The Sighs that Bind: Complaining across Cultures and Social Contexts

October 18 (Thursday) at 3:30pm in room 8.105.

 The Sighs that Bind: Complaining across Cultures and Social Contexts

 Talk by Alexandra Shaeffer, Assistant Professor at the Department of Languages, Linguistics and Literatures 

About the presenter:

Dr. Alexandra Shaeffer earned her BA in Modern Languages and Literatures from Kenyon College in Ohio where she specialized in French and Russian literature. She subsequently went on to attain her MA in French with specializations in French and Francophone Literature and Culture at Illinois State University and her PhD in Second Language Acquisition from the University of Iowa. Her research interests lie at the intersections of applied linguistics, culture, and language pedagogy. More specifically, she currently focuses on issues in sociolinguistics, especially interlanguage pragmatics and speech codes.

Abstract of the talk:

Complaining happens in all cultures, and offers a unique insight into the politeness values, taboos, and communicative practices of a given society. The ways in which complaining is performed vary drastically not only cross-culturally, but across smaller communal groups and between individuals, too. This presentation approaches complaining from a multilateral perspective to investigate how individuals in three different language groups – monolingual French speakers, monolingual English speakers, and native English speakers enrolled in upper-division university French courses – produce complaints as well as the influential role played by social context.
To do so, the researcher examines both the frequency with which individuals complain and the strategies they use to perform a complaint in various social situations. Additionally, the researcher touches on the frequency with which individuals choose not to complain and their provided rationale for doing so. This presentation not only identifies a variety of universal linguistic and sociocultural features of complaints, it also uncovers several aspects distinctive to the individual language groups. At the core of this original research is the argument that to best understand complaint behavior, researchers should acknowledge the essential influence of social context. Above all, future research must consider the complex and dynamic interplay that exists between cross-cultural complaint behaviors and social norms of politeness.