Responses of Female Non-native Speakers to English Compliments: A Cross-generational Study of Saudi Arabian University Students and Lecturers
Employing a cross-generational perspective, this study attempts to deepen our understanding of the politeness strategies Saudi females use when responding to compliments in English from an English speaker. The aim of the study was to investigate how Saudi females from two generations respond to compliments in an educational setting in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), and how their choices are affected by Saudi culture in relation to gender, pragmatic transfer and inter-generational interaction. Participants included 62 female undergraduate students and 64 female lecturers from one university in the KSA. Following a mixed methods approach, the study included two primary sources of data: a quantitative Discourse Completion Task questionnaire for eliciting compliment responses (CRs) from the two generations; and qualitative semi-structured interviews with six participants from each group. Quantitative data findings revealed that acceptance was the most favoured strategy used by both the generations when responding to compliments in English. However, the two groups exhibited considerable differences in the types of politeness strategies used and the extent of pragmatic transfer they demonstrated in their CRs. In the use of politeness strategies, for instance, it was shown that compliments made on spoken language ability and character were responded to differently by the teachers and the students. Pragmatic transfer, on the other hand, was evident in the students’ responses in two main scenarios but was not found in the lecturers’ responses. Qualitative interviews findings revealed that both the groups considered it appropriate to accept the compliments because it was polite, appropriate, and according to the cultural norms of the KSA. The students, however, faced challenges in judging the sincerity of the compliments given. The study has implications for the kind of politeness strategies used by different cultures, and indicates a need for further research in this regard to enable greater intercultural awareness and competence among Saudis women interacting with speakers from non-Arabic cultures.