Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 8 : 5 May 2008
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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The Role of Transfer in Thanking and Apologizing in English: A Study on ESL Speakers of Hindustani

Kausar Husain, Ph.D.
Rizwana Wahid, Ph.D. Candidate


Thanking and apologizing are two of the most commonly used speech acts and have the element of indebtedness as their common feature. A small scale study comprising 30 ESL undergraduate students of A.M.U. was conducted to examine the role of L1 transfer on the performance of these two speech acts. The results revealed that Hindi/Urdu speaking ESL students do not face any serious problems in expressing their thanks and apologies in English. Whatever problems they face, mostly lie in their lack of adequate command on L2 vocabulary and structures.


Performing speech acts appropriately and correctly is an important aspect of one's communicative ability and the teaching of speech acts to students should consequently be considered important in contemporary ESL pedagogy. Thanking and apologizing have one thing in common: the sense of indebtedness; and they are two most frequently used speech acts in social interaction. A number of contrastive studies have been conducted on these two speech acts. Since the existence of socio-cultural transfer in the performance of speech acts has been proved by previous research, a study was conducted to examine the role of transfer in the two speech acts of thanking and apologizing performed by Indian ESL students with a Hindi/Urdu L1 background.

Different studies have been reported on the use of thanking by Japanese students who associate thanking with a feeling of guilt as well as indebtedness, and produce expressions such as, "Sorry for your kindness." Some studies conducted on the thanking speech act by Japanese students are by Coulmas (1981), Eisenstein & Bodman (1995), Ide (1998) and Miyake (1994).

Contrastive research on apologies on ESL learners of Japan and other speech communities was conducted by Olshtain & Blum-Kulka (1985), Holmes (1990), Kumagai (1993) and Maeshiba, Yoshinaga, Kasper & Ross (1996). All these studies indicate the existence of transfer from the L1 socio-cultural and socio-linguistic background and highlight the need for specific focus on the teaching of these speech acts. There is a need to understand the use of these important speech acts by Indian ESL learners too, since none of the above-mentioned studies were conducted on Indian speakers. The present paper reports a humble attempt in this direction: a small scale study conducted on the undergraduate students of A.M.U., examining the role of transfer on the speech acts of thanking and apologizing.

Aim of the study

Investigating the role of transfer in the speech acts of thanking and apologizing performed by Indian ESL learners with a Hindi/Urdu linguistic background through a quantitative case study, the study attempted to find answers to the following questions:

  1. Does transfer have a role in the speech acts of thanking and apologizing by ESL speakers of Hindustani?
  2. If transfer does have a role, what are its positive and negative effects on the performance of ESL learners?
  3. Should speech acts be made the focus of teaching in ESL pedagogy?


The subjects were 30 undergraduate ESL students of A.M.U. coming from different streams such as science, arts, commerce and computer science, and belonged to the age group of 17-21. Their mother tongue was either Hindi or Urdu, which is regarded here as a single language named Hindustani.


For collecting the data, the students were required to produce appropriate thanks and apologies in two formal situations and two informal situations, both in writing and in speech. While the written task on each speech act consisted of four questions to be answered in writing in the given sheets; the spoken task was in the form of an interview in which the students were asked to respond orally to the four situational questions with respect to the two speech acts of thanking and apologizing.


For collecting data on the written task, undergraduate students from the classes of different disciplines were engaged. The sheets containing the questions were distributed to the students after some introductory remarks in which a brief explanation was given about the nature of the task at hand. The students were asked to write their responses in the given sheets.

For the spoken task, undergraduate students were interviewed and asked the predetermined questions on thanks and apologies. These interviews were audio-taped and later transcribed for analysis.

Classification of thanks

The theoretical background used here is derived mainly (with slight adaptations) from Eisenstein & Bodman (1986) who have attempted to classify thanks in terms of the various strategies used in thanking. An additional strategy type 'expressing obligation' has been added to the list. These strategies have been listed below which manifest themselves usually in expressions preceding on following the thanks proper:

  1. Complimenting/expressing appreciation for the benefactor or the favour/gift
  2. Thanks a lot. You are wonderful!
    Thank you so much. It's really the thing I wanted.
  3. Expressing obligation
  4. I am really grateful for what you have done for me. Thanks a lot.
  5. Expressing a lack of necessity
  6. Thanks a lot, but you took unnecessary trouble for me.
  7. Promising to repay
  8. I don't have words to thank you. I will pay you back as soon as I can.
  9. Expressing surprise and delight
  10. Wow! Wonderful! Thanks a lot!
  11. Exaggerating
  12. I really appreciate this. You're a lifesaver.
  13. Expressing affection
  14. Thank you so much, dear. I don't know what I would've done without you.

Analysis and discussion of thanks

The analysis of the data was done on the basis of the above-mentioned seven strategies. In order to compare and contrast the differences between thanking in the students' L1 and L2, two separate lists of possible L2 thanking forms and L1 thanking forms have been provided in the Appendix. While quoting students' responses to the questions, all their errors have been retained. The questions given to the students on the speech act of thanking were the following:

I. Interviews

A. Informal situations

How will you say thanks -
1. to a friend for lending you money for paying your fees?
2. to your parents on phone who sent you money for the college tour?

B. Formal situations

How will you say thanks -
1. to your teacher for his/her guidance in your studies?
2. to a stranger for saving you from an accident?

II. Written task

A. Informal situations

How would you express your thanks in writing -
1. to a friend for a book which he/she lent you, and which has changed your life?
2. to your neighbour who looked after your mother in your absence?

B. Formal situations

How would you express your thanks in writing -
1. to your teacher for his/her guidance in your studies?
2. to your provost for fee concession?


Language and Literacy Learning in the Accelerated Programme for Reading in Bangalore | Patterns of Language Choice in the Domain of Office Among the Malaysian University Undergraduates | The Role of Transfer in Thanking and Apologizing in English: A Study on ESL Speakers of Hindustani | Sanskrit and Prakrit as National Link Languages -
A Balanced Assessment
| Measuring the Achievements of English Language Learners: A Study of the Learners of Punjab in Pakistan at the Secondary Level | A Proposal for Standardization of English to Bangla Transliteration and Bangla Universal Editor | LANGUAGE AND POWER IN COMMUNICATION | HOME PAGE of May 2008 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR

Kausar Husain, Ph.D.
Department of English
Aligarh Muslim University

Rizwana Wahid, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of English
Aligarh Muslim University

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