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Speech Acts Politeness And Turn Taking

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3252 words Published: 27th Apr 2017

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When we communicate, we give a number of verbal and non verbal cues to the audience that we are referring or targeting to. These verbal or non verbal cues have a lot of impact on the way we keep the listener engaged in the dialogue that we are trying to put up for him and keeping the interest of the listener to actually understand our message the way we want it to be delivered. Until and unless the receiver or the audience gets the message in the way we want it to be delivered, the communication process will mostly fail unless there is a coincidence that the receiver understands what the message meant. Otherwise the receiver or listener of the message will not be able to understand what the important point or points in the whole message were, which part did the sender emphasize more upon, how polite the sender of the message was in the whole communication process and how much room did he give to the receiver to come up with any arguments, additions or suggestions to the message of the sender as a feed back.

Thus, with this introductory not, this paper will actually come up with a discussion in which three important elements of communication that are speech acts, politeness and turn taking will be discussed in order to see how they have an influence on the receiver and what problems do those people face with these concepts being second language English speakers.

The paper will first explain all the three elements and then conduct an interview in which a second language English student and a native English speaker will have dialogue and will be observed and analyzed on the basis of the above mention elements.

After the observations, the communication process of the second language English speakers and their behavior will be compared to the native English speaker and then recommendations will be advised accordingly.

Speech Acts

Starting with the discussion about speech acts, we need to take an aerial view of the communication process and the words we use for communicating our message to the target audience. The first question is that how are words related to the world? What is the process and what is the logic behind the entire communication process in which a speaker tries to explain something to a hearer by using a set of words and then delivering these words to the hearer and the hearer actually understands what the speaker wanted to say. For example, if a speaker makes a statement that Alan went home. What is it in the sentence which will distinguish it from being a question or from being a piece of information? The statement is very simple to understand if it is said in a simple monotonous tone. But, if we relate speech acts with the punctuation marks, we see that when we put a question mark at the end of the same question, the question mark transforms the statement into a question and if an exclamation mark is used, it transforms the same statement into a piece of information that is given in great surprise. Therefore, when understanding speech acts, we see that speech acts are more or less like punctuations. They are not written but, the way the words are uttered, the tone that has been used, the pause that is given between sentences and the feelings that have been added through specific emphasis actually add meaning to these set words and can change the meaning of a simple statement as well as it is described in the earlier discussion.

According to Austin’s theory, speech acts can take over three different meanings

Propositional Meaning

Illocutionary meaning

Perlocutionary meaning

The propositional meaning is the literal meaning of what is being said. For example if one says it is hot in here, then in literal meaning the speaker wants to say that the temperature is high or hot at a certain place.

But, the illocutionary meaning relates to the social function of what is being said or the actual meaning of the statement. Taking into consideration the same example, we see that the same sentence or statement can be used as a request so that someone might help to open a window, it can be an indirect refusal so as to expect the receiver to close the window as someone might be feeling cold and it can also serve as a complaint in which a speaker may try to register that the hearer should know it better then to keep the window shut.

However, as far as Perlocutionary meaning is concerned, it is related to the understanding of the receiver to understand what does it means when someone something like that. Using the same example, we can see that the desired outcome could be of opening of windows.

According to the same theory, speech acts have been classified into 5 categories according to the functions that are assigned to each category.

Co missives










Threats/ offers





Speech Act Theory

The origins of speech acts theory can be extended to philosophy of language but now it is considered as a sub-discipline for cross cultural programmatic. This theory basically explains how human beings achieve and accomplish desired intentions and motives through the use of language by using words in a way that they actually highlight the meaning of the sentence in a manner that the hearer understands what they actually mean besides the literal meaning. Austin relates the performance of saying words with an act of locutionary and the study of how specific words are uttered and what impact does utterance have on the message that is being delivered [1] . According to the theory of Austin, every statement might be inferred in all the three meanings that have been discussed in the earlier part of the paper, but, it is up to the acts that make them specific in their meaning and how the hearer infers them. The speaker can use any of the meaning combined with proper speech act in order to give the same sentence a different meaning. A speaker can change the same question to a complaint by uttering in a specific manner that is associated with anger or with surprise [2] .

There has been a lot of discussion going on relating to whether the speech acts are specific to certain languages or are they specific to different cultures. The reason of this discussion is quite relevant with the essence of our discussion on which the analysis will be framed. the paper will conduct an interview in which students will be observed that whether they use certain speech acts because they belong to different cultures or do they use the same speech acts as speaking the same language regardless of the fact that one of them is a native English speaking and the other one is second language English speaker [3] .

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As it is described in the theory many linguistic mechanisms that have been implemented are in lieu of the cultural differences which cause mis interpretation of messages that are sent from speakers of different cultures and thus they cause break downs and loop holes most of the times when ethnic communication is taking place. This will help us understand more why the two students who were observed behaved in a certain manner during the interview and how differently did the interpret each other [4] .

As it is in phonology and morphology, we also see that the basic cultural instincts and traits also shape the way a person emphasizes on words and gets his message across to the other person. The fact is that in different culture, the level of emphasis that is put in different situations is different and the way a message is transformed from a question to a complaint is also different. Therefore, on the part of the speaker and the listener, misconception or misinterpretation can result in noise ultimately leading to the distortion of the message that has to be actually delivered.


Politeness can be simply defined as implementing good manners and reasonably good etiquettes via verbal communication. However, the concept of politeness is a subjective term. The level of politeness in one culture might differ from the level of politeness in another culture. Although politeness, being a positive phenomenon means to impart good manners and make others feel relaxed and comfortable with whatever the speaker is saying, however, in different cultures and specific to situations, politeness can also be used as a tool to make the other person feel ashamed of some acts that may not be appreciated by others around him or her [5] .

According to British Social anthropologists, politeness can also be categorized into two segments.

Negative politeness

Positive Politeness

In negative politeness we basically try to make a request in a way that it minimizes all chances in which the other person might be hurt due to a certain act. For example, rather than going to colleague and ordering to return the pen, we can go and add a sentence which says if you don’t mind or if it is not too much trouble can I take the pen back [6] .

However, the positive politeness is when a speaker tries to come into a relationship with the hearer by highlighting and safeguarding his interests, ego and personality traits and manipulating sentences in such a way that the hearer feels good about it and tries to conform to what the speaker is saying. This is just like talking to a child where a parent or guardian does not uses negative politeness with the child but by showing the child and the importance that he deserves, the parent or guardian tries to make the child understand certain manners and etiquettes that he should show towards elders. When the child gets the polite behavior, he actually starts trusting the parent or guardian more and understands that whatever they have to say is for the child’s own benefit and interest in the future so he automatically conforms to it [7] .

There are several techniques to show politeness:

When one has to express a situation of ambiguity or uncertainty, one can use politeness by making the point clear indirectly that he does not know about what is going to happen or by hedging the situation with ifs and buts to make the situation look less negative. Taking the example of a child once again, we see that when parents do not know about something, they do not clearly say no to the child to scare the child away, but, they try to explain the matter to the child in an indirect way and make a hypothetical situation in which the child understands that there is a lot that no one knows. This way the child is not discouraging for asking questions in the future and at the same time the parents show their politeness to the child as well.

People also tend to lie politely in order to make it less hurting for the listener. For example, a stock broker may not leak his information to another competitor but he can actually use polite behavior to indirectly change the topic.

Using questions instead of revealing the truth. For example, if a group member knows that the other group member has not started work, rather than simply saying you have not started work, the group member can also ask did you check the information that I mailed you for your part.


A study of ten major languages reveals that the concept of turn taking is basically guided by two simple rules.

Avoid speaking when someone else is speaking

Avoid silence and long pauses between discussion and communication process

As it is meant by turn taking, every speaker must pause after he or she has made her message clear in one go and then give a chance to the other person to add value to the discussion. The reason why we call it adding value is the fact that when the hearer starts speaking, it is actually related to the statements that the speaker has made and it is more like a feedback rather than a literally giving a turn. Every speaker should expect a feed back and also give time for the feedback or response to the other person in order to see whether the hearer has got the message in the right context or not or what more information needs to be provided . A communication process cannot be complete if only one of the persons is constantly speaking unless it is a Debating competition where a speaker has to address a large audience, Moreover, it is also not advised to actually overlap another’s turn because of the fact that the concept of noise in the communication process comes into play at this point [8] .

Furthermore, the research made it clear that every language follows the same rules of turn taking and a variation of just milliseconds was seen in some languages which were also influenced by the types of syllables that the other speaker had to utter. Otherwise, whether it is the second language English speaker or the native English speaker, both of the participants clearly know how to wait for their turn and then take turn automatically from where the other person leaves it.


Coming to the interview in which all the three elements of the communication process that have been discussed above will be integrated upon the observation, we see that all of them have some effect or the other in making communication slightly difficult or biased when a native English speaking boy and a second language English speaking boy communicate. The basic reason that was seen in politeness and the speech acts was actually the cultural difference that made it difficult for both the participants to get to the desired point of view off the other. however, as far as taking turn is concerned, it has more to do with the thinking process that both of the participants had to go through in their minds to actually give it a though to understand what the other person said especially in the case of the second language English speaker and then elaborate words to reply. This practice used to take a bit longer in which the native English speaking boy used to carry on the discussion or nod the other boy for his thoughts and ideas about the situation.

Starting with speech acts, following is a conversation that will serve as a good example how both the participants graded each other as rude.

(Scarcely, 1990)

Now in the above discussion, speaker A is the Second Language English Speaker and Speaker B is the native English language speaker. Speaker B, though incorrect in his conclusion, claimed that speaker B showed a rude behavior because in B’ culture, interruptions are looked upon as impolite. B thinks that any sort of an interruption in a communication process is rude, as an interrupted, thus, A is rude. However, if we say A is from Iran, and that in his society, interrupting can also be seen as a sign of friendliness, casualness and comfort between two speakers, then according to a he is not wrong. So this is one of the biggest problems that Second language English speakers face with Native English speakers. When speaking English they do not realize that they have to blend into the culture as well and try not to blend in their own culture in the second language that they are trying to learn.

Moreover, it was obvious from the tones and speech acts of the second language English speaker that he had a company of people who also spoke English as a second language. The reason was the same that their style of communication could not blend it to the natives and thus they divided into their own groups. Resulting in communication gap and distances which did not enable the second language speakers to develop their language the way natives speak it. They seldom got a chance to infer and subconsciously grasp the rules of how the natives spoke their language.

As far as turn taking is concerned, we can see the fact that the non native speaker often took some more time rather than interrupting all the time. the fact is that he used to take some time to actually think what was he had just heard, what is his response, translate into English and then select the suitable words to get the message across. In the mean time the native English speaking boy often nudged him to remind that he it was his turn to carry on the discussion or to ask if there is everything alright. This is not actually related to any culture or linguistic mechanism, but, it is actually related to the thought process through which this specific participant had to go through. It is not the case with all non native English speakers as there might be many who have a faster though process still, the problem is not that rare as well.

Recommendations and Conclusions

Here are a few recommendations that the non-native speakers may use in-order to come out of the linguistic deficiencies that often cost them decreasing self confidence and fear of competition.

The first thing that teachers need to do with non-native speakers is to highlight the advantages of native English language. The advantages may not be only restricted to the way they will converse, but social advantages as well so as to enable them to mingle in the natives more easily and conversing on their level [9] .

Moreover, the teachers should tell these students what difficulties they might be facing in using the second language and what are the general difficulties that everyone faces. These students might not be able to identify their difficulties on their own as better as the teacher can. Thus, the responsibility lies on the teacher to make them identify their difficulties and make them work on them only rather than perfecting the language by conversing more amongst them.

Also, feedback is another way to keep the student in line with the learning process. Good or bad, it will serve as an asset for the student in the long run because of the fact that he would trust the teachers advice and feedback more then what his peers have to say about his communication skills. The more the teacher gives feedback, the better the student will show response and try to overcome the difficulties by developing interest and maintain the enthusiasm with which the student joined the English language class.


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