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Japanese Speakers’ Apologies in English: A Study Based on a Spoken Corpus

Demeter (2012) demonstrated how spoken corpora could be used to study speech acts when most examples could be found by searching for keywords. He did a study of apologies using two spoken corpora and found that there were types of apologies that were not included in previously developed typologies of apologies. We have done additional studies on English-speakers’ apologies and responses to apologies (Kitao, 2012; Kitao & Kitao, 2013; Kitao & Kitao, in press) using a corpus developed from the subtitles of a US situation comedy.

One purpose of studying a speech act is to provide a description of how that speech act is realized for the purpose of teaching it to non-native speakers. For that purpose, it is also useful to know how non-native speakers realize that speech act, in order to look at what they can do and what they might still need to learn.

In this paper, we have used The Corpus of Learner English (CLE) (Izumi, Uchimoto, & Isahara, 2004), a corpus made up of transcripts of 1281 15- to 20-minute oral interviews with Japanese speakers of English for the Standard Speaking Test (SST). The test includes a warm-up chat on general topics, three tasks (a picture description, a role play and a storytelling task, each with follow-up questions), and another informal chat. Using this corpus, we did lemmatized searches for five words: sorry, pardon, excuse, forgive, and apologize. Using the results of these searches, we classified the apology strategies based on the typology developed by Cohen and Olshtain (1981) and revised by Hitomi Abe (personal communication, March 5, 2012) and Kitao (2012). We looked at how they were combined and also looked at apology strategies used for speech acts other than apologies, categorizing them according to the speech act they represented. Considering these results, we discussed how the teaching of apologies might be improved in English language materials and classes.

Cohen, A. D., and Olshtain, E. (1981). Developing a measure of sociocultural competence: The case of apology. Language Learning, 31, 113-134.
Demeter, G. (2012). Co-constructed and negotiated apologies: Contributions of corpus linguistics to the study of speech acts. Paper presented at the First Asia Pacific Corpus Linguistics Conference, Auckland, New Zealand, February 14-19.
Izumi, E., Uchimoto, K., and Isahara, H. (2004). SST speech corpus of Japanese learners’ English and automatic detection of learners’ errors. ICAME Journal, 28, 31-48.
Kitao, S. K. (2012). Using a spoken corpus compiled from subtitles to study apologies. Asphodel, 47, 50-77.
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.
Kitao, S.K., and Kitao, K. (in press). A corpus-based study of responses to apologies in US English. Journal of Culture and Information Science, 9(2), 1-13.


S. Kathleen Kitao    
English Department
Doshisha Women's College

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

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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