Speech act of refusal (eng) - ISS HUFS Korea 2012

SUMMER SCHOOL 2012 cross cultural communication HUFS - Séoul, Korea


The purpose of this investigation is to identify the differences in the speech act of refusals between Korean and French, and then tries to compare and analyze the results. For this study, 5 female french students and 5 female koreans student were asked to respond at the same four questions, and 3 professors, one italian, one French and one Korean were asked one question. The questions of the DCT was developed into two versions : a korean mixing with some English for the Koreans, and a French version for the French native speaker group. And then a translation of the answers into english for the three groups has been made. The degree of imposition was chosen regarding the French and the Korean culture, some of the questions were purposely made to be difficult in a French point of view, some of them were hard for the Koreans, and the comparison between what seemed hard for Korean or for French is also relevant.



Analyze of the collected data.


First, in a global perspective, we can say that the speeches act of refusal the more commonly used by the French are : non-performative, direct style, then alternative, regrets and setting condition. For the Koreans, however, it is the statement of regret that is the most used, followed by the proposal of an alternative or future acceptance.


When we pick in the data, we can see that it shows different and specific aspects of each culture. First, it appears clearly that the French do not bother with polite forms when they are in a close relationship. My 5 cases used humor and complicity to remove the discomfort or embarrassment associated with the request. I have also noticed that for my five situations, the French answered questions to questions. They do not feel obliged to respond right away. For the close, and not so close relationships, a lot of them set conditions, meaning they want to have an impression of power and free-will. They appears to refuse to do favors, it makes them uncomfortable. We can explain that by the fact that in France, services are not a common thing like in Korea. We can also see that the word “no” is often used, when the Koreans avoid to say it. "No" has not the same meaning between different cultures, a French "no" doesn't imply an aggression or a huge deny, it's a common way to respond clearly and frankly to a question. Plus, not saying "no" or "yes" for the French seems to show that you are hesitant or you don't know what to answer. Hesitation or half responses seem to be proscribed. The Koreans prefers alternative or promise of future acceptance to non-performative sentences. Nothing is frozen, the situation can evolve. The French avoid alternatives, or only if it can help them, while the Koreans are still trying to find some sort of solution or compromise. When it comes to hierarchical relations, the French shows gratitude as the Koreans, but unlike them, they don't apologize. The Koreans confronted to a hierarchical situation, in a lower position, will first questioning their own abilities: "I'm not confident in doing it, I'm not ready yet", while the French just explain the reason for their refusal. When they do apology, it's in a positive way to belittle the refusal act. The statement of regrets, often used by Koreans, is not about regret itself but more about politeness. It's quickly said, as a formula. Even the Korean teacher expressed regrets when the European stated their opinion and alternative. Finally, the hierarchical situation between someone in an upper grade or a lower one is not really relevant for French people. The words explaining this phenomena doesn't even exist in the French vocabulary, while in Korea it's impregnated in the grammar itself. It can be partly explain by the Confucianism philosophy still present in the Korean way of living. Politeness, hierarchical situations, ageism are all linked to this ethical system, and the speech formulas of Koreans results of this scheme.




This research shows some deep cultural differences between Korean and French people in their way of refusing something. It was really interesting to record them to see the different orientations of the conversation, also present in the tone of the voice. As a French student learning Korean, I was really sensitive to the cultural divergences showed in the DCT, and I learnt a lot about the semantic aspect of the subject.









Non performative


Regret/set conditions




Future acceptance

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