend to use more politeness strategies and produce longer requests than native speakers. Korean discourse was listener oriented whereas American discourse was speaker oriented; in addition, Koreans used apology strategies as a protocol leading towards making a request while Americans only used it as a plea from guilty actions (Byon, 2004).

The article contributes largely to the study of pragmatics in foreign language learners. It was very interesting to see a study comparing American language learners and native speakers of Korean because the cultural differences are notable and it is important to see if it has an influence over the linguistic and pragmatic preferences of each group. The methodology was well structured because not only did the study analyzed the use of requests in Korean learners and Korean native speakers but it added a control group that reflected the linguistic transferences from L1 to L2.

Foreign language learners should not only focus on semantics but also in the appropriate usage of the L2, it is necessary for students to know how to grammatically and pragmatically use the L2. It is very important that learners accurately communicate in an appropriate social and cultural manner that would allow them to successfully interact without compromising politeness or social rules. When students have a more well-round understanding and knowledge of a language, they feel more confident to express their ideas and are more likely to grasp pragmatic concepts.

Personally, I consider very important to study the implications of pragmatics in second or foreign language learning. I think that is a topic that is not studied enough in language acquisition and that is not reinforced by teachers of foreign languages. Pragmatic strategies in a L2 is something that needs to be studied because not only it affects the linguistic strategies a student may use but it affects the social interaction with other learners or native speakers who are aware of the contextual preferences of the target culture. I think pragmatic awareness should be as important as the semantic and syntactic learning of a foreign language, especially when the student has difficulty immersing in the target language or having contact with the target culture.


Byon, A. S. (2004). Sociopragmatic analysis of Korean requests: pedagogical settings. Retrieved December 8, 2010, from LINK

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