Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Applied Linguistics

First Advisor

Cheng, Dongmei


This study investigated how American and Saudi students realize the English speech act of refusal in an ESL setting. It presented cross-cultural comparisons of the performance of American native speakers of English as well as ESL Saudi speakers. The study examined how culture affected the realization of refusal and the direct and indirect strategies associated with refusals. It also aimed to investigate whether gender influenced refusals and related strategies. Four groups of participants were involved in this study: 15 American men, 35 American women, 24 Saudi men, and 15 Saudi women. The data were collected by using open-ended role-playing scenarios which consisted of four scenarios: two requests and two invitations. The collected data were analyzed through chi-square tests. The results revealed cultural differences between Saudis and Americans in the first role-playing scenario, which was about lending money to an American classmate. Compared to Americans, who refused lending money by using combined methods (i.e. direct and indirect), many Saudi participants could not refuse the request, which could have been due to their cultural background and pragmatic transfer from their L1. The other three situations (helping with homework, joining a house party, and watching a scary movie) revealed no significant differences between the groups. The most common indirect refusal strategies were explanation and regret in all four scenarios. Other strategies were used in the other three scenarios (request for help with homework, invitation to join a house party, and invitation to watch a scary movie) with high frequencies. For example, explanation and statement of alternative were the most common ones in helping with homework. Regarding the two invitation scenarios, the most common refusal strategies used among both cultural and gender groups were explanation, regret, alternative, and gratitude. The other refusal strategies were used but with different frequencies: they were not as common and showed no significant differences among the groups. This lack of significant differences might have occurred because the Saudi participants had a high level of English proficiency that allowed them to express their refusals in a similar way to how the Americans did. This similarity could also be due to the Saudi participants have adopted certain English-speaking cultural customs via globalization. Regarding gender differences, all scenarios failed to show significant differences among any of the groups, which could be due to globalization and growing equality between men and women.




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