Refusal Strategies of Iranian University English as a Foreign Language and Non-English Learners in Native Language: A Comparative Study

  • Seyyed Hatam Tamimi Sa’d
  • Zohre Qadermazi
Keywords: Refusal, Refusal Strategies, Speech Acts, English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Learners, Non-English Learners, Politeness


This study is an attempt to examine the possible effect that exposure to English has had on the use of refusal strategies in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners compared with those of non-English learners when refusing in their native language, Persian. The sample included 12 EFL learners and 12 learners of other academic majors including electronics, 
psychology, management, etc., who responded to a Persian Discourse Completion Task (DCT), adopted from Allami and Naeimi (2011), who has engaged in the speech act of refusal. The responses were coded according to the classification of refusal strategies as outlined by Beebe, Tahakashi and Uliss-Weltz (1990). The results indicated that non-English learners used the refusal strategies considerably more frequently than the EFL learners did, while the EFL learners utilized more adjuncts to refusals than the non-English learners did. However, the differences were not statistically significant. Furthermore, the first four most frequently used refusal strategies by both EFL and non-English groups were found to be “Non-performative statement” (in the case of direct strategies and in the form of “I can’t”), “Statement of regret”, “Excuse, reason or explanation” and “Attempt to dissuade interlocutor” (in the case of indirect strategies), and the most frequently used adjuncts to refusal strategies by both EFL and non-English groups were “Statement of positive opinions, feelings or agreement” and “Gratitude/Appreciation”. Furthermore, gender differences were not statistically significant either. The results can be evidence that the effect of the second language (L2) on the native language (L1) might not be at work in the pragmatic aspects of language learning.


Download data is not yet available.


Abdul Sattar, H. Q., Lah, S. C., & Suleiman, R. R. R. (2011). Refusal strategies in English by Malay university students. GEMA Online™ Journal of Language Studies, 11(3), 69–81.

Al-Kahtani, S. A. W. (2005). Refusals realizations in three different cultures: A speech act theoretically-based cross-cultural study. Journal of King Saud University, 18, 35-57.

Allami, H., & Naeimi, A. (2011). A cross-linguistic study of refusals: An analysis of pragmatic competence development in Iranian EFL learners. Journal of Pragmatics, 43, 385–406.

Brown, P., & Levinson, S. (1987). Politeness: Some Universals in Language Use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, R. (2012). The Study of Second Language Acquisition. USA: Oxford University Press.

Fairclough, N. (1996). Language and power. USA: Longman.

Farnia, M., & Wu, X. (2012). An intercultural communication study of Chinese and Malaysian university students’ refusal to invitation. International Journal of English Linguistics, 2(1), 162–176.

Ghazanfari, M., Bonyadi, A., & Malekzadeh, S. (2013). Investigating cross-linguistic differences in refusal speech act among native Persian and English speakers. International Journal of Research Studies in Language Learning, 2(4), 49–63.

Hassani, R., Mardani, M., & Dastjerdi, H. V. (2011). A comparative study of refusals: Gender distinction and social status in focus. The International Journal - Language Society and Culture, 32.
Retrieved 2013 from

Johnson, D. M. (1992). Compliments and politeness in peer-review texts. Applied Linguistics, 13(1), 51–71.

Lingli, D., & Wannaruk, A. (2010). The effects of explicit and implicit instruction in English refusals. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 33(3), 93–109.

Martínez-Flor, A., & Usó-Juan, E. (2011). Research methodologies in pragmatics: Eliciting refusals to requests. ELIA, 11, 47–87.

Morkus, N. (2009). The realization of the speech act of refusal in Egyptian Arabic by American learners of Arabic as a foreign language. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. University of South Florida, USA.

Nelson, G. L., Al Batal, M., & El Bakary, W. (2002). Directness vs. indirectness: Egyptian Arabic and US English communication style. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 26, 39–57.

Norton, B., & McKinney, C. (2011). An identity approach to second language acquisition. In D. Atkinson (Ed.), Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (pp. 73–94). UK: Routledge.

Silva, A. J. B. D. (2003). The effects of instruction on pragmatic development: Teaching polite refusals in English. Second Language Studies, 22(1), 55–106.

Umale, J. (2011). Pragmatic failure in refusal strategies: British versus Omani interlocutors. Arab World English Journal, 2(1), 18–46.

Wannaruk, A. (2008). Pragmatic transfer in Thai EFL refusals. Regional Language Centre Journal, 39(3), 318–337.

Yang, J. (2008). How to say ‘no’ in Chinese: A pragmatic study of refusal strategies in five TV series. Proceedings of the 20th North American conference on Chinese linguistics, 2, 1041–1058.