Document Type


Publication Date



Within the pragmatics literature, a number of studies have investigated the speech act of complaining. In most cases, the researchers have failed to define a "complaint" before proceeding with analysis. The purpose of this study is to provide a theoretical definition of a "complaint" and to examine in-depth the linguistic details of the speech act of complaining, with a particular view to illuminating the linguistic devices employed in managing the "face" of the participants involved in Potential Complaint Situations. In addition to dealing with micro-level questions regarding how complaints are realized in various circumstances, this study also sheds light on macro-level issues related to how individuals create and maintain appropriate kinds of face-management in conversational interaction.

Data in the study were collected through interviews, discourse completion tests and ratings tasks and were analyzed using both qualitative and quantitative means. The situations examined in the study varied in terms of three sociolinguistic variables: gender, power and social distance. The respondent group consisted of European-American students at a Midwestern university, aged 18-25.

Results of the study indicate that while complaints can be and sometimes are made directly, it is more often the case that some kind of face-management is employed. Options for managing face include the choice of opting out of performing the face-threatening act, as well as performing the complaint indirectly or utilizing mitigation. How and when complaints are made is affected by the gender, power and social distance dynamics, as well as particular characteristics of the situation.

This study also illuminates the importance of examining speech acts within the social and cultural contexts in which they occur. It points to the importance of the hearer as a co-constructor of meaning within the conversation and the effects of the surrounding discourse on the identity and function of the speech act under investigation.