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Title: Crossing barriers : the influence of linguistic and cultural background on [I + verb] belief constructions in expressions of opinion
Author: Zhao, Lucy
ISNI:       0000 0004 6498 650X
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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How does cultural and linguistic background influence communication style? This topic is examined through the [I + verb] belief construct before the expression of an opinion. Since opinions carry inherent notions of speaker belief, these constructions may at first appear superfluous. However, [I + verb] forms may actually fulfill various pragmatic functions depending on prosodic variation. Unfortunately, there is little congruent data on universality vs. cross-linguistic variability of pragmatic-prosodic mappings (prosodic variation as a cue to pragmatic interpretation) of [I + verb] belief constructs before an opinion. Thus, a Proof of Concept perception test was first implemented, followed by a production task investigating the effect of sociolinguistic background on a speaker's frequency of usage for various [I + verb] forms in expressing opinions, and how this relates to perceived speaker confidence. Usage of various forms and functions of this construct was analyzed and compared between native Mandarin (CHI) and English (US) speakers, as well as EFL Mandarin speakers. The Proof of Concept task supported hypotheses overall, suggesting a possible universal pragmatic-prosodic mapping for [I + verb]. In addition, while as predicted sociolinguistic background did not have a significant effect on universality of pragmatic-prosodic mapping in terms of confidence rating, it did have an observable effect on semantic interpretation of 'speaker confidence', thus indicating that sociolinguistic background may play a role in influencing these interpretations. Results from the production task supported predictions that frequency of functional [I + verb] usage corresponded to culturally specific attitudes of each culture. Based on confidence rating calculations for each [I + verb] variation from pragmatic-prosodic mapping of the perception task, it was determined that Native US individuals were most confident in expressing self-opinions but least confident in expressing opinions of others whilst Native CHI individuals were most confident in expressing opinions of others and least confident in expressing self-opinion, with the EFL group in the US more closely mirroring the Native US group and the EFL group in China more closely mirroring the Native CHI group. Additionally, going against theories of previous research, Time immersed in a new L2 environment and L2 proficiency did not significantly influence performance. Through investigating pragmatic-prosodic mappings of [I + verb] forms vs. functions, this study aimed to demonstrate the bi-directional link between language, thought and culture. By understanding and familiarizing oneself with the root of pragmatic differences, there is hope to better understand the cause of cross-cultural miscommunications between native and foreign speakers in conversation and to minimize any such discrepancies in pragmatic knowledge and sociocultural norms.
Supervisor: Murphy, Victoria Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: cross-cultural pragmatics ; pragmatics-prosody interface ; prominence ; expression of opinion ; negative appraisal ; speaker confidence ; alternative semantics