Journal of French Language Studies


Wanting to be wanted: a comparative study of incidence and severity in indirect complaint on the part of French and English language teaching assistants


a1 Lancaster University


Using data from the ESRC funded project Pragmatics and Intercultural Communication (PIC), this paper applies contrastive quantitative and qualitative analysis to data derived from oral statements, logbooks and retrospective reports by language teaching assistants in France and England. The data concerns their ‘rapport’ (Spencer-Oatey, 2003; 2005) with the members of staff responsible for their professional supervision and the paper assesses complaint behaviour across the two national groups. Basing our study on computer recorded discourse segments taxonomically codified as ‘negative assessment’, we show that the incidence of ‘indirect’ complaint (Boxer, 1993) is significantly higher among English assistants than among their French counterparts. A revised model for measuring ‘severity’ (House and Kasper, 1981; Olshtain and Weinbach, 1993) is applied to the data using corpus linguistic techniques. Its findings demonstrate that English assistants also complain more ‘severely’ than their French peers. Nevertheless, the difference in linguistic behaviour between individuals within each group is shown to be greater than that between the two national groups, implying that personality is a stronger determinant of cultural outlook than nationality.

(Received August 2008)

(Revised January 2009)