spaceCenter for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)

Abstracted Articles on Japanese Requests


Baba, T. & Lian, L. C. (1992). Differences between the Chinese and Japanese request expressions. Journal of Hokkaido University of Education, 42 (1), 57-66.

This is a contrastive analysis of Chinese and Japanese performance of requests. The author gives some examples of downgraders in both languages and upgraders in Chinese. With regard to the politeness strategies, Japanese has some linguistic features that do not exist in Chinese (e.g., the perspective difference (kureru  vs. morau), politeness/formality level markers, sentence final particles, and gendered particles), while Chinese often depends on lexical choices such as certain terms of address. In both languages, the choice request forms were usually influenced by closeness between the interlocutors. While the status difference seemed to override age difference in Japanese in determining the politeness level, the opposite was the case with Chinese interactions.

Hayashi, A. (2000). Kaiwa hattenno kouzouto syuufukuno sutorateji: Nichi dokugo taishono shitenkara mitairai” to “kotowarini okeru intarakusyon [Conversational structures and strategies for remedial work: Interaction of “requests” and “refusals” from contrastive analysis of Japanese and German]. Bulletin of Tokyo Gakugei University Section II Humanities, 51, 81-94.

This paper compares a request-refusal interaction in German and Japanese role-played by 34 native Japanese speakers and 26 native German speakers in terms of 1) the request-refusal adjacency pair, 2) response strategies to refusals, and 3) explanation of reasons and hearer’s understanding. Some of the differences between the two languages are: 1) In Japanese, the refuser often used backchanneling and hedging expressions, which prepared the requester for the upcoming refusal.  This tendency did not exist in German, where there were twice as many refusal expressions found in the interactions than in Japanese.  2) Japanese speakers sometimes expressed empathy for the requester before actually refusing.  3) In German, the requester suggests an alternative repeatedly and if each alternative is rejected and the requester explains the reasons.  4) In German, accepting the legitimacy of the reasons implies compliance with the request, while in Japanese, showing understanding for the reasons can be a stage before a refusal.

Iwai, C. & Rinnert, C. (2001). Cross-cultural comparison of strategic realization of pragmatic competence: Implications for learning world Englishes. Hiroshima Journal of International Studies 7. 157-181.

The study reports on the realization of requests and apologies using DCTs among four groups -- ESL/EFL respondents in Hong Kong (44), EFL respondents from Japan (100), ESL respondents from Singapore (71), and NSs from the US (100).  There were 13 situations on the questionnaire but only four were used for this study -- two requests and two apologies.  Thirteen percent of the Japanese respondents in EFL in the situation of breaking a friend's vase asked, "What should I do?" which the researchers saw as a translation of doo shiyoo?  In the situation of forgetting a meeting with their professor, Japanese infrequently used a mitigator with their repair ("I'll be there if you don't mind..." "I'm afraid I'll be an hour late.").  In apologizing they were likely to repeat "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," which US respondents didn't do.  The Japanese used significantly fewer words than the other groups.  With regard to requests, only the Japanese EFL respondents used either a direct strategy ("Please lend me your notes.")(32%) or a conventionally indirect expression of desire ("I would like you to lend me your notes.")(24%), which were the two most popular responses for this group.  This is consistent with behavior in Japanese, according to the researchers.  The Japanese used the conventional politeness marker "please" much more frequently (34%) than the other groups and used other softeners much less frequently than the other three groups.

Izaki, Y. (2000). Cultural differences of preference and deviations from expectations in requesting: A study of Japanese and French learners of Japanese in contact situations. Journal of Japanese Language Teaching 104, 79-88.

This study examines sociolinguistic differences in request behavior in French and Japanese, focusing on supportive move strategies (pre-request moves).  Native speakers of Japanese and French role-played three request dialogues, and their performance was compared to that of seven French speakers learning Japanese (three beginners, three intermediates, and one advanced learner).  Japanese speakers always used the precommital strategy (e.g., Jitsuwa onegai shitai kotoga arimashite ‘In fact, I have a favor to ask of you’) before making a request.  The request can be preceded by another optional pre-request move that provides or asks for relevant information. In French, no precommital strategy appeared in the data; instead a pre-request move and a response to the pre-request are present in all request interactions. Sometimes since the pre-request move functions as a requestive hint, the speaker has no need to make an actual request.  French speakers also often use conditional clauses suggesting that the hearer takes an action, which is in French normally considered as requests or negotiations. The author states that there are sociocultural differences in determining distance, power, and the degree of imposition of the request, and this results in differential politeness levels between the two languages.

Kawanari, M. (1996). Irai hyougenno modariti: Shujoshi “ne” to “yo” ni kansuru ninchi goyouronteki kousatsu [Modarity in requests: Cognitive/pragmatic analysis of sentence-final particles “ne” and “yo”]. Nihon Joshi Daigaku Bungakubu Kiyou [Bulletin of Nihon Women’s College School of Literature], 45, 55-63.

This paper analyzes sentence-final participles ne and yo used in requests in terms of modality. These sentence final particles characterize discourse, reflecting the speaker’s consideration of the hearer. In expressions of requests, ne mitigates the force of the request proposition or imply that the speaker’s anticipate the hearer’s compliance (e.g., Shibaraku issyoni itene ‘Please stay with me for a while’).  On the other hand,  yo reinforces the proposition and upgrades the request (e.g., Onegai desukara, kondo syoukai shite kudasaiyo ‘I’m asking you, please introduce [him/her] to me next time’). Ne appeared 111 times and yo 89 times in 600 request interactions collected from 50 male and 50 female Japanese university students.

Kumagai, T. (1995). Iraino shikata: Kokken Okazaki cyousano deta kara [How to make a request: From Okazaki national survey results]. Nihongogaku [Japanese Linguistics], 14, 22-32.

This paper analyzes strategies (moves) of the orally elicited requests obtained from 400 native speakers of Japanese in terms of achievement of the goal and consideration for the hearer.  The informants were to ask a doctor to immediately come to see their very sick neighbor. The functions involved in the requests include: making a request to come, providing information, expressing apologies, addressing the doctor, and offering to give directions.  Request strategies include: prompting the hearer’s action, repeating the request, emphasizing the urgency, and prompting the action by making an offer, along with others to show consideration for the hearer (e.g., apology, hedging, and mitigating expressions). The researcher provides the results of correlational analysis between the number/contents of the moves used and the ages of the informants.

Kumatoridani, T. (1995). Hatsuwa koui riron kara mita irai hyougen: Hatsuwa koui karadanwa koudoue [Requests from the perspective of speech act theory: From speech acts to discourse]. Nihongogaku [Japanese Linguistics], 14, 12-21.

This paper includes analysis of requests 1) in light of speech act theory (Searle, 1969), 2) as communication strategies, and 3) from the perspective of interaction/discourse. Examining requests in the discourse, the author discusses the “remedial interchange” present in the requests in the form of an apology or reasons for the request.

Matsuura, H. (1998). Japanese EFL learners' perception of politeness in low imposition requests. JALT Journal, 20 (1), 33-48.

Study of perception of politeness in requests with 77 Japanese English majors and 48 American students in two U.S. universities.  Perceptions were similar except that Japanese saw interrogatives with a present tense modal ("May I borrow a pen?") as less polite than those with a past tense modal ("Could I borrow a pen?"). 

Miyaji, Y. (1995). Irai hyougenno ichi [The semantic position of request expressions]. Nihongogaku [Japanese Linguistics], 14, 4-11.

The article discusses in Sections 1) and 2) semantic positioning of requests in relation to other speech acts such as orders, invitations, interrogations, and questions, in Section 3) common expressions of requests (variants of hoshii, kudasai, onegai shimasu, kureru, morau), in Section 4) requests as weak demands of action, and in Section 5) requestive hints.

Mizuno, K. (1996a). “Irai”no gengo koudouni okeru cyuukan gengo goyouronn: Cyuugogujin nihongo gakusuushano baai. [Interlanguage pragmatics of requests: The case of Chinese learners of Japanese].  Gengo Bunka Ronsyuu 17 (2), 91-106.

  Utilizing the data from the previous study (Mizuno 1993), the author seeks to determine whether there is any difference in performance between the advanced and intermediate learners, and if so, whether it can be attributed to negative L1 transfer or limited linguistic proficiency. Only supportive moves are analyzed in this paper (categories and examples pp. 94-5).

Mizuno, K. (1996b). “Irai”no gengo koudouni okeru cyuukan gengo goyouronn (2): Directness to perspective no kantenkara. [Interlanguage pragmatics of requests: Directness and perspectives].  Gengo Bunka Ronsyuu [Papers on Language and Culture], 18 (1), 57-71.

This paper analyzes head act strategies used in role-play by 20 intermediate and 12 advanced Chinese learners of Japanese in comparison with those by 12 native speakers of Japanese (same data analyzed in Mizuno, 1996a). Eight semantic  categories were determined according to the level of directness/indirectness (pp. 59-60, based on Blum-Kulka, House, & Kasper, 1989).  Perspectives include not only those in Blum-Kulka et al. (1989) but also the combination of “hearer-oriented (H)” and “speaker-oriented” (S) perspectives (e.g., Kashite (H) itadake (S) masuka?)


Moriyama, T. (1995).Teineina irai” no sutoratejito unyou nouryoku: Iraino tegamino kakikatawo reini [Strategies for “polite requests” and communicative competence: Writing a request letter]. Nihongogaku [Japanese Linguistics], 14, 95-101.

The author first analyzes factors of “imprudence” from 4 perspectives: severity of imposition, politeness strategies, interpersonal variables, and degree of necessity, and then examines request expressions written by 10 Japanese college students.  The participants were asked to request a paper from a teacher they had never met.  The common semantic strategies in the letters were: opening greetings, self-introduction, reasons for the request, the request, and the closing greetings, mostly in this sequence. Request expressions used included: interrogatives, variants of tara saiwai,  wish” expressions (tai), kudasai, and onegaishimasu. 

Nakagawa, Y. (1997). Nihongo Iraino Hyougen: Iraino sugorateji to nihongo kyouiku. [Expressing requests in Japanese: The strategies for expressing requests and teaching Japanese]. Kyoto University of Foreign Studies Academic Bulletin L, p. 218-227.

  Eleven Japanese language textbooks were also analyzed in terms of the request strategies used.  Most of the textbooks, with an exception of a few, employ only a few request strategies and their relationships to contextual variables seem to be mostly ignored.

Nakamichi, M. & Doi, M. (1995). Nihongo kyouikuni okeru iraino atsukai [Teaching of requests in Japanese language education]. Nihongogaku [Japanese Linguistics], 14, 84-93.

The article overviews ten currently-used Japanese language textbooks to examine how requests are taught and the frameworks that are to be used to teach performatives.  In the beginning level, kudasai is taught in all the textbooks, but often as invitations or instructions.  Although kudasai is often too direct when used as a request, the textbooks tend to introduce it as a request expression.  Kudasai masenka, te itadake masenka, te itadaki taindesuga are also frequently introduced yet differently in beginning level textbooks. One intermediate to advanced level textbook uses video to teach a request-refusal interchange, incorporating gestures and tone.  Some other textbooks utilize flow charts to make learners aware of the strategies (moves) involved in the discourse structures of request interactions. The article also describes several steps to perform appropriate requests (i.e., determining request strategy sequence, making linguistic choices, determining the timing to initiate and develop the request, controlling the interaction, and responding appropriately to the hearer). The authors argue that different politeness strategies and contextual variations of requests have not yet been adequately addressed in textbooks.

Rinnert, C. & Kobayashi, H. (1999). Requestive hints in Japanese and English. Journal of Pragmatics 31, 1173-1201.
The analysis of elicited questionnaire judgments and naturally occurring data on Japanese and English requests revealed an apparent contradiction between the perception of decontextualized hints (except for the very formal Japanese hints) as relatively impolite and the high frequency of actual use of hints in a university office setting.  It was found that Japanese hints are generally more opaque than English hints.  There is a trade off between pragmatic clarity on the one hand and avoiding coerciveness on the other.  The researchers found that "off-record" requestive hints may differ from "on-record" hint-like request formulations.  They concluded that the use of requestive hint formulations builds solidarity in different ways in the two cultures. 

The researchers used a questionnaire with 10 English requests varying in terms of formality levels and degree of directness.  The authors describe in detail how they presented the Japanese request material (1177-78).  The sample consisted of 145 Japanese subjects (92 university students, 14 teachers, and 30 university office workers or older students) and 95 native English-speaking subjects (40 teachers mainly from North America teaching in Japan and 55 U students in the US).  The findings were as follows:  Japanese perceptions of linguistic politeness depend heavily on the formality level of the utterance (morphologically encoded honorifics and verb endings).  The perception of politeness of hints, however, appears to be affected not only by the form itself, but also by the social information it carries (the speaker's relationship to the hearer).  The informal hint, sono hon mou sunda? 'Are you through with the book yet?' was rated much closer to the informal direct request than the informal conventional indirect requests ("desire" and "willingness"), due at least in part to the plain form da-ending, which evokes a close relationship between speaker and hearer in the raters' mind.  The very formal hint, Sono hon mou o-sumini narimashita ka? 'Were you [possibly] to the point of having finished with that book?' gained the highest ratings in terms of perceived politeness because it was marked with the polite honorifics o and nari-, while the feature of indirectness remained intact.  The use of such honorifics is usually associated with people socially higher or psychologically distant.  Also, leaving the interpretation of the utterance up to the hearer is very often viewed as polite by Japanese speakers especially when speaking to someone of higher status.  English perceptions of politeness were not affected as much by formality level.
       Naturally occurring requestive hints were also collected in Japanese (n=78) and in English (n=67).  Here the finding was that Japanese hints generally tended to be more opaque than English hints, particularly in terms of the illocutionary scale. In office situations in
Japan where a person of higher status could risk losing face if a person of a lower status reject their request, the use of highly indirect requests (i.e., requestive hints) functions to avoid coerciveness more than the use of conventionally indirect requests.  Information-seeking questions give the speaker the possibility of denying it was a request (e.g., "Are there any batteries?").  Also in Japanese they found utterances with the component (reference to some component of the requested act) + zero illocutionary force (no statement of illocutionary intent), (e.g., o-bento 'box lunch' used as a request to order a box lunch).  There is no need to request it because it is understood from context.  Saying more would create a negative impression of verbosity, directness, or aggressiveness.  Such preference for implicitness could account for the high level of ellipsis in the Japanese data they collected.  In the English data, the component (reference to some component of the requested act) + a grounder (giving a reason why the request is necessary) was most frequently employed (e.g., If she comes around I need to talk to her).  This can be interpreted as solidarity building between the speaker where the speaker does not impose the request on the hearer. 

Rinnert, C. (1999). Appropriate requests in Japanese and English: A preliminary study. Hioshima Journal of International Studies 5, 163-175.

A study with 103 Japanese speakers (93 university students and 16 teachers) and 95 English speakers (40 teachers, mostly from North America, teaching in Japan and 55 university students in the U.S.)  Respondents were given six request situations and a series of responses which they were to rate from 1 to 3 (low to high) in terms of its level of appropriateness in the given situation, with 1 indicating "unnatural/inappropriate" and 3 "natural/appropriate."  The study found that whereas both Japanese and English speakers found formal and indirect forms highly inappropriate with higher status hearers, Japanese speakers, unlike English speakers, rated formal forms highly appropriate with socially close interlocutors and were accepting of direct requests (e.g., lend me) with close hearers.  Relatively "safe" semantic formulas for requests in English included questioning "ability" (could you...?), "willingness" (would you mind...?), and "possibility" (can/could I...?).  In Japanese, as long as the formality level was appropriate, the two formulas of "willingness" and "possibility" (...kurenai/kuremasenka/itadakemasenka/dekimasu ka?) were found generally most acceptable.  Also, the hint formulation stating a grounder (reason) for the request (e.g., the copy machine isn't working) was found appropriate in both languages.  Potentially dangerous request formulas across the two languages, because of widely differing perceptions of appropriateness, include "desire" (...hoshiin da/desu kedo, I would like you to...), direct requests and perhaps the hint strategy of "questioning feasibility" (e.g., kopi-ki no naoshikata wakarimasu ka, do you know how to fix the copy machine?).  The author asserts that raising the level of awareness regarding similarities and differences in request strategies could help avoid misunderstandings across the two cultures.

Sasaki, M. (1995) Irai hyougenno taisyou kenkyuu: Eigono irai hyougen [Contrastive anlysis of requests: English and Japanese requests]. Nihongogaku, 14, 61-68.

Some of her analyses include sociolinguistic similarities and differences between Japanese and English requests. For example, Japanese tend to adjust their language based on status of the interlocutors.  The author also claims that in Japanese, requests are often considered to be difficult to refuse.  The hearer normally attempts to avoid refusing, and the speaker uses negative politeness to minimize the imposition.  The author argues that in English it is easier to refuse to comply with a request. 

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