Politeness strategies in Hungary and England with special focus on greetings and leave-taking terms

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

37 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Greetings and leave-taking terms
1.1. Introduction
1.2. Politeness in comparison
1.2.1. General
1.2.2. Different aspects of politeness Positive/Negative Politeness Directness/indirectness Avoidance of face-threatening acts Apologies Address Forms Address Forms in England Address Forms in Hungary
1.3. English and Hungarian greetings
1.3.1. Variables for the choice of greetings
1.3.2. Verbal and nonverbal greetings
1.3.3 Greeting formulae Day Meet again International Greeting Changes Health
1.4. Farewells

2. Evaluation and comparison of the English and the Hungarian questionnaire

3. Conclusion

4. Abstrakt

5. Bibliography

6. Appendix
6.1. Questionnaire

"If we teach language without teaching at the same time the culture
in which it operates, we are teaching meaningless symbols or symbols
to which the student attaches the wrong meaning".[1]

1. Greetings and leave-taking terms

1.1. Introduction

Language is not simply about stringing words together. There are many different fields in which languages can differ, apart from vocabulary. There is also grammar, idioms, gestures, facial expressions, strategies of interacting, etc., all of which are influenced by cultural background, historical development, politics and the ravages of time. Concrete realizations of all these fields are included in many superordinate cultural and linguistic spheres like for example politeness. Politeness in general is a very important and interesting topic as it affects the attitude and relationship people have to each other. It is possible to influence people’s opinion about oneself by using different politeness-registers. As it has such a tremendous effect, it is advisable to get to know all the politeness strategies when learning another language.

One very central aspect of politeness is the choice of greetings. It influences the whole conversation as greetings take place at its beginning, a crucial part of a conversation. The first impression of a person can affect the whole attitude towards it and for this reason it is vital to choose the right one.

Considering these thoughts, we would like to point out in the following paper the features of English and Hungarian politeness with special focus on greetings and the differences between these languages. With the help of a questionnaire we want to confirm the theoretical part of the paper or in some cases vitiate it, which helps to see the changes in language through time.

1.2. Politeness in comparison

1.2.1. General

Hungary is a fascinating country with a long history which was influenced by many different cultures. Concerning these influences, politeness rules and therefore greeting forms in Hungary differ a lot from greeting forms in other countries. We would like to give a brief overview of the Hungarian history as well as an introduction to the Hungarian language and habits.

The Hungarian society seemed to split into two groups with the turn to the 21st century. One can be named ’the traditional cultural paradigm’ and the other ’the recent cultural paradigm’[2]. These groups are divided from each other in every aspect of society: they have a different use of language, they picture moral behaviour differently, the way they dress is different and so on. Therefore even in Hungary itself the usage of the common greeting forms differentiates, because they have a lot of ways for expressing politeness that might seem to other cultures old-fashioned.

When thinking about the English, one thing that comes to everybody’s mind is their extreme politeness. However, it is important to realize that politeness is subjective, depending on the country or culture you come from. Each culture has its own politeness rules that are taken for granted and that are not understood differently among cultures in the first place. For this reason it is a very crucial task to first of all inform people about the existence of different politeness rules among cultures and then secondly give concrete examples in what way they differ.

One special feature of politeness that has to be mentioned is the fact that it does not only focus on the hearer or reader but that it also has a face-protecting function. This means that the speaker or writer uses polite forms not just in order to fulfil his desire to be polite to others, but also to protect his own face from potential interlocutor-attacks.

1.2.2. Different aspects of politeness Positive/Negative Politeness

When it comes to politeness, Brown and Levinson are a reliable source as they treated this topic very thoroughly. They define politeness as “a redressive action taken to counter-balance the disruptive effect of face-threatening acts”[3]. To keep one’s face, i.e. trying to avoid making the listener feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, politeness is necessary. However, there are four possibilities for politeness strategies, two of which are positive and negative politeness.

Positive politeness, which tries to establish a positive relationship between interlocutors, shows that the speaker is aware of the listener’s want for respect. He sees himself and the listener as part of one team and can therefore operate on familiar terms.[4] Often direct speech acts are employed as they require and assume a strong relationship, because otherwise the directness could be perceived as impolite. However, there are four main strategies of being polite in a positive way. At first there is the possibility to attend to the hearer (example: You must be hungry, it’s a long time since breakfast. How about some lunch?)[5]. Secondly, you can try to avoid disagreement (example: A: What is she, small? B: Yes, yes, she's small, smallish, um, not really small but certainly not very big.). Another way would be to simply assume agreement (example: So when are you coming to see us?). At last, there is the option to hedge an opinion (example: You really should sort of try harder.).

Negative politeness on the other hand respects a person’s need to act freely, i.e. requests are made less infringing and importunately. With this strategy indirect speech acts are used much more often than it is the case with positive politeness. In addition to simply the realization of the hearer’s desire for respect and face-keeping, the speaker also recognizes that he is imposing on the listener when using negative politeness strategies.

There are four different possibilities to ask for something through negative politeness. The first one is simply being indirect (example: I’m looking for a pen.). The second one can be realized by requesting forgiveness (example: You must forgive me but…). Another possibility would be by minimizing the imposition (example: I just want to ask you if I can use your computer.). Finally, you can pluralize the person that is responsible for something (example: We forgot to tell you that you needed to buy your plane ticket by yesterday.).

(Hickey 2005: 116 ff).

In British English a clear tendency for negative politeness is apparent (Hickey 2005: 118). It is realized by certain linguistic strategies, like for example personal reference, hedging and deictic anchorage, which can all be summarized under the category conventional indirectness. The different features that make up the type of politeness that is used in England are listed in the following: Directness/indirectness

Conventionally in England indirect or off-record strategies are used when it comes to requests (Hickey 2005: 118). They try to avoid giving the hearer orders and treat him as actor. They achieve their goals more subtly by using a range of modifiers, like for example adverbs. As a consequence the hearer has to work out the appropriate inference of the conversation on his own in contrast to direct or bald-on-record strategies where it is presented to him directly.


Maybe sections such as p. 6-7 could be commented on.

The criticism in this example is implicit. The speaker does not just tell the writer to comment on certain areas but he suggests it by using hedging, which is realized by maybe and modalisation, realized by could.

As mentioned above, conventional indirectness is used very frequently in England to show polite behaviour. In order to achieve this goal of politeness there are different strategies that can be used and that help to create distance between speaker and listener.


Hedging as such is simply used for protection. It is ensured that the face of both the speaker and the hearer is protected. For this reason the first person singular is mostly used in order to make sure that the criticism was just subjective.


I felt that they could perhaps have been given more information.

By using hedges like felt and perhaps, actual critical contributions sound less harsh and rude. Face-threatening acts are tried to be avoided. It is also important to mention that by using they, the criticism is defocused from a single person to an unspecific group.

Nevertheless, British people do not want their interpersonal relationship, towards for example a student, to stand in the centre of attention. The above-mentioned fact of using first person references is simply a tool for proposition detachment and face-protection (Hickey 2005: 122-124).

Deictic Anchorage:

When it comes to the location of the interlocutors, normally the speaker is the central person. The time of speaking is the central time and the place where the person is speaking is the central place. However, in England it is more polite and therefore used more often, to place hedges into the past tense.


Overall, I think these students were given very effective follow-up to their work.

In assessment, I felt you tended slightly towards generosity…

By using the past tense the speaker distances himself even more, as his contribution has a temporary meaning. He can always change his attitude and therefore does not have to constitute himself on something. The further propositions can be modified by saying

I thought x, but now I see y.

To make clear the importance and immense use of past tense in politeness, it is advisable to point out several set phrases that are in past tense a priori:

I was wondering whether you could….

I didn’t think you’d mind if…..

(Hickey 2005: 124-125).


Understatement is a very important element of face needs, i.e. that it helps to keep the speaker’s and listener’s face. It is very common and is used in everyday talk. Someone’s point is stated by stating something that is close to the opposite and still does not fall into irony.


How are you?

Not the worst. Can’t complain.

Notice that in this example the given answer goes beyond simply replying Fine thanks, how are you? It does not simply include the speaker’s stating of being well but rather expresses the well-being in a form of understatement.

This form is also used when replying to compliments, offers, complaints or refusals.


That’s a great drawing, Robin.

Thanks, I suppose it’s not the worst.

Would you like a cup of tea?

I don’t mind.

This is a very typical example for an off-record statement, as it neither asks for nor refuses tea. The implication is not phrased explicitly but it is the offerer’s turn to interpret the response (Hickey 2005: 118 ff). Avoidance of face-threatening acts

As mentioned above, the speaker is not simply concerned about being polite just in order to be nice to the listener. In addition, he employs self-politeness for also being treated nicely in return. For this reason it is often the case that the hearer tries to keep the speaker’s positive face by confirming him in his contribution to the conversation and adding critique or improvements later on. Furthermore, do listeners frequently let positive feedback precede the negative one.


You give very useful advice to Jones on avoiding an overly descriptive approach to the essay and useful advice to Smith about lifting expressions from sources.

Notice that in this example, there is a small difference between the adjectives that are used for the evaluation. First very useful is used whereas later on with just useful the judgement becomes less positive. This is again very subtle as British people tend to seek always for the negative items (Hickey 2005: 118 f.). Apologies

When it comes to apologies, the English very frequently use intensifying adverbs in combination with I’m sorry like for example dreadfully. Furthermore it is often the case that the English feel the need to give long explanations, for example when it comes to refusals or when a person wants to quit a conversation (Hickey 2005: 120). This can also be proven with our questionnaire. It showed that 88% thought it very common to invent a reason for ending a conversation and for leaving the person (further information concerning the questionnaire will be given in the second part of the term-paper). It seems more polite if a reason is given why the dialogue has to be finished, no matter if this reason is true or not.

In comparison, Hungarians do not as often apologize as English, which might let seem them more unfriendly. Elnézést (more formal) and Bocsánot are the words for saying sorry, whereas bocsánat is more often used by the recent cultural paradigm in abbreviated forms like bocs or bocsi. Address Forms Address Forms in England

In English there is no distinction between formal and informal address pronouns, like there is for example in French or German. However, there used to be a difference between thou and you in the middle ages and the early modern times. Thou was an address pronoun for the second person singular, and therefore the informal pronoun, whereas you was used for the second person plural and for this reason was a formal address pronoun. The substitution of the informal pronoun by the formal one began in the last half of the 13th century until the beginning of the 18th century, when you was used in daily life. However, especially in religious language thou could be kept until the 20th century (Besch 1998: 125). The reduction from two pronouns to one has, among the Indo-European languages, only happened in the English language.

As address forms also reflect the classification of society, English could be seen as a language that is used by a more egalitarian society. This conclusion might seem a little bit rash. However, although pronouns certainly do not reflect the whole society-system, they still say something about it and therefore show the tendency towards which the society is leaning.

Moreover, this phenomenon could also be a result of a certain development in history. Brown and Gilman for example argue that the use of certain pronouns (formal and informal) can be an expression of power or solidarity. These two values are very decisive for the choice of pronouns. Whereas the informal version of an address pronoun, like for example the German d u, reflects an atmosphere of a more solidly kind, the formal address pronoun, like for example Sie in German, helps the speaker to create distance between him and the addressed person. With the help of this distance it is often easier for the speaker to demonstrate any kind of power as there is no personal and kind relationship between them that could hinder the speaker from acting cold, distanced and patronizing (Brown & Gilman 1960: 62).

Due to changes in society, solidarity nowadays plays a much more important part than it did a century ago. As a result informal pronouns are used more often today whereas in the 19th century and in the time before formal address pronouns were much more common as power was a reputable value that had to be kept up. For this reason children even addressed their parents with formal pronouns. This change from a power- to a solidarity-orientated culture can also be seen in gestures. The ones that were employed in former times, which were a symbol of power, like for example a hand-kiss or a bow are today replaced by more solidarity-gestures like hand-shaking or kissing the cheeks (Brown & Gilman 1960: 63).


[1] www.ned.univie.ac.at/CMS/Brochueren/Europa_der_Regionen/Zweitsprache/, 12.10.2006

[2] Hickey, 2005: 234

[3] http://www.universalteacher.org.uk/lang/pragmatics.htm

[4] http://www.psu.edu/ur/2000/negativepolite.html

[5] All examples are taken from: Hickey, Leo and Miranda Steward (editors). Series Editor: John Edwards. Politeness in Europe. Multilingual Matters Ltd. Clevedon 2005.

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Politeness strategies in Hungary and England with special focus on greetings and leave-taking terms
University of Bayreuth
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Politeness, Hungary, England, Eurolinguistics
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Catharina Kern (Author)Evelyn Eichmüller (Author), 2006, Politeness strategies in Hungary and England with special focus on greetings and leave-taking terms, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/70886


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