Learners of Spanish as a second language can use advanced grammatical structures, vocabulary, idiomatic expressions and have good pronunciation and communication skills. However, the speech act of refusal is not a natural act for them. The aim of this study is to analyze the structure and function of the refusal speech act by comparing three populations: 1) monolingual Mexicans, 2) Spanish heritage speakers and 3) second-language learners of Spanish (3 groups). This research will serve and help heritage speakers and Spanish learners improve their communicative competence to express themselves more clearly and concisely, as well as learn to communicate more similarly to native Spanish speakers.

Participants (N=38) were 10 monolingual Mexicans, 10 heritage speakers, and 18 Spanish learners (3 groups). All participants completed an Oral Discourse Completion Task (ODCT) and a language background questionnaire. In addition, heritage speakers and Spanish learners completed a social interaction questionnaire and a contextualized Spanish language proficiency test. The ODCT consisted of 12 diverse situations as a function of three variables: degree of imposition (high, medium, low), authority (superior vs. equal), and intimacy (distant vs. intimate).

The results showed that monolingual Mexicans tended to use indirect rejections, such as reason/justification, thanks, efforts to dissuade the interlocutor, alternatives, etc. Heritage speakers also employed indirect rejections, namely reason/justification, apologies, efforts to dissuade the interlocutor, thank you, etc. That is, it was found that the rejections of heritage speakers were similar to those of monolingual Mexicans in the sense that they employed indirect strategies, but the difference lay in the type and number of strategies. Regarding the variables mentioned above, this study revealed that heritage speakers justified themselves much more than monolingual Mexicans in situations that were not so serious and with interlocutors representing superiority.

As for the comparison made between monolingual Mexicans and learners of Spanish (3 groups) it was shown that intermediate and advanced learners were more direct than monolingual Mexicans, but monolingual Mexicans were more direct than beginning learners. This study also showed that advanced learners were the only ones who used empathy as a strategy.

As for the first variable, it was observed that intermediate and advanced learners used less justification than monolingual Mexicans with distant listeners. On the other hand, beginner learners justified themselves more than monolingual Mexicans with distant or unfamiliar listeners. Regarding the second variable, advanced learners were the only ones who did not use the desire strategy. On the other hand, beginners and intermediate learners did, as long as they were their boyfriends/girlfriends, friends, or partners (intimate relationships). Mexicans did use the desire strategy, but only with interlocutors they considered superior. Finally, Mexicans gave more alternatives than apprentices in mild situations.


Nofiya Denbaum-Restrepo

Committee Member

Falcon Restepo-Ramos

Committee Member

Adriana Gordillo

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Science (MS)

Program of Study



Humanities and Social Sciences


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