Student-Faculty Emails: An Examination of Politeness in Bahraini College Students’ Requestive Emails

Ali, Afrah (2023) Student-Faculty Emails: An Examination of Politeness in Bahraini College Students’ Requestive Emails. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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Despite the plethora of communication platforms that have been introduced in academia and in the commercial world, email has remained a constant in many higher education institutions. Student-tutor email interaction has become a subject of interest in politeness research and intercultural pragmatics. Email that includes a form of request (requestive email) is the most common email type sent by college students to their tutors. If written well, it can help students develop and maintain positive social relations with their tutors. However, writing a message that complies with the recipient’s expectations and notions of politeness can be challenging for students and sometimes cause annoyance and frustration for faculty, especially in ESL contexts (cf. Lewis-Jones & Mason, 2014; Savić, 2018). Perceptions of email politeness and the linguistic means students use to make email requests need to be investigated and addressed to avoid student and tutor dissatisfaction which results from unfulfiled expectations. The purpose of this project is twofold. First, it investigates the linguistic features that characterize requestive emails written by Bahraini undergraduate students and how they contribute to email politeness. Second, it explores Bahraini undergraduates’ perceptions of email politeness together with their awareness of the features that could affect the success of email communication in English. This is then contrasted with their tutors’ perceptions of what makes a polite student-email message. Thus, the project’s two main research questions are: 1) What are the characteristics of requestive emails produced by Bahraini undergraduate students? and 2) What perceptions do Bahraini undergraduate students and their tutors have of politeness in academic email communication? Additionally, the influence of academic seniority on students’ language use in requestive emails and also on their perceptions of such emails is investigated. To study the linguistic features, 166 requestive emails written to the researcher by her students over the course of three academic years (2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17) were grouped and anonymized. They were analysed quantitatively as well as qualitatively where appropriate. Perceptions of student-faculty email politeness were elicited using questionnaires and semi-structured focus-group discussions which involved current students and tutors in Bahrain Teachers College. The selection of the questionnaire’s design, and the analysis of the data draw on previous studies on the organization of email discourse (Kankaanranta, 2005; Bou-Franch, 2011), and the speech act of request coding manual (Blum-Kulka, House, & Kasper, 1989) in addition to request types in the academic context (Félix-Brasdefer, 2012). This research views ‘first-order’ (folk notions and perceptions of what constitutes polite behaviour) and ‘second-order’ (scholarly conceptualizations formulated for research purposes) notions of politeness (Watts, Ide, & Ehlich, 1992) as complementary. This position has been termed ‘neo-Brown and Levinson’ approach (Holmes et al., 2012, p.1064). The generated quantitative and qualitative data are analysed through the lens of this approach. The major results of the email analysis study share some similarities with previous ESL/EFL student email studies, such as the preference for using direct request strategies, and lack of syntactic modifiers. Some of the findings, however, suggest a link between academic seniority and effective use of some email elements, such as the use of subject lines and use of internal modifiers. As for the email perception study, the main findings reveal that tutors do not appreciate absent or off-topic subject lines, and emails with no closings. A student requestive email which opens with a greeting expression followed by some form of preparation or grounding for the request is looked upon favourably by tutors. Additionally, it seems that informants’ perceptions of emails’ imposition level are linked to the situational context of the email rather than its request type. The tutors’ perceptions of the imposition level in requestive emails are different from the students’ perceptions. It seems that tutor’s perceptions of requestive emails are colored by how they view their roles in the college. Moreover, the findings showed a positive correlation between perceptions of email formality and email overall politeness. However, elements of informality in a student email will not necessarily lead to a negative perception of its politeness. This research, being the first of its kind in Bahrain, should serve as a good basis for future local and regional studies. Whether researching email perceptions or analysing the linguistic features of email, this research has shown that it is important to take both the situational and the linguistic contexts into account, instead of researching email elements in isolation. Pedagogically, it is vital that tutors communicate their email communication rules and expectations. Email writing in ESL/EFL curriculums and textbooks should be taught with a focus on developing students’ sociopragmatic knowledge, and not just their pragmalinguistic knowledge.

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19 Jun 2023 09:15
Last Modified:
12 Sep 2023 00:57