Apologies in French: An Analysis of Remedial Discourse Strategies Used by L1 Speakers

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Bodapati, Sandhya
Yotsukura, Lindsay
Speech act research has contributed much to our understanding of contextual L1 and L2 use in various languages. French, however remains largely ignored. The handful of studies that do exist are confined to a rather small set of speech acts. Although common in everyday discourse, French apologies have been underrepresented in the literature. This exploratory study attempts to observe and quantify apology strategies utilized by the French. Data were collected from L1 speakers in three phases. In Phase 1, 11 respondents provided conflict situations--used to construct a Discourse Completion Task (DCT)--that would require an apology in France. Twenty-two separate speakers completed a rating scale in Phase 2, stating their perceptions regarding sociolinguistic factors underlying the conflict situations. Finally in Phase 3, 85 respondents completed the DCT, which sought their reactions to the apology situations. Five main findings are discussed. First, L1 speakers most commonly used an explicit expression of apology or provided explanations as remedial strategies. This finding differs from previous studies on French L1 apologies in which accepting responsibility for the offense was the second most-used strategy after explicit apologies. Second, it was found that not all apology utterances performed a remedial function in all situations; certain linguistic formulae typically used to offer redress were also used as mitigators to potentially face-threatening acts such as complaining. Third, of several sociolinguistic factors operative within a situation, severity of the offense and the speaker's obligation to apologize seemed to have the most influence on apology strategy selection. Fourth, a survey of L1 speakers revealed that a majority felt it more important for an L2 speaker to be sociopragmatically competent in the target language than to demonstrate grammatical accuracy alone. Finally, the results suggest that the DCT continues to be a highly effective data elicitation instrument. In the present study, it not only facilitated quick access to a large data set, but it also allowed participants to make ancillary comments. Such insights might not have been revealed as readily through data collected in naturalistic settings through participant observation or role-plays--methods that have been deemed more reliable than the DCT.