The observation that email requests written by Japanese learners of German often fail to meet politeness requirements, prompted me to conduct research on German and Japanese writing styles. For this purpose, a database consisting of 200 request emails written by German and Japanese students was collected. To facilitate the comparability of the data and to allow control of situational variables, the emails were collected within an experimental framework. one hundred randomly-selected German and Japanese students respectively were asked to write an email based on a writing task aimed at eliciting a request frequently occurring in a university context.
The results of the analysis of the request sequence have already been described in Harting (2008). The focus of this article is to look at how the requests are embedded in the email, i. e. which other text parts are employed to form an appropriate email request in the languages under investigation. Based on findings in text linguistics and contrastive pragmatics, the formal, structural, and linguistic properties of these emails were analysed qualitatively and quantitatively according to situational variables. The analysis aimed to uncover which individual text parts, such as the greeting, reasons for the request, the farewell statement, etc. are commonly used in the languages under investigation and how they are realised linguistically. Of particular interest was the performance of the request sequence.
The results reveal structural differences in German and Japanese writing styles as well as differences regarding content and language use. While German emails structurally adhere strictly to writing styles of German letters, i.e. they contain a greeting, a farewell statement and the writer's name at the end, the text norms of Japanese emails are more flexible in this regard. At the content level, German writers make extensive use of expressions of gratitude and promises of forbearance in order to support their request, while Japanese writers prefer apologies for the imposition and repetitions of the request. As far as the language level is concerned, German writers express themselves more individually by using creative forms of expression and humour, while Japanese writers are more formal by making extensive use of routine formulae.
The comparison of German and Japanese request emails forms the basis of a larger research project aimed at developing teaching materials that shall enable Japanese students to write German emails more appropriately. My future research will focus on the difficulties that Japanese learners of German have when writing requests in the target language and in which way they can be supported in this effort.