Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Interdepartmental Program in Linguistics

Document Type



This study investigated the pragmatic comprehension and production of the speech act of refusals in English by a group of Spanish-English bilinguals (SEB) in comparison with native English speakers (NES), taking into account variables such as length of residency in the L2 environment, type of refusals and level of politeness. Other variables explored included speed of lexical access and working memory. SEB who learned English as adults were divided into two groups (short, long) according to their length of residency in an English language environment. All participants performed a Pragmatic Listening Task (PLT) and an oral production task both involving four types of refusals at three levels of politeness, as well as tasks related to working memory and speed of lexical access, and completed a language contact survey. Results showed that across groups the easiest types of refusal to comprehend were direct refusals, and indirect refusals with upgraders, followed by indirect refusals with downgraders, in turn followed by implicatures. SEB of both lengths of residency did not differ from NES in the comprehension of direct refusals and indirect refusals with upgraders, but SEB with short residencies had poorer comprehension than the NES on indirect refusals with downgraders and implicatures. Politeness systems affected comprehension of indirect refusals with downgraders and implicatures. NES were faster than both SEB groups across all refusal types, and direct refusals were comprehended faster than indirect refusals with downgraders, which in turn were comprehended faster than implicatures; indirect refusals with upgraders were also comprehended faster than implicatures. Production showed all groups mostly produced direct refusals. In addition, the SEB used indirect refusals with downgraders more frequently than the NES. In terms of cognition, NES were faster in lexical access and had better working memory than both SEB groups. For SEB with shorter residency, the faster their lexical access speed, the better their comprehension of indirect refusals with upgraders and implicatures and the higher their working memory, the better their comprehension of indirect refusals with upgraders. Thus, L2 learners are eventually able to master the pragmatics of refusals, but initially struggle with the more difficult types.



Committee Chair

McDonald, Janet