Familiar People and Strangers’ Strategies in Responding to Pre-service EFL Learners Greeting: A Case Study in Jakarta, Indonesia

Saniago Dakhi

saniagonias@gmail.com

Universitas Kristen Indonesia

Abstract

Scholarly report on a greeting how are you? has been a longstanding focus among linguists, sociologists, anthropologists, and English as a foreign language (henceforth EFL) researchers. However, only a limited number of study in Indonesian context as the state containing more than 726 regional languages (Riza, 2008) was found. Responding to such gap, the present study aimed at pattering ninety familiar people and strangers’ strategies in responding to how are you? addressed by pre-service EFL teachers in the metropolitan city of Jakarta. Data analysis employing a descriptive method showed that there is no exactly the same strategies responding to the greeting performed by the familiar people and strangers. This can be traced from the recorded responses that consist of silence, discourse marker, insertion sequence, etc. Structurally, it was also found that the response was more likely to be short, simple, and informal. Applying a descriptive statistic analysis method, it revealed that familiar people are more likely to more perform the preferred responses than the dispreferred one, and the strangers appear to better use the dispreferred responses to the greeting. However, finally, both one-tailed (0.147 < ɑ=0.05) and two-tailed (0.294 < ɑ=0.05) statistical tests were less than t-table  (1.986) meaning that there was found no significant difference between the frequencies of preferred and dispreferred responses of both familiar and unfamiliar people to the pre-service EFL teachers’ greeting how are you? To end, suggestions to the further researcher who have a similar interest in the current study are listed.  

Keywords:  familiar people’s response; strangers’ response; preferred and dispreferred response; adjacency pairs; how are you?

INTRODUCTION

Functions of greeting have become an interesting research focus on sociolinguistics, anthropo-linguistics, business, and language teaching. The greeting, for instance, how are you?, thought to be a past forty years’ English greeting (Ferguson, 1976, pp. 148) is effectively used to build a non-threatening act, a process to keep our perceived image positive (Brown & Levinson, 1987). Emphasized by Holmes’ (1992, p. 308) statement, it functions as an effective tool for building a non-threatening contact. Secondly, the greetings are more likely to be useful to build business communication and relation. With a different model of greeting using cards, You (2013) claimed that they seemed to be effective in developing business communication and relations. Thirdly, the greetings use are used to develop social intelligence during an interaction. Testified by Heenan, Greenberg, Manesh, and Sharlin (2014), it was reported that a designed and operationalized robot expressing greeting appeared to be functional to social intelligence of the people. Lastly, they have positive benefits in academic achievement. Allday, Bush, Ticknor, and Walker’s (2011) finding revealed that an addressed greeting by a teacher was found functional to decrease students’ latency to task engagement. In more detailed, Allday and Pakurar (2007) reported that it increased the students’ on-task behavior.

Some studies in this area have been reported by many scholars. Most notably, they are Rash (2004) about greeting in German-speaking Switzerland, Li (2010) about the functions and use of greetings, Rygg (2017) about the semantic and pragmatic value of Norwegian greetings, Mahmud et al (2013) about social media interaction, and Waldvogel (2007) about greetings and closings in workplace email.

Though Jalilifar and Dinarvand (2013) have ever worked on Iranian EFL learners dispreferred responses, there is a limited number of reports on familiar people and strangers’ responses to the greeting. More surprisingly, no reported study on the frequency responses of those groups of people to the given greeting by pre-service EFL teachers. To respond to the gap, the current study was designed to pattern the familiar people and strangers’ responses and strategies to how are you? addressed by pre-service EFL teachers in Jakarta as a metropolitan city. Selecting it was based on its function as the capital city of Indonesia and as the representative town for more than 726 regional languages (Riza, 2008) in Indonesia.

METHOD

This study was a mixed method employing a descriptive analysis to pattern the strategies of both familiar people and strangers in responding to the greeting, and a statistical test (ɑ = 0.05) to know whether there was a difference between them. The participants were grouped into two: 45 familiar people consisting of close friends, relatives, colleagues, classmates, and neighbors, and 45 stranger met in the streets, stations, churches, malls, parking areas, and buses. 

Twenty-two pre-service EFL teachers of English Education Department, Faculty of Teacher Training and Education, Universitas Kristen Indonesia were asked to do an experiment greeting by using how are you? These students were divided into two: eleven students greeted the familiar people and another half did it to the strangers. Each of them experimented the greeting to five different respondents. Prior to data collection, they were well trained on how to politely greet the people. During the experiment, they recorded the conversation for further transcription.

Since the study focused on the strategy and frequency of the preferred and dispreferred responses (except silence) non-verbal and suprasegmental features, like body language, pitch, intonation, facial expressions, distance, etc. were not analyzed.

To accomplish the objectives of the study, the patterns and types of preferred and dispreferred responses performed were systematically analyzed by following some steps. Firstly, the transcribed conversation was identified and patterned to figure out the strategies used to respond to the greeting as well as to count their frequency. Secondly, the found strategies were discussed by referring to the previous studies and related theories. Thirdly, the two independent data of the frequency of strategies performed by the participants were statistically tested using t-test method (ɑ = 0.05) in excel 2007.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Essence of Greeting

In human social interaction, we can find two groups of people according to their readiness. Those are the people who like to greet anyone, and those who do not. With reference to Rash’s (2004) survey, only one woman reported that she would prefer not to greet everyone, and 67 or 84% greeted anybody. It was also found that 86% seemed to feel slighted when the greeting they conveyed was not responded, and 68% of the respondents were more likely to impolitely greet the haters.

Knowing that fact, an account for the essence of the greeting appears to be important. However, the essence of greeting is still debatable because it can be viewed with different perspectives. Taken for example what reviewed by Rygg (2017), the greeting is formulaic and ritualized form of politeness and is a routine formula. It is formulaic due to its grammatical reduction, while called as ritualistic since it follows a restricted pattern according to time, place, and participants. Finally, it is the routine formula because it is highly practiced in any communication situations.

Another equally important well-known notion of the greeting is theorized by (Austin, 1962). Pragmatically, the greeting is characterized as an expressive illocutionary act, expressing feelings: thanking, apologizing, congratulating, etc. Such argument implies that the greeting cannot be interpreted literally due to its function to show the feelings. As a consequence, instead of showing self-revelation (Waldvogel, 2007), it functions to show politeness and acknowledgment of the other. In this regard, the use of the greeting is not to show the existence of interlocutor, but it is for showing the speaker’s positive face and appreciating the other. Added by John (2007), the greeting is also performed to express feeling and sensibility.

The greeting plays an important role in human interaction as it is frequently used in every social interaction all over the world (Li, 2010). Supported by Schottman (1995, p. 489), it is as an essential component of human sociability and order. This indicates that inappropriately-addressed greeting may cause a decrease in social value and break social structure. Furthermore, Li (2010) stating an appropriate greeting behavior is crucial for the establishment and maintenance of interpersonal relationships adds the social and interpersonal function of the greeting. Moreover, the greeting forms, supporting its social use, are also differently performed by male and female. Dezhara, Rezaei, Davoudi, and Kafrani (2012) reported that the greeting forms of Persian males and females were different. Male were more likely to perform informal expressions, and females preferred to use private subjects showing their feelings towards the subject matter.

Nevertheless, what principles of the greeting have appears to be problematic. It is because the interlocutors are required to consider three important tenets (Brown & Levinson, 1987;  Zeff, 2016), such as role, relationship, and imposition. The role is referred to the equal status of the speakers. The relationship is meant as the closeness of the participants. Are they friends or merely acquaintances? And the imposition is viewed as a social context where the greeting takes place. In addition, addressing a verifiable answer to a specific question, multiple choices, and changing information is Mahmud et al’s (2013) suggestion in order that the foreigners are likely to respond to a piece of given information.

Functions of Greeting How are you?

As for the functions of the greeting, the previous studies results show its positive contributions to a reduction of a threatening act, an increase of business communication and relations, social intelligence, and a decrease of latency to task engagement. Firstly, the greeting how are you? thought to be a past forty years’ English greeting (Ferguson, 1976, pp. 148) functions as a means for effectively producing a non-threatening act. Supported by Holmes’ (1992, p. 308) statement, it was emphasized that the greeting functions as an effective tool for building a non-threatening contact. Secondly, the greetings are more likely to be useful to build business communication and relation. With a different model of greeting using cards, You (2013) claimed that they seemed to be effective in developing business communication and relations.

Thirdly, the greetings use are useful to increase social intelligence during an interaction. Testified by Heenan, Greenberg, Manesh, and Sharlin (2014), it was reported that a designed and operationalized robot expressing greeting appeared to be functional to social intelligence of the people. Lastly, the greetings have positive benefits in academic achievement. Allday, Bush, Ticknor, and Walker’s (2011) finding revealed that an addressed greeting by a teacher was found effective to reduce students’ latency to task engagement. In more detailed, Allday and Pakurar (2007) reported that the greeting developed students’ on-task behavior from 45% in baseline to a mean of 72%.

Dispreferred and Preferred Response

Social interaction requires two turns produced by different interlocutors: speaker and listener. Such a principle is termed as adjacency pairs, the first pair allows the second pair part to be adjacent (Schegloff, 2007). Hence, it is common to perform adjacency pars, that is responding to a certain greeting with a greeting, a question with answer, complaint with denial or apology, offering with accepting, request with granting, compliment and challenge with rejection, and instruct with receipt.

Doing the mentioned response in the conversation meets the criterion of the principles of communication. It is due to the provision of the expected response without delaying time, hesitation, and pauses. Those characteristics belong to a preferred response (Pomerantz, 1984; Sacks, 1987).

However, as a social interaction that has many unpredictable variables affecting the realization of the adjacency pairs, a preferred response is not always provided in the conversation. Sometimes dispreferred responses are performed. The dispreferred response is understood as a process in the conversation when the next interlocutor does not perform the expected response. Similarly, the dispreferred response in the conversation seems also to perform in a texting interaction. Rendele-Short (2015) claimed that a more-than-one-minute delay of 329 texting interactions was meant as a ‘no’ rather than a ‘yes’ response (p < 0.001). It was concluded that spoken and texting interactions performed a similar strategy expressing the delayed responses. Understanding strategies to express the dispreferred response appears to be useful, so that language users are more likely to comprehend a hidden meaning of the message. Two well-known theories are proposed by Levinson (1983) and Schegloff (2007). Described by Levinson, the dispreferred responses takes place when the interlocutors day the time of the talk using preface and accounts, and declination components. More technically, Schegloff (2007) argued that the linguistic features of dispreferred response are mitigation, elaboration, default, and positioning.

Familiar People’s Response to Greeting

It was found sixteen familiar participants provided the dispreferred response to the greeting, 36%. As for the preferred response, it shows that almost two-thirds of the respondents expectedly responded to the greeting. This indicates that though the dispreferred response was used, the familiar people were more likely to give a preferred response. Consequently, the higher number of preferred response implies that those people are more likely to greet the people around them. They want to greet and respond to anybody’s talk. In the same way, a related study has revealed that people, in some extent and countries, are ready to greet and respond to such phatic communication, a social function of talk where we can start a conversation (Couplandd, Coupland, & Robinson, 1997). In Rash’ (2004) finding, for example, 84% of his observed participants reported that they greeted anybody.  

Regardless of the descriptive analysis showing a more preferred response performed by the familiar people’s in Jakarta, both one-tailed and two-tailed tests respectively 0.037 (ɑ=0.05) and 0.051 (ɑ=0.05) are less than (2.015). This means that there was found no significant difference between the frequency of dispreferred and preferred used by familiar people to respond to the pre-service EFL teachers’ greeting in Jakarta.

Familiar People’s Strategies in Responding to Greeting

An account for the strategy of both preferred and dispreferred responses is interesting to discuss. One of the discovered strategies of dispreferred response was silence. Two familiar respondents (4%) kept silent when listening to the greeting. Slightly different with Jalilifar and Dinarvand’ (2013) finding, it was reported that the silence was also used by twelve participants (5.4%) of M.A. TEFL students at Shahid Chamran University of Ahvaz, Iran.

A reviewed studies on the use of silence indicates that it seems to be led by culture as it is viewed and used differently by different cultures (Lee, 2000). In one culture, it is normal to wait for a short while when someone is speaking. And in another culture, it seems to be impolite when the silence occurs before taking our turn. Obviously, it can be used both to perform disempowerment and empowerment (Beville & McQuaid, 2012). To be more professional, an eloquent silence is treated as a means for expressing intimacy (Ephratt, 2008). Negatively as passive resistance, by contrast, it can also be employed to show a dissatisfaction (Clair, 1998).    

Besides the silence, some additional expressions of dispreferred response given according to the finding are mmm! what? by the way, you want some drink? you know, right? and yes, yes, yes. The hesitation mmm! was used to build a preface (Schegloff, 2007) showing a dispreferred response as the respondent did not provide the expected response. Furthermore, saying what? indicates that the listener was surprised, and need further clarification. The simple question what? may also be referred to the degree of the respondent’s politeness. It is assumed that the longer and complete the sentences are used, the more polite the speaker is. And an insertion sequence, happening as repair to potential misunderstanding (Gardner, 2004), by the way, you want some drink? was used as a strategy to delay the talk. In this case, it needs a further question or greeting for which the intended response is completed.

In contrast, the recorded preferred responses to the greeting how are you? are always good, very well, I’m good, Praise the Lord, etc. The always good was a phrase, no subject is found in the sentence, indicating the informality of the language. The word always allows no further question about the respondent’s condition. It also implies that she or he is always in a good condition. Finally, different from the previous strategies, I’m good, Praise the Lord seems to be thought as a formal response as the sentence is grammatically and completely structured. Adding Praise the Lord is referred to a religious self-identification (Jelen & Wilcox, 1992) of the speaker. More technically, Absolutely religious self-identification was caused the identification of individual identity. The religion of the speaker has become a cultural symbol of identity (Kilp, 2011). Though the given greeting was not to ask his or her personal belief, the realization of such a word represents the speaker’s identity as a believer. To Kilp, this phenomenon definitely defines and constructs his or her own cultural ‘self’.

The present study shows, therefore, that they were found various responses to the greeting. Emphasized by Li (2010), it was explained that the variations of the greetings are different in languages, social groups, speakers, and even individual behaviors. The most two plausible answers to offer are based on Rygg’s (2017) and Smith-Hefnar’s (2008) ideas. According to Rygg (2017), the reasons for performing various greetings and responses are determined by religious value, a context of situation, task, and time. Empirically proved, a shift of different greetings proposed Norwegian Ethnological Research (NEG), as Rygg reported, seems to be empty, superficial, and informal use. Three reasons, he added, are the lack of information, formality, and tradition.

 Strangers’ Response to Greeting

Table 2 figures out that, out of forty-five respondents, twenty-four participants (0.53%) performed the dispreferred response to the greeting. It is slightly higher, three responses or 6%, that of the preferred response (47%). Statistically tested, one-tailed (0.329 < ɑ=0.05) and two-tailed tests (0.659 < ɑ=0.05) are less than (2.015) meaning that there is no significant difference between the frequency of preferred and dispreferred responses by strangers to the pre-service EFL teachers’ greeting in Jakarta.

Compared to the familiar people, it shows that the strangers are more likely to provide the dispreferred response to the greeting. Reviewing the previous study, the dispreference frequency has been also reported by Mahmud et al (2013). Fifty-five percent of 100 participants were reported not responding to a twitted information within an hour, 8% higher than of the currently preferred response by the strangers in Jakarta. Consequently, this finding may cause an implication. Considering the response to the greeting as a polite act, the strangers who performed no preferred response seem to be less aware of feeling and sensibility (Johns, 2007) to the researcher who greeted them.

Out of forty-five respondents, the strangers’ preferred response is 47%. It means that the familiar people (64%) are more likely to perform a preferred response than the strangers. Regardless of the preferred response frequency, the finding suggests that the dispreferred response is almost fifty percent. Such preference, referring to Erbaugh’s (2008) argument, is more likely to be influenced by respondents’ courtesy. She claimed that it is rare not to respond to a greeting as standards for politeness have made in schooling, media, and public life in Japan and Indonesia. To respond to the urgency of the courtesy in greeting, she claimed, China expanded the strategies for greeting, which includes ni hao, qing, dui bu qi, xiexie, and zai jian).

Strangers’ Strategies in Responding to Greeting

Generally, the response to the talk is uncontrollable. As a result, there will be many patterns and ways performed by male and female to respond to the question, request, and greeting. Smith-Hefnar (2008) argued some reasons for such differences. It was stated that the response pattern is closely related to patterns of socialization, models of appropriate male and linguistic behavior, men’s and women’s social roles and typical spheres of interest.

As for this finding, the present study also revealed some strategies applied by the strangers to respond to the greeting addressed. The dispreferred responses include what? I don’t care, haha (laugh), silent, Praise the Lord, hmmm, etc. Similar to familiar people’s strategies, what? I don’t care was indicated to perform the surprise showing the dispreference. In addition, the praise the Lord is semantically characterized as a means for performing a religious impression (Rygg, 2017). Lastly, laughter and hmmm! were respectively performed an appreciation and discourse marker, preface techniques of dispreferred response.

To attain a comprehensive understanding of the use of laughter responding to the greeting, it is thought to be interesting to refer to Devillers and Vidrascu’s (2007) and Jensen’s (2014) works. Viewed as a first conclusion, Devillers and Vidrascu claimed that laughter is to perform both positive and negative emotional states. Their perceptive test revealed that a burst of unvoiced laughter is more likely to be a negative state, and a voiced one is used to positive feelings. Finally, thought as a feedback expression to avoid the misunderstanding, the laughter suggested by Jensen is obliged to be short and simple.  

As no exactly the same techniques of preferred response, by comparison, Jalilifar and Dinarvand (2013) reported that the strategies to perform the dispreferred response to Discourse Completion Test (DTC), a method to measure the pragmatic competence, were statement of willingness (8%) and alternative (5%), promise of future acceptance (7%), discourse marker (19%), appreciation (10%), apology (12%), accounts (29%), and declination complement (10%). However, this indicates that no silence was performed by the M.A. TEFL students at Shahid Chamran University of Ahvaz, Iran. Such a phenomenon is possibly influenced by the contexts of the study where the current study was in a natural setting.  

Difference between Familiar People’s and Strangers’ Response to Greeting

As shown in Table 3, overall, the dispreferred response to the greeting how are you? is 44%, or 12% lower than the preferred one. The preferred response of the ninety participants is 56%. However, it is found no statistically significant difference. Both one-tailed test (0.147 < ɑ=0.05) and two-tailed test (0.294 < ɑ=0.05) are less than (1.986) meaning that should you address a greeting to Indonesian people, they more likely to respond to it.

This finding corresponds to the Haviland and Lewis’s (1976) work. Despite different respondents, it was reported that there was found no difference between female and male infants’ response to the strangers. Some typical ways to show their fear found no difference, are mouth constructed, gaze aversion, and very wide eyes and for joy are a bit wide eyes, cornered up mouth, and looking ahead. 

Other equally important implications of the study are acknowledgment and the national motto of Indonesia. In light of the equal frequency of both preferred and dispreferred responses, the current study confirms the unity in diversity concept as the national motto of Indonesia that needs to interpret in social life interaction. The unity in diversity, nurtured by Indonesian people, is thought to be an ideal shared belief of Indonesia. Social life including interaction in greeting is not governed by physical, linguistic, cultural, religious, political and ideological identities. As a result, responding to the strangers and familiar people becomes commonplace.

Such implication, therefore, testifies the correlation between the greeting and culture. The frequency of the greeting is tightly predicted by the culture. This is in conjunction with Waldvogel’s (2007) study who concluded that (a workplace) culture became an important factor for the frequency of greetings. To end, instead of producing a self-revelation, the equal frequency of preferred and dispreferred responses performed by the strangers and familiar people of Jakarta proves the use of how are you? as a strategy to show an acknowledgment of the other.

CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTION

Greeting familiar people and strangers are thought to be a new study giving new insight. Employing an experiment to those groups of respondents produces a comprehensive understanding of preferred and dispreferred responses of the people of Jakarta as a metropolitan city to pre-service EFL teachers’ greeting. Mixed methods, descriptive analysis, and statistical test revealed some important findings. First, there is no exactly the same strategies responding to the greeting performed by the familiar people and strangers. This can be traced from the recorded responses that consist of silence, discourse marker, insertion sequence, etc. Structurally, it was also found that the response was more likely to be short, simple, and informal. This condition is definitely caused by the essence of the greeting how are you? as a phatic communication. Second, comparing the frequent use of preferred and dispreferred responses, the present study revealed that familiar people are more likely to more perform the preferred responses than the dispreferred one, and the strangers appear to better use the dispreferred responses to the greeting. Finally, though they performed the diverse responses and strategies, the statistical test showed that there was no significant difference between the frequencies of preferred and dispreferred responses. Both one-tailed (0.147 < ɑ=0.05) and two-tailed (0.294 < ɑ=0.05) tests are less than  (1.986) meaning that should you address a greeting to Indonesian people, they are more likely to respond to you. Thus, such finding testifies the national motto of Indonesia unity in diversity as a fundamental principle actualizing their positive attitude on the different social backgrounds they have. Known as a phatic communication, a social function of talk where we can start a conversation, respondents’ readiness to perform the responses to the greeting has become commonplace in the Indonesian context.  

With reference to the findings, some suggestions are listed to be used by further researchers whose interests are in line with the current study. First, admitting that the present research only focuses on preferred and dispreferred responses performed by the people of Jakarta in general, a specific study on the analysis of their frequencies across genders, ethnics, and religions seems to be interesting. Apart from religions and educational backgrounds, this is because Indonesia consists of many ethnics, languages, and cultures. Secondly, there will also a chance to investigate the attitudes on the greeting using mother tongues, the official language of Indonesia, and foreign languages. To EFL learners, finally, the implications of this study may contribute to an improvement of speaking English confidence as the people of Indonesia are willing to respond to the given greeting.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

My special appreciation to the entire 2017’s EFL undergraduate students of English Education Department, Faculty of Teacher Training and Education, Universitas Kristen Indonesia who participated in the experiment.

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This article was presented in The UKI English Education Department Bimonthly Collegiate Forum held on Friday, December 7, 2018

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