An exploratory study of expressing disagreement in ELF academic group discussion

Toomaneejinda, Anuchit (2018) An exploratory study of expressing disagreement in ELF academic group discussion. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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In many academic contexts in the United Kingdom, group work is an important site of English as a lingua franca (ELF) communication. Group work can involve challenging pragmatic acts, and chief among these is, arguably, disagreement. The need to disagree amicably is important for two reasons: (1) to achieve consensus on group tasks, and (2) to negotiate meaning around academic topics. There is, however, little known about how disagreement is realised in ELF academic group discussion tasks. The purpose of this thesis was to investigate the disagreement realisation of MA students from highly diverse linguacultural backgrounds interacting in academic group discussion. Specifically, the study aimed, firstly, to uncover the disagreeing practices of participants who were using English as a common means of communication; and secondly, to discover and explicate the factors which influence those practices. This study addressed these issues using a multi-method approach. Twelve students from ten different linguacultural backgrounds completed two discussion tasks (one targeting opinions, and the other consensus decision-making) and responded to follow-up questionnaires. The same students also took part in stimulated recall interviews (using the video-recording of each group discussion and self-completed questionnaires as stimuli). Discourse analysis of the transcribed interactions revealed that they carefully select the appropriate and amicable way to express themselves in general and their differing ideas in particular and that disagreement in this context is multifarious. That is, the ELF participants employed a wide range of complex verbal and nonverbal strategies in realising disagreement and their disagreement is complicatedly managed. In particular, they appear to tend towards less explicit disagreeing practices such as the use of non-performative or pragmatic disagreement and other mitigating devices, ranging from sound/word and discourse levels to complex turn management. This is because the practices allow them both to achieve the tasks at hand and at the same time to maintain amicable interaction. The stimulated recall data shows that their disagreement practices were influenced by both internal/prior and external/immediate factors (self-, others- and situation-oriented factors). What the participants bring with them to the group discussion—personality traits, beliefs, linguistic proficiency, cultural backgrounds, knowledge or experience on the topic, interactional goals—all exert a powerful influence on the way disagreement is realised. In addition, their perceptions of their interlocutors’ cultural backgrounds, personal traits and their concerns about their interlocutors’ feelings as well as the immediate context in which the group discussion is taking place and what is emerging during the interaction all result in certain forms of disagreeing. The participants’ attentiveness, flexibility and adaptability confirm the fact that ELF speakers are highly aware of diversity and possible clashes of interactional norms and expectations. They appear to enthusiastically anticipate, or even pre-empt, those challenges and they manage their language use accordingly. It also reveals that there were many different kinds of linguistic work underlying the disagreeing forms realised on the surface. The convergence of findings indicates that what makes these group discussion sessions unique is that the participants from highly diverse linguacultural backgrounds clearly exhibit intercultural awareness. They are aware of, sensitive to, and even respectful for, cultural differences and, particularly in academic group discussion, they are evidently flexible and adaptable to the group dynamic. Also, the participants appear to aptly and subtly use both linguistic and non-linguistic resources to manage and achieve their communicative goals. In these ways the data support the view in the literature. However, given the fact that disagreement is contextually and functionally preferred in the present study and that the participants tend towards less explicit disagreeing, this challenges the existing notion that ELF interactions are inherently explicit, supportive and agreement-oriented.

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Thesis (PhD)
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04 Sep 2018 09:32
Last Modified:
27 Aug 2020 06:22