Sympathy and compassion in Spanish and English : cross-cultural and interlanguage perspectives on emotional expression
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This dissertation examines (1) whether there are differences in how sympathy is expressed in situations of differing gravity by native speakers (NSs) of Spanish and English, as well as intermediate second language (L2) learners of Spanish; and (2) Spanish NSs' thoughts regarding learners' nonstandard reactions to these situations. The data collection involved an informal conversation eliciting sympathy and a retrospective interview. Sympathy is examined not only as an emotion but also as a means to achieve social or conversational goals. Hence, the analysis involves both linguistic and sociological theories. Using aspects of Speech Act Theory (Austin, 1962; Searle, 1969), Conversation Analysis (Schegloff & Jefferson, 1974) and Politeness Theory (Brown & Levinson, 1987), and following Clark's (1997) ideas on the process of giving sympathy, it was found that when reacting to an interlocutor's hardships, speakers may experience genuine overt sympathy, covert sympathy or surface sympathy, which are influenced by social and politeness factors, personality differences and conversational structure. Results also indicate that differences exist in how sympathy is expressed by NSs of English and Spanish, particularly for low gravity situations. For high gravity situations, speakers of both languages tended to rely more on the use of formulaic expressions. Also, learners were often unable to react due to linguistic limitations. Some learners transferred pragmatic knowledge from their L1 to their L2, while others had acquired sufficient L2 pragmatic information to react appropriately. Finally, it was seen that NSs are more lenient regarding pragmatic errors committed by non-NSs of the language, but many consider that failing to express compassion in certain contexts could negatively impact the communication or relationship between interlocutors. The findings suggest that learning to express emotion such as compassion is an important part of achieving L2 communicative competence and, since cultural and pragmatic differences exist among languages, learners should be exposed to real-life, communicative situations in order to acquire such emotive skills. This dissertation contributes to the fields of second language acquisition and pragmatics by combining cognitive, affective and social factors to show how they interact with language production and comprehension.