The use of refusals by Cantonese-speaking preschoolers

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



The use of refusal strategy by children has been commomly documented in the literature. Refusal usually appears as a secondary act in response to another speech act, for example, request, offer and invitation. In 1990, Beebe and her colleagues worked on refusals in Japanese EFL learners and developed a detailed framework for analyzing refusals. Comparing witn research on request, studies on the speech act of children's refusal strategies are scarce, especially in Chinese. This presentation is based on findings from a project on the use of refusal strategies by young Cantonese-speaking children in Hong Kong. A total of 80 young children (age 3 to 5, half boys and half girls) were asked to join a role-play task with various toys, pictures and puppets in different scenarios with a research assistant. Children's performance during role-plays were both audio- and video-recorded for analysis. Results show that children used direct refusal strategy (("No") at an early age (3 years old). Direct + indirect refusal strategies such as "No + Excuse, reason and explanation" increase with children's age. Other types of indirect strategies were not common in our data. In terms of body language, shaking of the head is the most common gesture accompanied direct refusals. Further discussion and comparison of our findings with other studies on refusals will be made at the presentation.

Source Publication

4th International Conference of the American Pragmatics Association, on 1-3 November 2018, at University at Albany, State University of New York

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