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1. Ling 122: English as a World Language - 9 Politeness
Y. Kachru & L. Smith,
2. The concept of politeness is crucial in any communication, but particularly in cross cultural communication
Communication with others must take culture into
Norms of politeness
vary from culture
to culture Politeness and Culture
3. Politeness in High and Low Context Cultures
What is meant by a ‘high context message’?
What is meant by a ‘low context message’?
What is meant by a ‘high’ or a ‘low context culture’?
Why is the understanding of this concept important? High and Low Context Cultures
4. All languages have devices to indicate politeness and formality.
Linguistic markers of status, deference, humility
Posture, facial expressions, gestures, etc.
Politeness is closely
tied to cultural values.
One must know the
cultural values in order
to function successfully
in a society. Ways to indicate politeness
Group membership Parameters of Politeness
6. The public self-image that every member wants to claim for him/herself
Negative face – the claim to freedom of action and freedom from
Positive face –
self-image of the
7. Negative face-threatening speech acts threaten to restrict addressee’s freedom of action or freedom from imposition
Could you lend me $100 until next month?
If I were you, I’d consult a doctor. That sounds serious.
You’re so luck to have such a good job!
Positive face-threatening speech acts threaten the positive self-image of the addressee by signaling undesirable qualities or disagreement
Wasn’t that report due today?
I’m not sure I agree with your interpretation of that.
‘Mabel thinks you have put on some weight.’ Face-Threatening Speech Acts
8. Are all requests considered threatening to the negative face of the interlocutor(s) in other cultures?
Are all less-than-positive comments about one’s appearance considered threatening to the positive fact of the interlocutor(s) in other cultures? Are notions of positive and negative face universal?
9. ‘… a collection of rights and duties’
‘… hierarchy and position in a system of roles’
General Rule: The higher the status, the more politeness from the lower
Japanese Politeness Assignment
Rule: If the speaker is lower in
social status that the hearer, then
the utterance has to be polite. If the
speaker is higher in social status than
the hearer but is lower than the
subject of the sentence he is
uttering, then the utterance has to be
10. Rank: A hierarchical organization with reference to a social institution.
One’s rank often serves as the
term of address
One’s rank often cues the level of
Cultures vary as to which
relationships are treated as
rank relationships and which ones are treated as status relationships Rank
11. Role refers to the less institutionalized position one assumes in some interaction
12. Power: The ability to impose one’s will on others
Sometimes high status and high power don’t coincide
In Britain, Japan, Thailand, special terms of address & other markers of polite language use signal the
monarch’s high status &
13. Age The relative ages of the speaker and the hearer determine how politeness is expressed In many speech communities ,
a younger person may not
address an older person by his/her name, even if the younger person is of higher status. In Thailand, even among close friends & casual acquaintances, the younger person uses a term of respect in addressing the older.
14. Sex or gender differences
exist in all cultures with
respect to polite language
In general, women’s speech is supposed to be more polite.
In many cultures, men’s speech is constrained in the presence of women.
Sex differences take precedence over intimacy in male-female interaction. Sex
15. Social distance is a factor affecting politeness.
Social distance is linked to
The more intimate the
participants are, the less social
distance between them. The
more intimate , the less polite they are to each other
16. Of participants – significant
Of setting – boss/employee
at a bar-be-cue Intimacy
17. The relationship between
what linguistic features are used.
India: use of honorific / plural
forms of pronouns to address
or refer to parents-in-law Kinship
18. In some societies, group membership is important in determining what politeness strategies are used.
Japan: certain honorifics used with out-group members only; others for in-group
AAE: signifying & marking
Marking: narrator affects the voice
the speaker in the
Signifying: ‘I see you
got your furniture
rearranged.’ Group Membership
19. Cultural values determine which parameters (i.e., face, status, rank, role, power, age, sex, social distance, intimacy, kinship, group membership) interact with each other, and which ones are weighted more heavily in comparison with the others. Observation about Politeness Across Cultures
20. Pronouns of address
Romance languages - ‘tu’ vs. ‘vous’ forms
Thai – use of pronouns for ‘I’ and ‘you’ depends on status, rank, age, sex, social distance/intimacy & kinship/group membership
etc. etc. Instruments of Politeness
Yamada ga musuko to syokuzi o tanosinda.
Speaker H, referent & son L
Yamada-san ga musuko-san to o-syokuzi o tanosim-are-ta.
Speaker L, referent & soon H
Yamada-san ga musuko to o-syokuzi o tanosim-are-ta.
Speaker & son L, referent H
“Yamada enjoyed dinner with (his/my) son.”
‘Herr Doktor Professor Hubner’
‘Honorable,’ ‘Respected,’ ‘Sir,’ ‘Excellency’ Instruments of Politeness
22. Kinship terms
In many Asian languages, kinship terms are often used for people unrelated to the speaker:
Uncle / aunt
etc. Instruments of Politeness
23. Set formulas
Alla ma?ak = ‘God be with you’
Alla yihfazak = ‘God preserve you’
‘Where are you going?’
‘Just over there.’ Instruments of Politeness
In many languages (e.g., Russian, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, some dialects of Polish), plurals may be used to show politeness when addressing a single person. Instruments of Politeness
In some societies,
questions are used to
e.g. Inner Circle English-
‘Could you tell me the time?’ Instruments of Politeness
26. Indirect speech acts
‘It’s cold in here.’
In Bengali, requests are sometimes made through plain statements, e.g., in a clothing shop …
Aamaar šart dorkaar
‘I need a shirt.’
In some cultures, talk about some unrelated topic is first indulged in before the real subject is mentioned. Instruments of Politeness
27. Topicalization and focus
In English, topicalization and focus can effect the degree of politeness.
‘If you DON’T MIND my asking, where did you get that dress?
‘WHERE did you get that dress, if you don’t mind my asking?’
Which is more polite sounding? Why? Instruments of Politeness
The greater the effort expended in face-maintaining linguistic behavior, the greater the politeness,
E.g., ‘I wouldn’t dream of it since I know you are very busy, but I am simply unable to do
it myself, so ….’
Is this a universal tendency? Instruments of Politeness
29. Use of ‘little’
Many languages use the phrase ‘a little’ to convey the meaning carried by English ‘please’ in imperatives.
(as in ‘Come here once’) Instruments of Politeness
Linguistic devices by which a speaker avoids statements that are considered too strong.
Hedges are used to reduce friction in that they leave the way open for the respondent to disagree with the speaker and the speaker to retreat.
‘Doc, Sleepy and Grumpy
are sorta short.’ Instruments of Politeness
31. Gaze, gesture, & body posture
Japanese bow, exchange business cards with two hands
Thais wai, avoid touching the head
The ‘ok’ sign can mean
An obscene comment
Instruments of Politeness
32. Tannen examines the differences in the pragmatic uses of language in relation to regional American English dialects.
- Deborah Tannen – A New Yorker.
New Yorker talking about New Yorkers, first hand information.
You can also talk about yourself and your language experiences with more confidence. Tannen, “Talking New York:…”
33. 3. New Yorkers have lots of ways of being friendly that put non-NYers off. E.g. “The way we ask question, to show that we are interested in the other person”.
Diane: You live in LA?
Diane: Y’visiting here?
Diane: Whaddya do there?
Chad: I work for Disney Prese- Walt Disney.
Diane: You an artist?
Chad: No, no.
Can you tell who is New Yorker here and why? Tannen, “Talking New York:…”
34. HOW DO NEW YORKERS TALK DIFFERENTLY?
1. New Yorkers can easily chime in to conversations with strangers, and get out as easily as they chime in.
2. New Yorkers find it appropriate to make comments to strangers when there’s something to complain about, since complaining give them (“us”) a sense of togetherness in adversity.
“Why don’t they do something about this garbage?”
“Ever since they changed the schedules, you can’t get a bus!” Tannen, “Talking New York:…”
35. 4. In a really good New York conversation, more than one person is talking a lot of time. HOW?
E.g. (From taped and analyzed conversations), NY listeners punctuate a speaker’s talk with comments, reactions, questions.
5. Knowing what you’re talking about is not necessary in order to take part in any kind of conversation. Knowing what kind of comment to make, when, and how fast is not only necessary, but sufficient. Tannen, “Talking New York:…”
36. 6. NY listener does a lot of talking. HOW?
E.g. By showing your appreciation fast and loud, if you like the story, or if you think that someone has made a good point.
Will you feel comfortable if someone keeps on saying “Wow!, “What!”, or “Oh, God!” during your speech?
Tannen, “Talking New York:…”
37. 7. NYers also think it’s nice to let others in on their thoughts, and to tell about their personal experiences; the expectation is that others will do the same
Can you imagine a situation where this could lead to a “social problem”?
Tannen, “Talking New York:…”
38. Author’s Assessment: “After observing many hours of conversation and analyzing tape recordings of many more, the style of New York conversation grows out of the desire to show involvement with other people”
Our Lesson: Knowledge should lead us to appreciate (NOT fear) differences, and our study of dialect difference should also lead us to appreciate linguistic differences.
An important book on ‘Regional and Ethnic Dialects of American English’:
Wolfram, Walt and Natalie Schilling-Estes. 2006. American English (Second Edition). Blackwell. Tannen, “Talking New York:…”
39. What value system is Korea English rooted in?
What are the characteristics of that value system?
How do those values manifest themselves in Korea English?
What are the implications for international business transactions? Kyung-Ja Park on Korea English
40. Implications for doing business in a global economy - China Conclusion