Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts




This Chinese-American cross-cultural comparative study on the speech act of complaining aimed to answer the call for the need of a study in the following areas: American-Chinese interlanguage pragmatics, the development of (advanced) L2 learners' pragmatic competence and one of the least studied speech acts--complaining. In this study, a Discourse Completion Task (DCT) form was used to elicit complaints in 8 hypothetical situations from 94 subjects--32 Chinese longer-term residents with an average length of 3.2 years' residence in the U.S., 30 Chinese short-term residents who had stayed in the U.S. for an average of 0.5 year, and 32 Americans. There were four types of hearers in these 8 situations: a professor, a classmate, a service person and a neighbor. A Chi-squared test was used to analyze the data of the complaints. Furthermore, a self-reported questionnaire was given to all the Chinese subjects to get information on their perception, acquisition and pragmatic development of complaining. A complaint was broken into 6 semantic components-Opener, Orientation, Justification, Remedy, Act Statement and Closing. Remedy and Act Statement are considered two key components.;Investigation was done on the patterns of the complaints, the level of the directness in the complaints, the social and situational variations, and cultural influences. The findings showed significant differences between Chinese and Americans' complaints in terms of the use of semantic components, level of directness, and opting out choices and reasons. It was found that Chinese language and culture had influenced Chinese ESL learners' complaints. Further, social distance and situational variations influenced both Chinese and Americans' performance of complaining. However, a lot of similarities also were found between Chinese and American subjects, which indicated that both Chinese longer-term residents and shorter-term residents had produced somewhat native-like complaints. These findings will shed light on course and textbook development, and class instruction in English and Chinese as a foreign/second language. This study also provides implications for further research in interlanguage pragmatics.



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

De Zhang



OCLC Number


File Format


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114 pages