‘Saying Sorry’: Pragmatics and the use of Positioning Theory in a Study of Apology Behaviour of Saudi and Australian Women

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AL Ali, Shatha Ahmed S (2018) ‘Saying Sorry’: Pragmatics and the use of Positioning Theory in a Study of Apology Behaviour of Saudi and Australian Women. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


The act of expressing an apology is an essential part of interpersonal interaction: the need for an apology arises when everyday interaction results in a behavioural and communication breakdown. Pragmatic knowledge and competence aids in facilitating effective and smooth negotiation and repair of meaning as the need arises. Apology acts vary across cultures; different cultures influence apology differently. My research investigates the distinctive differences between how Saudi and Australian women position themselves in performing the act of apologising in two distinctly different national cultural settings, Australia and Saudi Arabia. This research contributes to an understanding of how culture and power impact on saying sorry. My thesis is about social and cultural factors that influence the activity of saying sorry. Applying the lens of positioning theory as expounded by Rom Harré and Luk Van Langenhove (Harré & Van Langenhove, 2001), I adopt a new conceptual and methodological perspective in investigating both the ‘saying sorry’ positionings employed by participating Saudi and Australian women and the contexts in which these positionings occurred. My perspective is designed to provide new insights into the pragmatics of saying sorry that are not accessible through the widely utilised, but constrictive approach of using Discourse Completion tasks and role plays that are so heavily adopted in linguistic cross-cultural and intercultural pragmatics research. Data collection involved the recruitment of six Saudi women (three living in Saudi and three living in Australia) and six Australian women (three living in Australia and three in Saudi) – a total of 12 participants. Each participant engaged in an intensive semi-structured interview to capture their narratives and gain understandings their positionings in saying sorry. The results of the analysis demonstrate that the Saudi and Australian women have both similarities with and differences from each other regarding ‘saying sorry’ contexts and positions. The results also reveal the influence of cultural variability and values, and of women’s power in influencing their choice of contexts and positions. Overall, culture played a major role in influencing the two groups’ behaviours in the act of apology in both contexts, Saudi and Australia. A key finding is a noticeable variation in the apology positionings within the same cultural group, indicating that individual variation occurs between participants from similar gender and cultural backgrounds. As a result of the research, a new model is presented that brings together the sociocultural elements that have emerged as a result of the analysis. I have identified some New Socio-cultural positionings, that are related to, but which expand on and are distinctive from the original Harré positionings associated with speech acts, storylines and positions taken. The new positionings are connected to the pragmatics associated with speech acts involved in conversations and talks that are related to the society and culture of both Saudi and Australian women. As there has been no previous research investigation of apology behaviour comparing Saudi and Australian women through the lens of positioning theory, this study marks an initial step in filling a gap in the Saudi-Australian literature relating to cross-cultural and intercultural pragmatics.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/37820
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 2002 Cultural Studies
Current > Division/Research > College of Arts and Education
Keywords linguistics; pragmatics; interlanguage; speech acts; apology; cross-cultural pragmatics; positioning theory
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