Politeness is certainly valued amongst all cultures; however what it means to be polite varies from culture to culture. What may be considered as a common act of politeness in one society may be completely foreign and unheard of in another. Politeness is usually conveyed through verbal communication; however even the morphological structure of a sentence can often express politeness. This essay will discuss how various linguistic devices and the use of politeness in particular interactions differs across cultures.
Politeness exists in every culture but there are different devices amongst these cultures that have been developed in order to portray politeness uniquely. An example of this is the use of honorifics in Korean which expresses grammatically and lexically encoded forms of politeness and embodies a particular notion of hierarchism (Byon 2006, p. 249). The simple grammatical change in the sentence depends on the social relationship or difference in social status between speakers (Byon 2006). Alternatively, English speakers use indirect speech acts in order to portray politeness (Wierzbicka 1991). As a result, the imperative form is avoided, and a longer linguistic process is used in order to soften the directness of the request and ultimately sound more polite (Wierzbicka 1991).
Different cultures encode their politeness and respect markers differently. Turn taking is one of the many fundamental features of human talk, and English speakers consider the appropriate point for speakers to switch is when the speaker concludes his or her message (Hickey 2005). On the other hand, in all but very formal meetings between strangers in Spanish culture, interrupting the speaker is not considered impolite (Hickey 2005, p. 318). In fact, interrupting a Spanish person while they’re speaking expresses enthusiasm, passion, and positive involvement in the conversation (Hickey 2005). This shows that although interrupting someone whilst they’re speaking in English may...
References: Brown, P. and Levinson, S. (1987) Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge: CUP.
Byon, A. S. (2006) The role of linguistic indirectness and honorifics in achieving linguistic politeness in Korean requests. Journal of Politeness Research 2,2: 247-276.
Haverkate, H. (1988) Toward a typology of politeness strategies in communicative interaction. Multilingua 7(4), 385-409
Hickey, L. (2005) Politeness in Spain: Thanks but no “thanks”. In L. Hickey and M. Stewart. Politeness in Europe. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Wierzbicka , A. (1991) Cross-cultural pragmatics. The Hague: Mouton de Gruyter. Ch 2: “Different cultures, different languages, different speech acts”
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