Multiple Interpretations of EFL Learners’ Silence in the Iranian Context

Reza Ghaffar Samar, Elham Yazdanmehr


Attention to silence as part of the communicative discourse was first drawn in Sack’s (1974) paper, in which it was perceived as a linguistic and communicative form, and from the functional point of view as capable of expressing ideational, interpersonal, and textual functions. Awareness of multiple functions of silence including the referential, emotive, conative, phatic, poetic and metalanguage is of greater significance when it comes to language learning settings, where learners from a different cultural background from the target language are present to learn that language.  In such contexts, awareness of various functions of silence and correct interpretation of it is essential in teacher-student rapport. This paper aims to, first, provide an introduction to the multiple functions of silence in general and then to investigate these functions in EFL classes of Iran’s private language institutes. The researchers’ own teaching experience along with class observations and 2 phases of interview with teachers of those classes comprise the research data. Findings were indicative of teachers’ lack of awareness of diverse communicative functions of silence in class and that this awareness could be raised through the informal interview phases. This paper attests to the fact that not all learner’s silence should be interpreted negatively as lack of attention or knowledge. Teachers need to be aware of the salient meanings of silence in their EFL class and take an appropriate reactive step accordingly.



Silence, Jakobson’s communicative model, culture, EFL, Iran

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