Yes or no: Ostensible versus genuine refusals in Mandarin invitational and offering discourse

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In Mandarin invitational and offering exchanges, refusals can be either genuine or ostensible. This study explores the pragmalinguistic features that distinguish ostensible refusals from genuine refusals as well as the sociopragmatic constraints for ostensible refusals. Production data were elicited by a 12-scenario roleplay task from 22 native speakers and five native-speaker interlocutors. The resulting 264 conversations represent four discourse patterns identified in the literature (single-cycle acceptance, refusal-before-acceptance, single-cycle refusal, multi-cycle refusal) and are analyzed with reference to the orientation, position, justification, and modification of the initial refusals. Results show that in the particular domain of communication examined (everyday hospitality situations involving a professor or a friend), genuine refusals are often delayed, mitigated, and speaker-oriented with justification referring to specific extrinsic forces. In contrast, ostensible refusals are often immediately projected, unmitigated, and brief; they can be hearer-oriented addressing the initiator's return-for-favor intention or acknowledging the cost of the invitation or offer, or speaker-oriented with justification referring to personal feeling or unspecific reasons. The paper has also found that type of the initiating speech act, motivation for the initiating speech act, and power relation between interlocutors interact to constrain the use of ostensible refusals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
StatePublished - Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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