Politeness and Pragmatics in the Context of Cross-Cultural Communication
Throughout almost all societies, politeness plays an integral role in the effectiveness of social life and interaction within the context of both inter-cultural and cross-cultural communication. Within different cultures the definition of politeness may vary substantially and as a result may be appropriated in ways that are largely misunderstood within the context of other cultures. It is for this reason that scholars such as Brown and Levinson have derived theories on politeness and its use within global society, however the seemingly non-existent universal definition of politeness can also be responsible for the criticisms that these theories receive. When discussing the notion of politeness, the study of cross-cultural pragmatics as
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These include the exaggeration of interest in the hearer and his or her interests, sympathising with the hearer and the avoidance of disagreements. ‘Negative politeness’ is a Redressive action aimed at the preservation of the Hearer’s negative face. Negative politeness is achieved through indirectness, deference and apologising for imposition.
The politeness theory phenomena has drawn much criticism in subsequent years due to its universality. For example, Goffman advocates that “each person, subculture and society seems to have its own characteristic repertoire of face-saving practices, yet these are all drawn from a single logically coherent framework of possible practices” (1967, p.13). Put succinctly, this argument suggests that face does not necessarily belong just to the individual, but rather to sub-culture and society as well, and as a result one concise theory, no matter how logical, cannot possibly serve to represent all cultures in global existence.
Tannen, in her discussion of The Pragmatics of Cross-Cultural Communication, outlines several instances in which politeness may become lost in instances of cross-cultural interaction. She outlines eight levels of conversation: when to talk, what to say, pacing and pausing, listenership, intonation, formulaicity, indirectness and cohesion and coherence. In each of these instances