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The Pragmatics of Chinese Refusals: An Adaptation-Based Approach

Zhang Xinhong  
【摘要】: This dissertation is exploration of the use of refusing language in the process of conversational interaction performed by speakers of Standard Chinese in daily communication, with a view to explaining the adaptive use of language in refusing situations. Refusing in this project will be understood as the process of making negative contributions to the previous turn in the ongoing conversation, a process which is necessarily dynamic and adaptation-driven. The theoretical framework referenced in this thesis is mainly derived from a new pragmatics theory known as the Theory of Linguistic Adaptability (or Adaptation Theory for short) initiated, developed and elaborated by Verschueren (1987, 1995, 1998, 1999), together with some other pragmatics theories such as Speech Act Theory and Politeness Theory. Speech Act Theory and Politeness Theory provide us with the starting point from which ~ve approach the research topic, and Adaptation Theory will be exploited as a tool to understand and explain the refuser抯 choi ce making process. By following these theories and incorporating the factors influencing the performance of refusing in the Chinese context, we have constructed a conceptual framework of our own in order to examine in a systematic and coherent manner the adaptability in the provision of refusing message in response to the proposed act, seeking to achieve a better understanding of the adaptation process of refusal making in the context of Chinese communication. Refusing is an instance of linguistic adaptation in which the refuser as a language user selects the adaptive possibility from the repertoire of linguistically possible resources, pragmatic strategies and principles in accordance with the contextual configurations shaped by the physical world in which the refuser and the refusee are situated, the relationship between the two parties to the interaction, and their respective psychological states. It is found that the generative mechanism of the choice of a particular refusal lies in the interplay of the above-mentioned factors. The refuser not only adapts his linguistic and strategic choices to the context (passive adaptation), but exploits the contextual factors to satisf~?his own communicative needs (active adaptation) for the sake of communication success and human survival in the long run. We also argue that adaptation is made not only at the level of speech acts, but also at the levels of information sequence, syntactic formula and conversational structure for the sake of satisfying, by adapting to and exploiting contextual correlates, the immediate purpose of communicative needs (both actional goal and interactional goal) and the long-standing goal of human survival. The provision of refusing language is negotiable because its operative mechanism is flexible, strategic and probabilistic. The negotiation between the interlocutors usually results in indetenninacy and optionality. Indeterminacy rests with both the refuser as producer and the refusce as interpreter and produces different types of perlocutionary or socio-psychological effects which may help make communication continue smoothly and successfully. Anoth er pragmatic effect of negotiation is optionality which displays the language user抯 freedom of choice in several dimensions.

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