What’s up with Swedish Students’ Responses to Question-Based Greetings? : A Study of How Second Language Learners of English Master the Formulaic Greetings “How are you?” and “What’s up?”
Abstract: The extent to which Swedish learners of English master the formulaic language of greetings and their responses has not been well researched over the years. This study aims to fill the gap by examining how 66 Swedish senior high school students respond to two question-based English greetings: the formal “How are you?” and the informal “What’s up?”. To enable a comparison with greeting responses produced in the native language, another 28 students were greeted in Swedish, with the corresponding phrases “Hur står det till?” and “Läget?”. In addition, 217 students were asked via a questionnaire about their opinions on the most appropriate greeting responses, as well as what greeting phrase they would prefer to use if they were the ones who greeted first. The results indicate that Swedish students have no problem with understanding the formulaic nature of greetings; thus, the high frequency of “pragmatic failure” which has been seen among Polish students greeted with “How are you?” was not found in this study. However, the Swedish students responded somewhat differently than what has been observed in earlier research on native English-speakers, and the answers often came after a moment of hesitation. Swedish students failed to produce responses to the English greetings (especially to “What’s up?”) in an automatic, native-like way. Moreover, the students claimed in their answers to the questionnaire that an appropriate response to “How are you?” and “What’s up?” should include a “thanks” or a “thank you”, but this politeness marker was absent in almost all the cases in the field study.
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