Politeness and globalization. Chance or risk?

Essay, 2015

14 Pages, Grade: 2,0



Table of Contetns

1 Introdurction

2 Globalization, Culture and Politeness

3 Formality and indirectness in requests

4 Apologies in English and Chinese

5 Australian and Taiwanese conception of im/politeness

6 Conclusion



1 Introdurction

In intercultural pragmatics, the study of politeness phenomena in relation to certain forms of language usage can be an important key to understanding a number of sociolinguistics problems and misunderstandings arising from differences in culture, as well as between individuals in interpersonal communication (Kyong-Ae, Y, 2011: 385).

This quote perfectly describes the purpose of this study work. In the following pages, I will investigate the connection between globalization and politeness and will try to divide the influence of globalization into positive and negative aspects, so I am able to make a conclusion at the end. To ensure this, it is necessary to deal with the terms “politeness” and “globalization” first. The term politeness has a long history, which goes back to the 16th century and describes some extent “the quality of being polite” (Eelen, 2001: i). Automatically terms such as good manners, consideration and sophisticated are associated with it. Consequently, it can be concluded that politeness is “having or showing that one has good manners and consideration for other people” (ibid.). Another explanation describes the standards of behavior with the meaning of speech styles and formality. Here, the maxims of politeness and the face-saving and the face-threatening acts are of great importance. “There are standards of behaviour in any society and in any according to which the speaker is deemed to have spoken politely or not” (Locher, 2004: 60). However, I will not go into the maxims of politeness and the acts because they do not play a major role in the further course of the study work. A third and final definition of politeness, which may also fits best to the central question, describes politeness as a field of intercultural pragmatics, which has gained extremely importance in recent decades, since “empirical studies have proliferated, examining – individually and cross-culturally – languages and language varieties from around the world” (Hickey & Stewart, 2005: 1). This approach therefore describes the increasing importance of politeness thanks to the global empirical studies on language learning and diversity. A first impression can be found here in what way politeness and globalization fit together.

After a brief overview of “politeness” was given, it is necessary to deal with the term of “globalization”. The term is ubiquitous and probably well known to everyone. Nevertheless, there are different opinions, ranging from strongly positive to strongly negative or even neutral. The Oxford English Dictionary describes the term as“The process by which businesses or other organizations develop international influence or start operating on an international scale” (oxforddictionaries.com). Not infrequently this process is viewed negatively and “fears about the increasing globalization of the world economy “ (ibid.) appear. A suitable and value-free definition has, in my opinion, Maria Sifianou.

Globalisation tends to be perceived as one of the most powerful forces shaping today’s world. In its simplest sense, globalisation refers to the acceleration of processes of interconnectedness in every aspect of social life. It is assumed that this will lead to the homogenisation of the world under the influence of the omnipresent American culture. However, since globalisation is a process rather than an end state, its consequences are contingent on various factors and are, therefore, uncertain and unpredictable (Sifianou, 2013: 86).

With this knowledge it is now possible to examine the significance of the compounds of globalization and politeness.

2 Globalization, Culture and Politeness

Globalization seems to be omnipresent nowadays. Therefore, there is the fear that the language suffers from globalization and an omnipresent American language and style of speech arises, as the American States of America are the largest and most important motor for the progress of globalization (Sifianou, 2013: 87). “In this context, language is viewed as a commodity and, like other commodities, is seen as falling under the sweeping power of American culture and norms” (idip.). This is the reason why many experts equalize “globalization” with “americanization”. Granted, this assumption is debatable because there are reasons for and against it. However, what can not be denied is the increase of the English language in a global context. This process leads to the phenomenon that more and more people speak less and less languages (Bargiella-Chiappini & Kádár, 2011: 3-4). But it should also be noted that the same process also leads to a simplified communication between different cultures, ethnic groups and people (Sifianou, 2013: 87). For this reason, globalization “should be seen as a dialectic of the global and the local” (ibid.).

Despite numerous publications on globalization in social theory and cultural studies, it seems as if the (socio) linguistics is lagging behind. The spread of English and its power dominates the literature und phenomena such as the ‘”diffusion" of certain discourse norms from the English-speaking world, which may displace established local ways of interacting without displacing local languages as such” (ibid: 88) are displaced.

If one investigates politeness on a global scale it is best to analyze the service area. Sifianou describes situations at Swedish McDonald's restaurants, where employees address lone customers, neither using the norms of American informality nor the regular Swedish second person singular but rather an impersonal structure like "will there be fries with that?" (Sifianou, 2013: 88), a “re-emerging avoidance strategy which was dominant in Swedish until the mid-seventies when it was replaced by the less formal singular” (ibid.). In contrast, the Swedish firm “IKEA” requires the use of singular forms to single addressees even in its operations outside Sweden (ibid.). Sifianou also assumes that if this practice were transferred to countries like Italy or Greece “it would be met with strange looks and even cutting remarks” (ibid.). As is well known, pronominal distinctions accepted strategies which probably transmit politeness and distance or intimacy. However, they are strictly culturally bound and inadequate use may cause offence. Examples such as this show that “the emerging picture is highly complex” (ibid.) so it seems too easy to conclude that there are only external forces which influence local norms. Even if there is a certain degree of influence it does not automatically lead to the appropriation of the entire local service section, for example “nformality emerges as a common practice in various communities and in contexts in which it was previously perceived as rather inappropriate, this innovation may not be as widespread or may reflect other sources of origin” (ibid: 88). In today's time, people have the opportunity to use various tools and resources during a conversation which they can combine in different levels and creative ways. It is no necessary constraint that the parties portray imported global phrases and structures but may develop, and adapt these structures, so that they seem more suitable. Thus rather than assuming that only foreign and external strengths have the power to influence local discourse norms it is also important to remember parameters such as “local norms and continuity and the possibility of confluence of local and global social forces” (ibid: 88). Now the question arises how exactly local and global forces affect politeness and impoliteness. Sifianou wonders if precisely this balance and mutual influence of the two forces is what characterizes different assumptions or expectations of (im-) politeness and also whether this influence can lead to an over tipping of local politeness conventions into impoliteness (ibid.). To test this assumption I will analyze some elements of politeness in the following.

3 Formality and indirectness in requests

The literature agrees that there are three types of meaning in indirect requests. The first one is the so called non-conventional indirectness, the request is not indicated by the actual meaning but is inferred, as in hints. (Kyong-Are, 2011: 389).The other two are the conventional indirectness and the literal meaning. In literal meaning the request is directly asked without any hints or allusions, whereas in conventional indirectness a set of conditions are necessary for the effective performance and is mostly used for certain functional purposes (ibid.). Depending on what degree of formality one is arranged one of the three types is used. However, “formality is a multidimensional phenomenon and, thus, hard to define, largely because it subsumes many factors including familiarity, seriousness and politeness” (Sifianou, 2013: 88), Formality and politeness were considered equivalent for decades. In everyday English politeness is defined as the appropriate use of formal language, “politeness intuitively tends to be associated with formality; hence politeness is juxtaposed with informality” (ibid: 89). Thus it can be assumed that a higher degree of formality signifies greater politeness. Due to the rise of informality in public contexts in the U.S. and the U.K. a general trend towards ‘‘the casualization of everyday speech” (ibid.) has been associated. Also a so-called egalitarianism, as well as a large degree of impoliteness, has shaped the western cultures in recent decades. The reason for this should be the increasing amalgamation of private and public life, which in turn were caused by, for example, telemarketing, where the customers is addressed by his first name, or addressing U.S. presidents by first names, as was done by Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton (ibid.). However, it should also be noted that this trend is not necessarily new, though the progression of the phenomenon has increased presumably by technical achievements (ibid.).

4 Apologies in English and Chinese

Primarily, an apology is in most cases a written or spoken statement which shows one’s regret or remorse for having damaged, failed or humiliated another. (Watts, 2003: 5-8). However, there are huge cultural differences concerning the type of apology, the period or the adequacy. The excuse has to be meant intended as such, as well as treated as an apology by the recipient (ibid.). This chapter will specifically focus on Australian English and (Mandarin) Chinese apologies. Wei-Lin states that an apology is the “par excellence of politeness at work” (2011: 415). English apologies have been found to be a support or resource to ensure a “disarming or softening” (ibid.) environment during a conversation.

In both cases, the most common IFID* in English across formal and informal settings has been found to be sorry-based units (Aijmer 1996; Deustchmann 2003; Holmes 1990; Owen 1983). For instance, in examples of apology in spoken data from the British National Corpus, 59.2% of identified IFIDs contained the sorry token (Deustchmann 2003: 51), while in spoken data from the London-Lund Corpus, the most common IFID was found to be (I’m) sorry, with 180/215 tokens (83.7%) found according to Aijmer (1996: 84) (ibid: 416). ‘here: apology.

Studies of apologies in interactional discourse in English have occupied that apologies do not appear isolated but are rather predated by priming moves, which explain the apology’s reason. The conjunctives “but” and “and” represent the two “most predominant account turn-constructions” (ibid.) and have different implications. When using “and”, the speaker tends to build a link (of responsibility) between himself and the offense (the reason for the apology).In contrast, the use of “but” usually implies explanations or justifications, which plead or disband the speaker from the offence, so to speak it is an attempt by the speaker to release from the offence/situation by himself (Davies, 2011: 57).

Even answers to excuses, show two fundamental differences, because there is a distinction between preferred and dispreferred (Wei-Lin, 2011: 416). Preferred responses somehow try to reduce or undermine the necessity of an apology and play the alleged offense down. Expressions like “it’s alright” or “no problem” are prime examples for such preferred responses, this process is often descripted as “absolution” (ibid.). Conversely, dispreferred responses “include mere acknowledgements, such as shrugging or saying right, or responses that show concord with the apology such as yeah” (ibid.). This type of adoption shows that the responding person shares the need of an apology.


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Politeness and globalization. Chance or risk?
University of Hildesheim  (Institut für englische Sprache und Literatur)
Linguistic Pragmatics
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
globalization, politeness, chance, risk, english literature, literature, linguistics, pragmatics
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2015, Politeness and globalization. Chance or risk?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/489454


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