Social Functions of Conditional Apologies in Business Communication

Xing Zhang


The objective of this study is to investigate what social functions conditional apologies perform. To this end, naturally occurring conditional apologies were identified in an authentic business corpus, the Cambridge Business English Corpus (CBEC). From the perspective of speakers’ face needs, two research questions were discussed. The first question asks what the functions are that conditional apologies are employed to fulfil when used by speakers. The second question is whether conditional apologies are oriented towards the speaker’s positive needs. In the spoken and written corpora of the CBEC, occurrences of sorry-based expressions (sorry and I’m sorry) collocating with if are extracted, and the ratios of occurrences of conditional apologies to all apologies of sorry-based expression are compared. Our findings indicate that in business communication, the conditional apology could be used as a downgrading strategy for the purpose of denying full responsibility and decreasing face-threat to the speakers. The conditional apology could also be used by speakers to distance themselves from the offense, question the offensiveness of the event and to deny the speaker’s knowledge of it or involvement in it. Furthermore, through analysis of real examples, conditional apologies are determined to be driven by a desire to satisfy the speaker’s positive face needs in these contexts. In addition, our observation reveals that there is a tendency for the conditional apology to be used with a coordinating conjunction but to add a contrast statement in order to add detailed explanation regarding the causes of those offenses.


Conditional Apology, Social Functions, Positive Needs

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