Interlanguage Pragmatics of Non-Institutional Criticism: A Study of Native and Non-Native Speakers of English


Criticism is inherently impolite and a face-threatening act generally leading to conflicts among interlocutors. It is equally challenging for both native and non-native speakers, and needs pre-planning before performing it. The current research examines the production of non-institutional criticism by Iraqi EFL university learners and American native speakers. More specifically, it explores to what extent Iraqi EFL learners and American native speakers vary in (i) performing criticism, (ii) mitigating criticism, and (iii) their pragmatic choices according to the contextual variables of power and distance. To collect data, a discourse-completion task was used to elicit written data from 20 Iraqi EFL learners and 20 American native speakers. Findings revealed that though both groups regularly used all strategy types, Iraqi EFL learners criticized differently from American speakers. When expressing criticism, Iraqi learners tended to be indirect whereas American speakers tended to be direct. In mitigating their criticism, Iraqi learners were significantly different from American speakers in their use of internal and external modifiers. Furthermore, both groups substantially varied their pragmatic choices according to context. The differences in their pragmatic performance could be attributed to a number of interplaying factors such as EFL learners’ limited linguistic and pragmatic knowledge, the context of learning and L1 pragmatic transfer. Finally, a number of conclusions and pedagogical implications are presented.