spaceCenter for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)

Identifying Important Social Factors


Why are social factors important when making requests?

When selecting the proper language strategies to use in Spanish, you always need to consider the surrounding sociocultural context. Sometimes, requests can even be welcome and demonstrate solidarity between the interlocutors. It is important to understand how the social factors surrounding your request can help (or hurt) your ability to have the request granted.

What social factors will be focused on here?

There are three primary social factors that have been determined to influence the performance of requests in terms of their level of politeness: degree of social distance, power, and rank of imposition.

Degree of Social Distance refers to how close the interlocutors are (e.g., distant, semi-close, or close).

Power refers to the power relationship between the person making the request and the person receiving the request.

Rank of Imposition refers to how big the request is. A small rank of imposition indicates a small request (e.g., a glass of water) and a big rank of imposition indicates a large request (e.g., borrowing $10,000).

Each of these factors plays a different role in requesting behavior and carries a different weight depending on the language variety. For example, in requests, it appears that rank of imposition tends to have the biggest impact on the strategies used in Canadian English as well as in Costa Rican Spanish. However, degree of social distance tends to play an equally important role for the Spanish speakers and not for the English speakers. (Hofman, 2003)

In this module we will specifically look at degree of social distance and rank of imposition. Let's consider each of these factors as related to requests in Spanish. Complete each of the two sections below before moving on to the next section of this module.

After you have completed both sections above, you are ready to move on to the next section of this module.

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