Winans, Michael D. (Arizona State University)

This study examines email requests students make of their instructor in first year composition (FYC) classrooms and compares two populations: the mainstream (MS) FYC classroom and the multilingual (ML) FYC classroom. Request Head Acts were analyzed for syntactic modifiers which serve to mitigate the directness of a request, affecting the perception of politeness, with Biesenbach-Lucas’s (2007) adaptation of the Cross-Cultural Study of Speech Act Realization Patterns Coding Manual (Blum-Kulka, House, & Kasper, 1989). 66 Head Acts were analyzed from 50 emails. The results were that syntactic modifiers were not used by the ML FYC students to make email requests. The MS FYC students did use each of the syntactic modifiers – Past Tense 39%, Grammatical Progressive Aspect 23%, Embeddedness 45%, and a composition of these modifiers 35% – while composing email requests. These results suggest the need for explicit instruction for multilingual English learners on the topic of how to compose a polite email request.

Bardovi-Harlig & Stringer (2017) promote the use of high-frequency expressions to drive the acquisition of syntactic structures, and this study presents a prominent lexical shell that was utilized often by MS FYC students when making requests of their professor. The request employed the three syntactic modifiers in concert and is a simple, easy-to-teach method that ensures politeness in email requests. Teaching this construction could help ML English learners use syntactic modifications for politeness and assist them in composing polite emails.

Email remains a primary mode of communication between students and their professors. This is not just important in the classroom, but is a transferable skill that becomes useful in a globalized world as this population accomplishes goals and solves problems. As social actors, itis important that they complete their tasks and reach their goals “appropriately by taking into account the sociocultural context” (emphasis in original; Economidou-Kogetsidis, 2015). Teaching the presented lexical shell to ML English learners is a quick and simple step that helps to ensure requests are made without added social detriment due to any perceived missteps.

Keywords: Politeness, e-politeness, syntactic modifiers, multilingual email, computer mediated communication (CMC)


Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Stringer, D. (2017). Unconventional expressions: Productive syntax in the L2 acquisition of formulaic language. Second Language Research, 33(1), 61-90.

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Biesenbach-Lucas, S. (2007). Students writing emails to faculty: An examination of e-politeness among native and non-native speakers of English. Language Learning & Technology, 11(2), 59-81.

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Economidou-Kogetsidis, M. (2011). “Please answer me as soon as possible”: Pragmatic failure in non-native speakers’ e-mail requests to faculty. Journal of Pragmatics, 43, 3193-3215.

Economidou-Kogetsidis, M. (2015). Teaching email politeness in the EFL/ESL classroom. ELT Journal Advance Access, published May 26, 1-10.

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Zhu, W. (2012). Polite requestive strategies in emails: An investigation of pragmatic competence of Chinese EFL learners. RELC Journal, 43(2), 217-238.


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