Archive for Tag: cultural contex

Thursday, August 25, 2016

I am Sorry, but Apologizing in English is Really Complicated

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Remember when you were a kid and after a fight with your brothers or sisters, your parents would make you apologize? Even though my sister and I are great friends now, when we were younger, we’d get into some terrible battles. I was older and wilier, so it was often my unkindness that was to blame. But, when we had to make up at my mother’s insistence, the “I’m sorry” I muttered could never have been mistaken for a genuine expression of contrition.

Finding the Words to Say Sorry

But, why was that? Isn’t it enough just to say the words, “I’m sorry” when we’ve done something harmful to another person? Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Let’s assume that we are talking about genuine apologies here, not my coerced childhood apologies to my sister. According to Trosborg (1987), the language we use for an apology depends on the severity of the complaint (e.g. bumping into a stranger on the street versus running over a neighbor’s pet) and the relationship between the apologizer and the apologizee (e.g. a woman in a yoga class versus a supervisor at work).

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