“Mum, Sister Hit Me”: Interlanguage Complaint Strategies of Cantonese Learners of English from Childhood to Their Teens *
The act of complaining takes place in home and institutional settings in many forms every day. However, it is an under-represented speech act compared with the wealth of studies on other speech acts such as requesting, apologising, refusing and responding to compliments. The recent studies on complaint making have concentrated on the discussion about the nature of the act, identification of its communicative features and interlanguage or cross-cultural comparison among adult speakers or second language learners at different proficiency levels. Very little is known about the strategy preferences and realisation patterns of the act made by young and teenage second language learners. This study attempts to provide a fuller picture of how a complaint is realised in an oral-production task by learners of English from childhood to their teens. Based on the transcribed spoken discourse of 176 and 156 young and teenage Cantonese learners of English in Hong Kong primary and secondary schools, it was found that their complaints were moderate in terms of directness and severity. There was a significant decreasing use of direct strategies but a growing sociopragmatic awareness and flexibility in the use of a direct single strategy towards less direct combined strategies according to age and level of study. Pragmalinguistically, the learners used a similar range of intensifiers and softeners. The teenage groups are, however, better at increasing or mitigating the force of the act through the use of supportive moves, descriptions and requesting. The study has demonstrated some evidence for the interlanguage pragmatic development of Cantonese learners of English in the act of complaining.