Mexico is a country located in North America, bounded on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the North Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Mexico is a federal constitutional republic, consisting of 31 states and a federal district, Mexico City (Ciudad de México), which is one of the most populous cities on Earth. Covering almost 2 million square kilometers, Mexico is the 6th largest country in America by total area and 15th largest in the world. With a population of about 108 million, it is the 11th most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world.
The pragmatics of Mexican Spanish includes an analysis of some speech acts (production and perception) and different interactional aspects of conversation in a few regions of Mexico, including Mexico City, Oaxaca, Monterrey, Tlaxcala, Puebla, Cuernavaca, Merida (Yucatan), Guanajuato, Tlaxcala, and through online and television media. Below you can listen and view examples of different speech acts and features of conversation (discourse markers, pragmatic routines, conversational interaction) in different regions of Mexico.
The table below provides an overview of studies that have examined one aspect of pragmatics across regions of Mexico. This review is by no means comprehensive. Information on service encounters and forms of address will be provided under ‘Service Encounters’ and ‘Forms of Address’ (see Topics in Pragmatics in this website).
Pragmatic Variation by Region in Mexico
Method of Data Collection
Advice in online forum (Reddit)
Online forum across varieties of Mexico
Examined travel advice in Spanish and English given on a bilingual subreddit, r/Mexico. Both Spanish and English preferred high rates of direct advice speech acts counter to previous literature on English (e.g., Try tortas ahogadas), which suggests that this bilingual online community may have negotiated hybrid pragmalinguistic system for advice that tolerates directness in English.
Production questionnaire (DCT)
Native Mexican speakers, English speakers, and EFL students completed a DCT assessing appropriate advice in interactions of varying degrees of formality. Mexican native speakers primarily hedged advice when their interlocutor had higher status (46%), whereas with interlocutors of lower or equal status, participants preferred direct, hedged, or indirect methods. Interestingly, in equal status pairs, participants also preferred to opt out of giving advice frequently (13%).
Hye Yoon 2011
Advice in reality TV
Reality TV from Mexico City
Examined pseudo-realistic advice interaction on Mexican reality television. Mexican hosts use direct, emotional, and face-threatening strategies under these conceptualizations of politeness.
Nelson & Hall 1999
Adjective-based compliments (e.g., ¡Qué bonito vestido!), rather than noun-based compliments (e.g., Eres un ángel), were the most frequent, representing approximately 75% of the observed compliments. Men complimented women far more often than other men (86% vs. 16%), whereas women complimented both genders at equal rates. In terms of social distance, participants gave more compliments to acquaintances rather than intimates and strangers
Cuernavaca, Mexico; Grenada, Spain
Written perception questionnaire
Mexican participants reported that the social status and social distance of the participants affects how the apology should be realized. For example, deference to a professor is highly important for the Mexicans, whereas this preference was not as strong for the Andalusian participants. Interestingly, Mexican women felt a strong obligation to apologize for both highly offensive and weakly offensive interactions. Additionally, he observed a high rate of repair strategies being accepted in apologies (e.g., te pago el daño).
Flores Salgado (2015)
Sociolinguistic interview (El hablda de Monterrey-PRESEEA)
The strategies and rates of mitigation among male and female speakers vary. While both genders use justification strategies to attenuate their point of view, women used more mitigation strategies than men (e.g., dar asesoría técnica y el vender me / me satiface porque / me trae un placer económico). She suggests that mitigation may have a pragmatic value of affiliation with the speaker’s interlocutors. In other words, speakers use mitigation in order to be accepted by the community or group.
Mexican Spanish and Ukranian Russian
Written production questionnaire
In a comparison of apologies between these positive politeness-oriented cultures, there is high pragmalingusitic similarity while Russian speakers utilize a higher degree of positive politeness. This study observed very little difference between genders.
The Zapotec speakers’ transfer of Zapotec pragmatic meaning leads to miscommunication, conflicts and misunderstandings in their second language, Spanish, because of the pragmatic differences between these languages. In particular, Spanish speakers perceived Zapotec promises as untruthful because the actions are inconsistently completed. This difference is explicated by in-group and out-group pragmalinguistic strategies of the Zapotec speakers. For in-group members, it is acceptable to refuse a request directly if the hearer cannot complete the action. Conversely, accepting promises regardless of the hearer’s capability to do an action is the standard when a Zapotec speaker interacts with an out-group member. Indeed, the refusal of a request or promise is seen as too impolite that it is avoided.
This study operationalizes the perception of politeness of refusals in terms of the degree of formality, politeness systems and strategy use, and the notion of face. Semi-formulaic and formulaic expressions are perceived as polite in this community given that they represent indirect negotiations of face. Additionally, involvement face of the group is preferred over independence in refusing. This is evidenced by the use of solidarity markers (e.g., Este, híjole, no voy a poder hermano) and colloquial language in refusing interactions.
Open-ended role play
This study observed the relation between conventionally indirect refusal strategies and politeness in interactions of varying degrees of formality. Overall, conventional indirectness was the preferred strategy (e.g., Quería ver si usted me podría aceptar el trabajo aunque sea dos días tarde). This strategy increased deferential politeness, which demonstrated respect and distance between interlocutors. Counter to Brown & Levinson’s (1987) expectation that face-threatening acts would require indirectness to increase politeness, the participants preferred on record strategies when using a solidarity politeness system (-Power, -Distance).
Tlaxcala, Mexico; Santiago, Dominican Republic
This article finds that the Mexicans used a higher number of indirect refusal strategies with a preference of independence face such as mitigation and indirect refusals (e.g., ¿Sabes qué? No los (apuntes) traigo ahorita). Nevertheless, the Mexicans used more direct refusal strategies in situations with low social distance. In contrast, the Dominicans used fewer and shorter direct and unmitigated turns that were oriented to involvement face independent of social distance (e.g., No no no no no, yo no puedo no, no).
Félix Brasdefer (2005c)
Role plays, discourse completion tasks, and natural discourse
Of the three methods, role plays created a higher quantity of discourse strategies than the other two methods such as external modification and conventional indirectness. Both role plays and natural discourse allow the researcher to observe conversational and interactional aspects such as face, indirect strategies, and paralinguistic signals.
Mexicans prefer to save the positive face of their interlocutor more than the Spaniards. In particular, the Mexican participants preferred positive politeness markers, diminutives, and interrogatives in the represented requests (e.g., ¿Nos da dos cafés?), whereas Spaniards preferred imperatives. These findings lend support to the dependency of politeness on cultural settings and our expectations of others.
Natural speech, role plays
Natural speech is the best method for observing natural speech and socialization. However, open role play methods allow the data to be comparable and trustworthy. Ultimately, the appropriateness of methodology depends on the objective and needs of a study (e.g., balanced and comparable data vs. natural data).
Santo Domingo, Dominidan Republic; Oaxaca, Mexico
Three prosodic cues were used to mitigate symmetrical interactions: ascending and descending final boundary tone, internal pause, and syllabic lengthening. With the Mexican speakers, an ascending final boundary tone is preferred in both direct and indirect requests (e.g., No sé si me podrías echar la mano?). In contrast, the Dominican utilized descending boundary tones to convey politeness (e.g., Tú me lo puedes prestar). For the Mexican speakers, internal pauses and syllabic lengthening conveyed deference in asymmetrical situations and to express comradery in symmetrical interactions.
Discourse marker, siempre
The discourse marker, siempre, indicates to the hearer the relevance and the nature of a changing context. This meaning is exemplified in both truth conditional and non-truth conditional contexts (e.g., Siempre te estás quejando and Siempre no me voy).
Discourse marker, o sea
Tlaxcala, Puebla, Monterrey, and Mexico City
This study analyzes the use of o sea at the pragmatic and textual levels of discourse to contribute to previous accounts from other perspectives (e.g., semantic relation between two propositions and expletive use). The use of o sea can mitigate disagreement in the introduction of new information and condenses the speaker’s proposition. In essence, this discourse marker is used for reformulation and reorientations strategies when managing and organizing discourse.
Service encounters: requests for service, forms of address, small talk)
Yucatán, Mexico City, Guanajuato
Intra-lingual study on the pragmatics of service encounters in varieties of Spanish.
Curcó, C. (2004). Procedural constraints on context selection: Siempre as a discourse marker. Pragmatics And Beyond New Series, 123, 179-202.
Curcó, C. (1998). ¿No me harías un favorcito?: Reflexiones en torno a la expresión de la cortesía verbal en el español de México y el español peninsular. In H. Haverkate, G. Mulder, & C. Fraile Maldonado (Eds.), La pragmática lingüística del español: Recientes desarrollos (pp. 129-171). Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Curcó, C. & De Fina, A. (2002). Modo imperativo, negación y diminutivos en la expresión de la cortesía en español: El contraste entre México y España. In M. E. Placencia, & D. Bravo (Eds.), Actos de habla y cortesía en español (pp. 107-140). Munich: Lincom Europa.
Félix-Brasdefer, J.C. (2005). Métodos de recolección de actos de habla: Peticiones en el discurso natural y simulado de hablantes mexicanos. In J. Murillo Medrano (ed.), Actas del II Coloquio Internacional del Programa EDICE (pp. 221-245). Estocolmo-Costa Rica: Programa EDICE-Universidad de Costa Rica. ISBN 91-974521-2-2, URN:NBN:se-2006-2. (Available on line at: http://www.edice.org/2coloquio/2coloquioEDICE.pdf)
Félix-Brasdefer, J. C. (2005). Indirectness and politeness in Mexican Requests. In D. Eddington (ed.), Selected Proceedings of the 7th Hispanic Linguistic Symposium (pp. 66-78). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press. Paper available on-line at http://www.lingref.com/cpp/hls/7/
Félix-Brasdefer, J.C. (2007). Natural speech vs. elicited data: A comparison of natural and role play requests in Mexican Spanish. Spanish in Context, 4(2): 159-185
Felix-Brasdefer, J. Cesar. (2008). Sociopragmatic variation: Dispreferred responses in Mexican and Dominican Spanish. Journal of Politeness Research, 4 , pp. 81-110
Felix-Brasdefer, J. Cesar (2012). Cortesia, prosodia y variacion pragmatic en las peticiones de estudiantes universitarios mexicanos y dominicanos. In C. García Fernández & Maria Elena Placencia (Eds.), Estudios de variación pragmática en español, (57-86). Buenos Aires: Dunken.
Félix-Brasdefer, J. C. (2015). The Language of Service Encounters: A Pragmatic-Discursive Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Filiminova, V. (2016). Russian and Spanish Apologies: A Contrastive Pragmalinguistic Study. Indiana University Working Papers, 15(1): 62-102.
Flores Salgado (2015). La atenuación de los actos asertivos: diferencias entre hombres y mujeres. Soprag, 3(1): 90-119.
Flores-Salgado, E. (2016). Offering advice: Length of residence or intensity of interaction? In K. Bardovi-Harlig & C. Félix-Brasdefer (eds.). Pragmatics and Language Learning, vol. 14. Manoa, HI: Second Language Teaching and Curriculum Center University of Hawai’i.
Glide, M. (2016). Cuáles son sus recomendaciones?: A comparative analysis of Spanish and English advice given on a Mexican subreddit. Indiana University Working Papers, 15(1): 181-207.
Nelson, G. & Hall, C. (1999). Complimenting in Mexican Spanish: Developing grammatical and pragmatic competence. Spanish Applied Lingustics, 3(1): 91-121.
Schrader-Kniffki, M. (2004). Speaking Spanish with Zapotec meaning: Requests and promises in intercultural communication in Oaxaca, Mexico. In R. Márquez Reiter, & M. E. Placencia (Eds.), Current trends in the pragmatics of Spanish (pp. 157-174). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Hye Yoon, C. (2011). Revisiting Politeness Theories: Advice in the setting of reality TV in Mexican Spanish. 스페인어문학(구 서어서문연구), 61(0), 98.
- United States
The United States of America has the fifth largest Spanish-speaking population in the world with nearly 58 million speakers in 2016. Miami, Los Angeles, and New York City represent the cities with the highest density of Spanish speakers within the United States.
Pragmatics of Spanish in the United States has focused on Spanish heritage speakers across the country as well as Spanish speakers in Miami. Much of the research presented below has focused on requests in various varieties of Spanish in the United States; however, some attention has been paid to politeness, insistence, and complaints.
The table below provides an overview of studies that have examined one aspect of pragmatics across regions of the United States. This review is by no means comprehensive. Information on service encounters and forms of address will be provided under ‘Service Encounters’ and ‘Forms of Address’ (see Topics in Pragmatics in this website).
Pragmatic Variation by Region in the United States
Method of Data Collection
Sociolinguistic variation by generation, role plays
Among the three generations of Cuban immigrants, later generations have adopted negative politeness strategies in Spanish from contact with English, whereas the first generation maintains positive politeness strategies. Indeed, the requests made by third generation Spanish speakers appeared to be calques from English (e.g., Carmen, tú tienes que trabajar un poquito más). Additionally, later generations utilized the conditional and subjunctive with less frequency than older generations.
Heritage speakers of Spanish
Discourse Completion Tasks
The previously common request strategy of an imperative paired with por favor was the least frequent strategy used by heritage speakers. Instead, they opted for more indirect strategies than direct strategies, similar to English. Additionally, Mexican American farmworkers modify their requests according to the authority of their interlocutors and its level of imposition.
Heritage speakers of Spanish
This study examines the pragmatic competence of Spanish heritage language speakers when giving a refusal as well as their perception of insistence. While research shows insistence is common and expected in many varieties of Spanish, it is not considered polite in English varieties. These heritage speakers prefer indirect deliveries of refusals similar to monolingual Spanish speakers (e.g., giving a reason or explanation). Participants were aware of cultural differences between Anglo and Hispanic culture and most anticipated insistence in response to their refusal.
Pinto & Raschio (2007)
Heritage speakers of Spanish
Discourse Completion Tasks
In a contrastive study between Spanish heritage speakers, L1 English speakers, and L1 Spanish speakers, this study found that heritage speakers pattern most similarly to L1 English speakers when making a request in terms of directness. In other aspects, such as downgraders, these speakers did not approximate either monolingual group. Instead, they used this strategy at a rate in between the monolingual groups.
Pinto & Raschio (2008)
Heritage speakers of Spanish
Discourse Completion Tasks
This study compared complaints among heritage speakers, English speakers, and Spanish speakers. English speakers utilized more mitigators than the other groups, which mollified the impact of the complaint. Heritage speakers, on the other hand, constituted an intermediary group between the monolingual group in terms of mitigation.
Arellano, S. (2000). A Hierarchy of Requests in California Spanish: Are Indirectness and Mitigation Polite? In Roca, A. (Ed.) Research on Spanish in the United States: Linguistic Issues and Challenges. (pp. 319-332). Somerville: Cascadilla Press.
Elias, V. (2016). Pragmalinguistic and Sociopragmatic Variation: Refusing among Spanish Heritage Speakers. Indiana University Working Papers, 15(1), 1-32. Bloomington: Indiana University Working Papers.
Gutiérrez-Rivas, C. (2011). Variación y cambo pragmático en el español de los cubanos en Miami: el efecto de la generación en el discurso bilingüe. In C. García & M. E. Placencia (Eds.), Estudios de variación pragmática en español. Buenos Aires: Editorial Dunken.
Montrul, S. (2010). Dominant language transfer in adult second language learners and heritage speakers. Second Language Research, 26, 293-327.
Pinto, D. (2012). Pragmatics and Discourse: Doing things with words in Spanish as a heritage language. In S. M. Beaudire & M. Fariclough (Eds.), Spanish as a heritage language in the United States: The state of the field (pp. 121-138). Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Press.
Pinto, D. & Raschio, R. (2007). A comparative study of requests in heritage speaker Spanish, L1 Spanish, and L1 English. International Journal of Bilingualism, 11, 135-155.
Pinto, D. & Raschio, R. (2008). Oye, ¿qué onda con mi dinero? An analysis of heritage speaker complaints. Sociolinguistic Studies, 2, 221-249.