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Responses to Apologies in English: A Corpus-Based Study

Apologies and their responses are an important part of maintaining relationships. However, it is often difficult to know how to respond to apologies, and while there is research on the concept of forgiveness and emotional responses to apologies, there has been little research on the expressions and strategies that English speakers use to respond to apologies.

In this paper, we begin by looking at previous research on responding to apologies and then at issues related to gathering data in order to study speech acts. In our study, we analyzed the responses to 320 apologies which had been identified as part of a previous study (Kitao and Kitao, 2013). These apologies came from a corpus made up of dialogue from 72 episodes from the US situation comedy Modern Family (Levitan and Lloyd, 2009). We developed a typology for the responses which has nine categories: no response, minimizing the offense (denying the need for an apology, denying the fault of the interlocutor, minimizing the offense, explaining why the offender committed the offense, and so on), focusing on the offense (emphasizing, explaining, or agreeing with the seriousness of the offense; suggesting that the interlocutor does not understand the offense, or criticizing the offender), response to the justification/explanation/question (i.e., responding to something about the explanation rather than to either the apology or the offense itself), asking for clarification (in order to clarify what the offender is apologizing for or something about the situation), reciprocating the apology (apologizing in return, either because the interlocutor feels partially responsible for the offense or for a related offense), vocalization (expressions like “Mm-hmm,” “Mmm,” and “Yeah”), expression of disbelief (questioning the sincerity of the apology), and other (denial of responsibility in response to self-justification, rejecting the apology, asking for time to get over the offense, and finishing the offender’s thought). We discussed how the responses in different categories are used and analyzed the circumstances in which they are used by using examples from the corpus.

Kitao, S.K., and Kitao, K. (2013). Apologies, apology strategies, and apology forms for non-apologies in a spoken corpus. Journal of Culture and Information Science, 8(2), 1-13.
Levitan, S., & Lloyd, C. (2009). Modern Family [Television Series]. Hollywood: American Broadcasting Company.

Author(s):

S. Kathleen Kitao    
English Department
Doshisha Women's College
Japan

S. Kathleen Kitao is a professor at Doshisha Women's College in Kyoto, Japan. She has co-authored numerous English language textbooks and collections of papers. Her research interests include lingustics pragmatics and interpersonal communication.

Kenji Kitao    
Doshisha University
Japan

Kenji Kitao is a professor at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan. He has co-authored numerous English language textbooks and collections of papers. His research interests include corpus linguistics and lingusitic pragmatics.

 

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