‘I will not put this request at the very beginning’

Chinese EFL students’ perception of pragmatic (in)felicity in English email requests


  • Qun Zheng University of Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • Ying Xu University of Chinese Academy of Sciences




Request, Perception, Sociopragmatic, Appropriateness, Politeness


Pragmatic (in)felicity in requests refers to the (in)appropriateness and (im)politeness of one's language use. It has been a great challenge to L2 learners, as they are likely to compose grammatically correct but pragmatically infelicitous requests. Such infelicity could be associated with pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic factors, yet whether L2 learners are aware of those factors has been underexplored. To understand the effects of power, imposition, and modifications on email perception, we designed a matched guise test for 224 Chinese L2 learners, who were instructed to rate from 1 (very inappropriate/impolite) to 5 (very appropriate/polite) on four email requests (Power±; Imposition±). We found that (1) learners are highly aware of pragmalinguistic factors because they perceive requests mitigated by internal and external modifications as more appropriate and polite (p < .05), (2) learners have limited awareness of power difference as they rank direct form as inappropriate in peer-to-peer interaction, and (3) learners cannot realise fully the sociopragmatic factors involved in high-imposition situations. The awareness of pragmatic (in)felicity among learners seems to be underdeveloped as regards degree of power and imposition. The findings could have some implications in language pedagogy.

Author Biographies

Qun Zheng, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences

Qun Zheng is Professor of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics in the Foreign Languages Department at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS). She has a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of the West of England (Bristol, UK), where her research focused on sociopragmatic variation of discourse markers and corpus linguistics. Her monograph A Sociopragmatic Study of Discourse Markers was published in 2016 by the World Publishing Corporation in China. She has published articles on discourse analysis, pragmatics, and corpus linguistics.

Ying Xu, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences

Ying Xu is an MA candidate in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics in the Foreign Languages Department at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS). Her research interest is pragmatics and language instruction.


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How to Cite

Zheng, Q., & Xu, Y. (2019). ‘I will not put this request at the very beginning’: Chinese EFL students’ perception of pragmatic (in)felicity in English email requests. East Asian Pragmatics, 4(1), 37–58. https://doi.org/10.1558/eap.38210