Complaining has been an under-represented speech act in cross-cultural pragmatics. Unlike the well-defined speech acts such as apologizing, requesting, and complimenting, complaining is comparatively more complex in that it has no pre-determined forms and the interpretations are often negotiable. In this study, a total of 40 American and Taiwanese university students were recruited and asked to fill out a discourse completion test (DCT) containing eight complaint-provoking scenarios. The DCT was employed as the major instrument because it elicits the most critical part of the speech act under investigation and allows for cross-cultural comparisons. Six complaint strategies (opting out, interrogation, accusation, request for repair, and threat) were identified and analyzed in terms of their overall and combined use across the eight scenarios. The quantitative results indicated that the American and the Chinese participants shared similar distributions in both overall and combined strategy use. The qualitative findings, however, showed differences in their choice of linguistic forms and expression of semantic content. Such similarities and differences are then discussed from the universality/culture-specificity perspective.
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