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A field test of equivocation theory: Apologies by Canadian churches to indigenous people
Unformatted Document Text:  9 he or she is expressing sympathy. But if the speaker is the one who did the firing, caused the accident, or made the person feel bad, then that phrasing is inappropriate because it is sympathy, not an apology. For a true apology, the offender would have to take responsibility for the hurtful act, naming him- or herself as the agent of the offense and describing equally clearly what he or she did. Anything else is what we might call a non-apology, an equivocation that appears to apologize without really doing so. Parenthetically, it is intriguing that non-apologies are apparently common enough that there are many terms for distinguishing them from real apologies. If all apologies were real apologies, there would be no need to add adjectives such as: “full apology” vs. “incomplete/qualified apology” “sincere apology” vs. “insincere apology” “true apology” vs. “failed/botched apology” “genuine apology” vs. “pseudo-apology ” “meaningful apology” vs. “grudging apology” “satisfactory apology” vs. “unsatisfactory apology” Recall that the Bavelas et al. (1990) method of assessing equivocation began with a broad set of standards for clear and direct communication and then compared the message to this standard. The same logic can be applied here, using standards specific to apologies. If the difference between a true (clear and direct) apology and an equivocal one is the presence or absence of the offender’s responsibility for clearly described acts, then it should be possible to look directly at the text of the apology for language that expresses responsibility (or not). Although linguistics provides several technical ways to assess these features, none is superior to a fairly simply grammatical

Authors: Bavelas, Janet.
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he or she is expressing sympathy. But if the speaker is the one who did the firing,
caused the accident, or made the person feel bad, then that phrasing is inappropriate
because it is sympathy, not an apology. For a true apology, the offender would have to
take responsibility for the hurtful act, naming him- or herself as the agent of the offense
and describing equally clearly what he or she did. Anything else is what we might call a
non-apology, an equivocation that appears to apologize without really doing so.
Parenthetically, it is intriguing that non-apologies are apparently common enough
that there are many terms for distinguishing them from real apologies. If all apologies
were real apologies, there would be no need to add adjectives such as:
“full apology”
vs.
“incomplete/qualified apology”
“sincere
apology”
vs.
“insincere
apology”
“true
apology” vs.
“failed/botched
apology”
“genuine apology”
vs.
“pseudo-apology ”
“meaningful
apology”
vs.
“grudging
apology”
“satisfactory apology”
vs.
“unsatisfactory apology”
Recall that the Bavelas et al. (1990) method of assessing equivocation began
with a broad set of standards for clear and direct communication and then compared the
message to this standard. The same logic can be applied here, using standards
specific to apologies. If the difference between a true (clear and direct) apology and an
equivocal one is the presence or absence of the offender’s responsibility for clearly
described acts, then it should be possible to look directly at the text of the apology for
language that expresses responsibility (or not). Although linguistics provides several
technical ways to assess these features, none is superior to a fairly simply grammatical


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