A cross-linguistic study on the linguistic expressions of Cantonese and English requests

Cynthia Lee

Abstract

This study investigates the cross-linguistic devices of requests written by native English-speaking (NSE) and native Cantonese-speaking (NCS) respondents in an academic context on the basis of 197 discourse completion tests. Both groups asked in a direct sequence accompanied by a different proportion of syntactic and lexical devices to reduce directness. NES used a higher frequency and a wider range of syntactic downgraders than NCS. NCS, however, used a higher frequency of lexical downgraders and a greater number of combinations of lexical devices than NES. The cross-linguistic comparison of the linguistic features of Cantonese and Engish requests demonstrates how the distinctive linguistic properties of each language and social factors combine to constitute a request. Further investigation could be made between idealized and authentic English and Cantonese requests for a range of age groups and contexts, or to compare the linguistic forms of requests made by NCS in English with the linguistic forms of requests made by NES in Cantonese.

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