This study examines variation in request realisations among teenage students in an urban secondary school classroom environment as a function of gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status. The quantitative, speech act theoretic analysis is complemented by consideration of politeness and rapport-management issues and based on data elicited by a discourse completion task (DCT) alongside a smaller sample of naturally occurring speech. The possible influence of students’ differential attitudes to the school as an institution is also considered. Clear gender differences are found, as well as some evidence of variation by ethnicity and socio-economic status. The relative strengths of the two data collection instruments are assessed. It is suggested that DCT-elicited data offer advantages for control of sociolinguistic variables, and that although it does not precisely reflect natural speech it can yield valuable insight into speakers’ perceptions of what is appropriate to a given hearer. The field-note and audio-recording instrument, whilst providing more authentic data, is weakened by the difficulty of obtaining an adequate corpus of request realisations from an unbiased sample of speakers.
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