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Review of  Linguistic Politeness in Britain and Uruguay: A Contrastive Study of Requests and Apologies


Reviewer: Montserrat Parent
Book Title: Linguistic Politeness in Britain and Uruguay: A Contrastive Study of Requests and Apologies
Book Author: Rosina Márquez Reiter
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Pragmatics
Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Spanish
Book Announcement: 12.2190

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Review:

M�rquez Reiter, Rosina (2000) Linguistic Politeness in
Britain and Uruguay: A Contrastive Study of Requests and
Apologies, John Benjamins, hardback, xvii, 225 pp.,
Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 83, ISSN 0922-842X.

Reviewed by Montserrat P�rez i Parent, School of
Linguistics, The University of Reading, UK.

M�rquez Reiter's monograph provides a further cultural
perspective on the discussion of politeness issues and
Brown and Levinson's (1987) much criticised theory of face
through the examination of "natural" speech act data
collected by means of a non-prescriptive open role-play. In
particular, the study examines politeness aspects of the
language of requesting and apologising in Uruguayan Spanish
(US) and British English (BE), focusing on the
understanding of politeness by female and male native
speakers of the two languages. Chapter 1 provides a review
of the main exponents of politeness theory up to the time
of writing. In Chapter 2, a general view of speech acts is
provided which then narrows down to the to specific speech
acts which are the object of study, namely requests and
apologies. The instrument for data collection, a non-
prescriptive open role-play, is described in Chapter 3, as
well as the coding scheme used. The different
methodological approaches traditionally used in the study
of politeness phenomena are also reviewed. Finally,
Chapters 4 and 5 present and discuss the findings of the
study, the former dealing with requests and the latter with
apologies. The conclusions of the study also include
implications for further research.

M�rquez Reiter's study adds Uruguayan Spanish, to the
increasingly long list of languages for which Blum-Kulka et
al.'s (1989) study of requests and apologies has been
replicated. Although the book claims to be a study of these
two speech acts in BE and US, more emphasis seems to have
been placed on US when it comes to providing illustrating
examples. This may be because this is the native language
of the author, or perhaps due to the fact that this variety
of Spanish has so far been excluded from speech act
research while the different varieties of English have been
widely researched. US examples are followed by a
translation in English. However, no word-by-word gloss is
provided for the US examples, which may make it harder to
follow for those readers not familiar with the Spanish
language, especially when it comes to considerations of
tense or distinction between the T/V forms.

The review of politeness provided in chapter 1 starts
with a consideration of social politeness. M�rquez Reiter
then goes on to review the approaches to linguistic
politeness from Fraser (1990), Lakoff (1973), Leech (1983),
and finally Brown and Levinson's (1978) face-saving model
of politeness, which is the theoretical framework on which
her analysis is based. Despite the criticisms that this
framework has received as regards its universality, and
which are acknowledged by M�rquez Reiter, the notion of
face and its two independent parts, "positive" and
"negative" face, are used to explain the differences in
communicative behaviour between the two populations
studied.

After a brief introduction to speech act theory and
its origins in the work of Austin (1962) and Searle (1969),
in chapter 2 M�rquez Reiter moves onto a description of the
two particular speech acts which are the object of her
study: requests and apologies. A description is given of
each act and the category they fall in, directives and
expressives respectively. Although a section is dedicated
to the "form and function of requests", this is not such an
accurate description as it could have been expected. In
both languages requests are said to be linguistically
realised by means of imperatives, interrogatives, negative
interrogatives and declaratives. A contrastive table
illustrating the equivalence of forms and functions between
the two languages would have been useful.

The instrument used for data collection is an open
role-play comprising 12 combined situations resulting in
the elicitation of 12 requests and 12 apologies. These
situations were designed to elicit the speech acts in
question for all the possible combinations of the social
variables considered in the study, namely social power,
social distance and ranking of imposition. The author went
to considerable lengths in making sure that the wording of
the situations was clear to the informants and that a
cumulative effect was not created which led informants to
be unco-operative with each other after having done all 12
situations. The English version of the study was piloted
three times in order to refine the procedure; the Uruguayan
version was tested following the resulting procedure and
was piloted once. The data for the actual study was
recorded in England and Uruguay in role-plays acted out by
same gender and cross-gender couples. The motivation given
for the choice of an open role-play as the instrument of
data collection as opposed to naturally occurring
conversations is the "need to gather as many 'real' and
interactive speech acts as possible according to a
systematic variation in the combination of the explanatory
variables believed to be involved in the production of the
acts" (p. 72). Although the author admits that "ideally all
the data for her study should be based upon spontaneous
requests and apologies, that is to say, on fully
naturalistic non-reactive data collection", she disregarded
this possibility due to "time and financial constraints"
(p. xv). M�rquez Reiter reviews the shortcomings of other
data collection procedures such as discourse completion
tests (DCTs) and non-interactive role-plays. However,
although the open role-play is claimed to embed the speech
acts in a more "natural" discourse context, it still does
not reflect real data as it is produced in natural
interaction. The objection raised against data collected by
means of DCTs and role-plays, that is, that it is not
representative of what the informants would say in
"spontaneous" unprovoked conversation, still holds. This is
aggravated by the fact that in some of the role-play
situations informants are asked to play a role in a
situation in which they may have never been themselves and
so may produce requests or apologies which are not
representative of what people in that role will produce in
real life. We are told that all the informants in the study
are university students doing their first degree in a
subject not related to languages or linguistics. Yet, they
are asked to play the role of a university lecturer (of
which they may have a passive experience from their own
interactions with lecturers, but which obviously is not a
situation they have ever been themselves), the manager/ess
of a company, a company employee, and a new trainee at a
company.

The coding scheme used in the study is an adaptation
of Blum-Kulka et al.'s (1989) nine-point scale based on
the utterance's directness level. M�rquez Reiter's scale,
though, is a ten-point one. She distinguishes between need
statements in the conditional or imperfect and those in the
indicative. The query preparatory strategy is also divided
into two according to tense. No distinction is made between
mild and strong hints and these two categories are
conflated into one single "hint" strategy. Following Blum-
Kulka et al., M�rquez Reiter also groups the different
strategies into three main directness levels: impositives,
conventionally indirect and non-conventionally indirect.
However, she considers the "want statement" categories to
belong in the conventionally indirect category, rather than
the impositive one. As regards apologies, Blum-Kulka et
al.'s coding scheme is considered to be suitable for the
data and hence is applied without modification.

As regards requests, the findings are discussed
according to choice of request strategy, perspective,
gender, and internal and external modifications of the
speech act. The results show that speakers of both
languages have a clear preference for conventionally
indirect strategies over any other request strategies.
However, when it comes to direct strategies, these are used
far more in US than in BE and the reverse applies to non-
conventional indirect strategies. Overall, Uruguayans seem
to be less motivated by considerations of "negative"
politeness when compared to the British and higher levels
of directness appear to be appropriate in US but not in BE.
The results obtained for apologies show cross-cultural
agreement as to the nature and severity of the offences
contained in role-play situations. This agreement is also
shown in the frequency of apology strategies employed in
both languages and in the assessment of the motivating
factors behind the speech act of apologising. Differences
were found in the choice and realisation of apologising
strategies cross-culturally.

While lengthy explanations are given in some sections,
such as the methodology followed for the data collection
and the piloting of the study, some others are described
much more lightly, as is the case of the statistical
analysis. The results for only some of the categories are
analysed statistically by means of a linear multiple
regression test. No significance level is specified, for
which we assume that the 0.05 level is used. However, out
of the 8 values which are considered by the author to be
significant in Appendix II (appearing in bold type) 5 are
over this significance level. M�rquez Reiter's style is
clear and understandable, with lots of repetitions to keep
the reader reminded of concepts or findings which have been
described in previous chapters.

References
Austin, John (1962) How to do things with words. Harvard
University, William James Lectures 1955. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Blum-Kulka, Shoshana, House, Juliane and Kasper, Gabriele
(1989) Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: Requests and
Apologies. Norwood: N.J. Ablex

Brown, Penelope and Levinson, Stephen (1978) "Universals in
language usage: politeness phenomena". In Questions and
Politeness: Strategies in Social Interaction, E. Goody
(ed.), 56-310. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fraser, Bruce (1990) "Perspectives on Politeness". Journal
of Pragmatics 14: 219-236.

Lakoff, Robin (1973) "The logic of politeness; or minding
your p's and q's". Papers from the 9th Regional Meeting
of the Chicago Linguistic Society, 292-305. Chicago:
Chicago Linguistic Society.

Leech, Geoffrey (1983) Principles of Pragmatics. Essex:
Longman.

Searle, John (1969) Speech Acts. London: Cambridge
University Press.

About the reviewer:
Montserrat P�rez i Parent is a Research Fellow in the
School of Linguistics at the University of Reading, UK.
Her research interest is in pragmatics, particularly in
the politeness considerations of the speech act of
requesting. Her present research is on requests in service
encounters in Catalan.


 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER: