Refusal Speech Act Response: Differences between South Koreans and North Korean Refugees in Inducing Speech Acts and Directness

Haiyoung Lee, Bolami Lee, Hee Chung Chun


The majority of previous studies on North Korean Refugees (NKRs) focused on the linguistic heterogeneity of pronunciation and vocabulary use. Only a handful of studies examined differences between South Koreans’ (SKs) and NKRs’ language use and they concluded that NKRs prefer direct refusal speech acts rather than indirect ones. However, we hypothesized that NKRs’ preference on direct refusal speech acts would vary depending on the types of inducing speech acts; speech acts that induces refusal expressions. 47 SKs and 43 NKRs answered three questions after watching video clips of short conversation in refusal situations. The results were statistically analyzed with independent sample t-tests and multi response analyses, revealing that NKRs preference on direct refusal speech acts varied depending on the types of inducing speech act. In addition, multi response analyses indicated that the NKRs and SKs evaluated the same rejecter’s personality differently and that this difference may result in miscommunication. Lastly, NKRs’ evaluations on the refusal speech acts did not change over time, as NKRs who stayed less than a year in South Korea and those who stayed more than five years did not show significant difference in their evaluation. This result suggests that explicit education on this may be required. Additionally, it is worth to note that current research confirms that SKs and NKRs react differently toward expressions used only in North Korea, and, therefore, not only the refusal strategy, but also the refusal expression itself are both important for successful communication. Additionally, the results showed that refusing with non-avoidable and non-personal reasons were perceived more positively than personal reasons. These findings suggest that for successful communication to happen between two groups with different linguistic backgrounds, pragmatic awareness in language use is helpful.



language Use; Refusal Speech Act; Inducing Speech Act; directness; North Korean Refugees

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