Publication details [#62937]

Decock, Sofie and Anneleen Spiessens. 2017. Customer complaints and disagreements in a multilingual business environment. A discursive-pragmatic analysis. Intercultural Pragmatics 14 (1) : 77–116.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Language as a subject
Place, Publisher
De Gruyter


This article explores authentic CMC business complaints and disagreements by providing a discourse-pragmatic assay of complaint negotiation e-mails written by French- and German-language customers. The assay centers on an identification and description of complaint and disagreement strategies, and on the presence of internal and external modifiers. The data, collected ethnographically at the sales department of a Belgian multinational, demonstrate how the customer’s discourse evolves from more neutral, problem-oriented, routinized formulations in first complaints towards more confrontational, person-oriented, ad hoc formulations in disagreement e-mails as reactions to complaint refusals. This discursive change goes hand in hand with an increase in the use of direct speech act realizations and upgraders. As it appears, in the course of the complaint negotiation, face-threat to the speaker outweighs consideration of the addressee’s face needs. The most notable cross-cultural difference found between German- and French-speaking customers is a more explicit style in German and a more confrontational style in French, with cross-cultural differences gaining weight at the expense of international communicative norms in less routinized messages. Finally, the results of this inquiry incite to re-evaluate concepts of directness, and on a societal level, they serve to foster intercultural awareness in business contexts.