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Philosophische Fakultät - Jahrgang 2010

Titel Electronic Complaints
An Empirical Study on British English and German Complaints on eBay
Autor Marja Ebba Meinl
Publikationsform Dissertation

Cross-cultural differences in computer-mediated communication (CMC) have received little attention so far, especially with regard to complaining behaviour. It is therefore the aim of the present study to contribute to this still unexplored research area by comparing British English and German complaints in CMC, precisely on eBay.
This study is thus anchored in the field of cross-cultural pragmatics, and the main approach taken is speech-act based. However, since complaints are always embedded in discourse and therefore occur as post-event, the present investigation also takes the contextual factors of the data into account, thus additionally drawing on research from discourse analysis.
The overall aim of this study is a comparison of the British English and German production of computer-mediated complaints and, consequently, a description of similarities and differences, of which the latter may lead to misunderstandings in cross-cultural electronic communicative situations.
Specifically, the collected complaints were analysed according to five categories: the use of complaint strategies, the chosen level of directness, the employment of modification, the use of pronouns, and the handling of CMC features. In the light of these categories, the following research questions guided the investigation:

  1. Do British and German traders’ computer-mediated complaints differ with regard to the five categories of analysis?
  2. Does the reason for complaining influence their linguistic choices?
  3. Does it make a difference whether they have one or two reasons for their online complaint?

In order to find answers to these research questions, British English and German complaints were taken from the British and German feedback forum of the online auction house eBay and analysed according to the five categories. The results were then statistically compared.
The findings of this project show both similarities and differences in the way British English and German eBay users formulate their online complaints. Differences become apparent with regard to all five categories under investigation. Furthermore, the results illustrate that both factors, i.e. the particular type of reason and the number of reasons for an online complaint, have an impact on the complaining behaviour of both British English and German users of eBay’s feedback forum.
When comparing these findings with previous research on complaints in spoken communication, the results of the present study suggest that the language modality has an impact on how traders formulate their complaints. Moreover, in the light of current (im)politeness theories, the present discussion shows that, if the context of the interaction as well as the communicative norms of appropriateness are included in the investigation of polite, impolite and politic behaviour, the analysis becomes much more complex. Accordingly, behaviour which constitutes impoliteness in the view of traditional politeness frameworks, must often be judged as appropriate, given the specific norms.
To conclude, the present study gives initial insight into British English and German complaining behaviour on eBay and will hopefully provide researchers with an incentive to pursue further research in this direction in the near future.  

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© Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Bonn | Veröffentlicht: 05.05.2010