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Public Lecture 17.10.2023

17. Oktober 2023

„The language of online complaints: characteristics and effect on readers” - D2.2.228 - 17.10.2023, 17:00

*Please register for the event: bizcomm.lectures@wu.ac.at


The language of online complaints: characteristics and effect on readers

In this research talk, I will present some of the key insights related to my research on complaints. In earlier studies on complaints (e.g. Trosborg 1995), different complaint strategies were distinguished based on the degree of explicitness and the assumed degree of face-threat taken together. With Ilse Depraetere, however, I argued that explicitness and face-threat should be disentangled. The degree of explicitness can be determined by analyzing the realization of complaints, while the degree of face-threat can be assessed by conducting an interaction or perception analysis.

For the analysis of complaint realization, we developed our own methodology (Decock and Depraetere 2018). The first step in this methodology consists of identifying four constitutive components of a complaint (i.e., the complainable, the negative evaluation of the complainable, the person/company responsible for the complainable, and a wish for compensation). The degree of complaint explicitness is determined based on the number of constitutive components that are explicitly expressed. The second step in this methodology consists of analyzing how each complaint component is (para-)linguistically realized. This method has already been applied to French customer complaint tweets (Depraetere et al. 2021) and Dutch political complaint tweets and, together with Nicolas Ruytenbeek, I extended it to the analysis of French negative reviews on TripAdvisor and Booking.com (Ruytenbeek et al. 2021). These analyses allowed me to compare complaints from a cross-cultural (French-French vs. Belgian-French), cross-platform (TripAdvisor vs. Booking.com), cross-domain (customer service vs. politics) and genre (complaints vs. negative reviews) perspective.

Aside from presenting our method of analyzing the linguistic characteristics of complaints and the comparative analyses’ findings that have resulted from it, I will discuss the approach that Ilse Depraetere and myself, together with Nicolas Ruytenbeek, adopted to explore the perlocutionary effects of complaints. More specifically, I will focus on experiments we conducted to assess the effects of complaint explicitness and the (para-)linguistic realization of complaint components in terms of perceived face-threat in the context of customer complaints on Twitter (Ruytenbeek et al. 2023).


Sofie Decock, Associate Professor Ghent University, Belgium


I am Associate Professor in Applied Linguistics at the German Section of the Department for Translation, Interpreting and Communication at Ghent University. In 2009, I received my PhD in literature at Ghent University on the mythical spatial and temporal discourses in Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s travel writing. I published several articles in edited volumes and in journals such as Journal of Pragmatics, Intercultural Pragmatics, Multilingua, International Journal of Business Communication, Discourse Context & Media Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, and Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik. I conduct research on:

  1. digital business communication, with a focus on complaints, reviews and webcare. From a mixed methods perspective, I analyze 1) the discursive and linguistic patterns in these genres, and I examine 2) how these discursive strategies and linguistic features impact perceptions, attitudes and response strategies. On top of this, I am interested in how L2 written language use is perceived by L1 professionals in the intercultural workplace.

  2. gender and language

  3. discursive representations of otherness and body semiotics in travel texts


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