By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Date: Tue, 11 Oct 2005 18:32:55 -0500 From: Susan Burt Subject: Politeness in Europe
EDITORS: Hickey, Leo; Stewart, Miranda TITLE: Politeness in Europe PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters YEAR: 2005
Susan Meredith Burt, Department of English, Illinois State University
The goal of this volume is to provide "an empirical snapshot of issues of politeness in their respective societies" (p. 1) in Europe. The Introduction, by the editors, makes clear that in addition to providing these snapshots, they hope that the individual chapters will address issues raised by current theoretical frameworks of politeness, several of which they outline briefly, while noting the explosion of recent work in the field. The brief critiques of these politeness theories make clear that one of the goals is to allow readers to compare politeness practices both between and within chapters; the editors re-iterate some of the criticisms of the theoretical framework of Brown and Levinson (1987), noting that key notions of that framework (power, distance and the weight of imposition) are hard to "calculate," even before attempting comparison across cultures.
Twenty-two chapters follow, each focused on a separate country in Europe, grouped into four rough geographical sections, Western Europe, Northern Europe, Eastern Europe and Southern Europe.
Western Europe The section on Western Europe is the largest, containing nine chapters. Juliane House's chapter (which sports the catchiest chapter title of the volume, "Politeness in Germany: Politeness in GERMANY?") sets the bar high for the other contributions. House makes clear that while individual speakers can be polite (or not), linguistic forms or structures cannot be polite in and of themselves. Rather, "behavior that is adequate in context" (p. 16) meets an underlying politeness norm. House notes that it is unrealistic to attempt to collect data only from everyday conversation, and so, relies on a variety of data types; open role-play, notes on and reports of "critical incidents," audiotaped narratives by English- speakers in Germany, and audiotaped authentic interactions. Based on these data, House asserts that Germans are direct, particularly in comparison with English speakers; following Blum-Kulka (1987), however, she argues that indirectness is not necessarily polite, as it requires a lot of processing on the part of the hearer. House gives both cultural and historical explanations for the German preference for directness, and notes that Germans are beginning to add certain politeness routines to their discourse nonetheless.
In "Politeness in France: How to Buy Bread Politely," Catherine Kerbrat- Orecchioni, shows from her data on interactions in a bakery in Lyon, that both customers and shop-keepers employ, in Brown and Levinson's terms, both positive and negative politeness strategies in the interactions. Interestingly, she introduces the notion of a "face-flattering act" (or FFA), as a complement to the "face-threatening act" (FTA) of Brown and Levinson's theory; this is useful for her ultimate conclusion that French politeness seems to be situated between the more "northern" systems of restraint and negative politeness and "southern" conversational qualities of warmth and involvement.
Service interactions are also the focus of the chapter on Belgium by Emmanuelle Danblon, Bernard de Clerck and Jean-Pierre Van Noppen. The two languages of Belgium, Dutch and French, are in "a relationship of interaction and interference" (p. 45). The authors note that choice of language is in itself a politeness issue, and recognize the sociopragmatic ambiguity inherent in any choice a speaker may make, if compelled to choose between her first language and that of her equally bilingual interlocutor (see also Burt 1994). Nevertheless, Dutch speakers are more likely to speak French than the reverse, and so, Dutch becomes a source for the transfer of pragmatic markers into French. But the main focus of the article is on service encounters in small shops; 100 of these were recorded in each of three regions, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. Politeness routines were recorded in all parts of interactions, the initial requests, the delivery of the requested item, the request for payment, change-giving, and the farewells (not every interaction had all these parts, obviously). Interestingly, in Flanders and Wallonia, where the shopkeepers and customers were socially closer than those in Brussels were, there were up to one and half times the number of politeness markers than in Brussels; the authors note that contrary to the politeness formula of Brown and Levinson (1987:76), here, social closeness seems to lead to increased politeness. Nevertheless, these markers were not evenly distributed; there were far more politeness formulae spoken by salespersons than by customers. The authors further suggest that contrary to Brown and Levinson, the high level of politeness usage does not seem to arise because buying and selling are such threatening activities, but because a ritualized confirming of relationship seems to be a part of cooperating in these activities.
Johannes Kramer's chapter on Luxemburg presents the country as a linguistic and cultural crossroad, with its multilingual and multiliterate citizens learning different politeness strategies as they learn languages. French is the prestige language, Luxemburgish the in-group language, and German "a necessary evil" (p. 61). Politeness routines show the results of this linguistic layering. Kramer cites the formula "wann iech glift," used when handing something to someone, and gives the history of this unique expression, which involves influences from German, French and Dutch. Such calques are not unusual in Luxemburg.
Rob Le Pair's chapter on "Politeness in the Netherlands" is explicitly comparative. Using a Discourse Completion Task, he elicits requests from native speakers of Dutch, native speakers of Spanish and Dutch learners of Spanish. The native speakers of Spanish are far more direct, using the imperative more than twice as often as the Dutch learners of Spanish do. Although differences in the configuration of power, social distance and context can complicate the relationship, the Dutch speakers out-do the Spanish speakers in their use of conventionally indirect requests.
The chapter on Austria, by Silvia Haumann, Ursula Koch and Karl Sornig, ranges over a broad expanse of politeness phenomena, from the unique Austrian greeting formula (Grüss Gott and its variants), to taboo topics, to the regional variation in preferred address pronouns. There are lists of devices (such as indirectness or impersonalization) speakers can use for politeness purposes. Certainly this is useful material, but this chapter seemed to me to offer somewhat fewer connections to recent theoretical frameworks, and I was disappointed that the work of A.J. Meier (1996, 1997) on Austrian politeness was not consulted.
Giuseppe Manno's chapter on Switzerland briefly discusses the well-known regional model of multilingualism of the country and its classic diglossia, but focuses on politeness features that are shared across the regions and languages. Harkening back to Kerbrat-Orecchioni's chapter, Manno characterizes Swiss politeness as involving both the avoidance of FTAs and the production of FFAs. Second person pronoun usage is revealing: in both German and French, use of "du" and "tu" is gaining ground. Speakers for whom reciprocal "vous" (or "Sie") is the default tend to be over 50, while non-reciprocal address pronoun usage is restricted to adult-child interactions. Similarly, the use of elaborate titles (Frau Professor Doktor) is not favored. Despite a preference for a consensual over a conflictual style, there is nonetheless a reluctance to disturb others; in other words, negative face is highly valued, leading to a preference for conventionally indirect politeness strategies.
Miranda Stewart's chapter on Britain also stresses the multi-ethnic nature of the country. Here, too, negative politeness is valued, although address forms are likely to reflect social stratification (the tu/vous distinction remains only in Quaker speech). Using data from feedback from supervisors to Spanish tutors, Stewart shows that the British prefer negative politeness and non-conventional indirect strategies. In these written feedback texts, face-enhancing comments typically precede more critical comments, and non-conventional criticism serves to protect the face of both reader and writer. There is a great deal of hedging, as in " I felt your marking was slightly generous," an example that also shows the use of the past tense to distance writer from the critique. Stewart concludes her comparison of both British and Spanish feedback writers with "to be British a healthy degree of paranoia can help" (p. 128), although I wonder whether data drawn from outside the academic world might have provided a lower paranoia rating. Stewart's analysis of the data is sensitive and revealing, but her choice of data prevents her from being able to say much about class variation in British politeness, which would surely be of interest.
The section on Western Europe closes with the westernmost county, Ireland, as focus of Jeffrey L. Kallen's chapter. In Ireland, negative politeness strategies are "elaborated and developed" (p. 130). Silence, Kallen maintains, is a part of face needs, although hospitality and reciprocity are also strongly valued. Politeness characteristics of Irish conversational style include "conversational understatement, hedges, minimization, conventional pessimism, reciprocity, reference to common ground, in-group identity markers and conventional optimism" (p. 139). Kallen illustrates each of these features with examples, such as the example of clause-initial "sure" used to elicit agreement in the conventionally optimistic attempt (to get a guest to stay longer, one assumes), "You won't go just yet, sure you won't" (p. 142).
Northern Europe The section on Northern Europe opens with Thorstein Fretheim's chapter, "Politeness in Norway: How Can You Be Polite and Sincere?" Norway is stereotypically conceived of as very egalitarian, and thus Norwegian is "remarkably short on conventional markers of positive politeness" (p. 145). Besides the lack of the tu/vous distinction, items that would seem to convey positive politeness are felt to be insincere. However, Norwegians "thank profusely" (p. 146), with thanks serving even as a greeting ("thanks for yesterday"). Requests are made polite with conventional indirectness, using a question with "kan" or "kunne": "Can you send me the butter?" Attempting an extra dollop of politeness, as in "would you be so nice as to send the butter?" signals impatience, and indeed the formula which translates as "be so nice as to" is often used by children simply as a request marker as in "Can I be so nice as to get one more cookie?" (p. 154). For the requester to shift the request to past tense is the safest politeness strategy, since "too much linguistic embroidery for the sake of mitigating requests is normally counterproductive" (p. 157).
Similarly, the chapter on Danish, by Elin Fredsted, portrays Danish as largely informal, where "hierarchies are largely invisible or hidden" (p. 158). Fredsted focuses on address forms, conversation openers and closers, and politeness markers in her analysis of 120 conversations at Danish and German tourist information offices. Choosing appropriate address forms is complex, with age, gender and regional dialect variation leading to uncertainty, and thus, avoidance, on the part of Danes themselves. In getting into and out of conversations, Danes seem to be more direct than Germans; a Danish tourist would open the conversation by asking "What can I see here?" (p. 162) while a German tourist is more likely to begin with a greeting. In fact Fredsted finds " a remarkable frequency of verbal politeness markers in the German, with the obvious conclusion that the German speakers express somewhat more verbal negative politeness and much more positive politeness compared to the Danes" (p. 168). Nonetheless, the Danes, like the Norwegians, employ "tak," 'thanks,' a great deal and with a variety of functions.
Cornelia Ilie's chapter on Sweden focuses on personal pronouns and politeness strategies in parliamentary talk, and the comparison she chooses to make is with British English, using as data transcripts from the Riksdag and the House of Commons. In both institutions, speakers may use both second person and third person to refer to an addressee; if the third person use conveys distance (and thus, deference) in both cases, second person use by the same speaker can come to sound confrontational, even though members of the Swedish parliament use only the vous equivalent, "ni," with each other. In both Swedish and English, the use of the first person plural can be employed to increase the speaker's own authoritativeness, but only in the Swedish transcripts is the same form used to have an "inclusive and mobilizing" tone (p. 184) in attempts to move the members towards consensus.
Valma Yli-Vakkuri's chapter on Finland closes the Northern Europe section. Because Finland was annexed to Sweden for much of its history, there are similarities in speech and behavior, and "standards of politeness are, in principle, pan-European" (p. 189). But there are also pressures from a colloquial variety of Finnish which lead to somewhat less formality. Thus, although Finland shared in the use of the second person plural pronoun as a formal address term, it also allows the omission of personal pronouns in first and second persons; Finns may bring into any interaction a variety of preferences on this issue, and so "reference to the addressee is avoided at all costs" (p. 191). The chapter describes several avoidance strategies, such as the reminder on the door of a changing room, which translates, "Was anything forgotten?" while the Swedish version of the sign translates, "Did you forget anything?" Rather than using particles or phrases for such strategies as mitigating, Finnish has grammatical devices for these functions, such as suffixes or case changes; the partitive case can serve as a polite substitute for the nominative or accusative. The fact that "politeness norms in standard Finnish are largely based on loans from other languages" (p. 201) means that many Finns may find the use of this style uncomfortable at best.
Eastern Europe The four societies representing Eastern Europe have in common relatively recent transformations of government and economy, and thus there is reason to look for changes in politeness practices. Leelo Keevallik's chapter on Estonia, for example, notes that while the change to a market economy has led to changes in service encounters, a simultaneous move towards informality has left older speakers less than pleased with the politeness practices of younger speakers. Estonian maintains the tu/vous distinction, and the analysis of Brown and Gilman (1968) shows up as remarkably robust here, in that a solidarity semantic seems to prevail in Estonia, with symmetric second person pronoun usage the norm. Otherwise, there is a certain amount of "reference avoidance" (p. 208) as in Finland, greeting routines are not elaborate, compliments are rare, silence is not threatening, and directness is not offensive.
Romuald Huszcza's chapter on Poland postulates, in addition to the tu and vous forms, "a regular grammatical category of honorifics within certain verbal forms" (p. 218); these are compared with the honorific system of Japanese. These honorifics, many of them elaborate developments of the noun "pan," 'gentleman,' do not necessarily reflect social categories or social stratification, but are strategically bestowed; " the speaker decides what rank, higher or lower, to confer on the person spoken to or about" (p. 223). As in Japanese, terms like 'wife' or 'husband' have different forms, depending on whether the referent in questions belongs to the speaker or the addressee. The result is a highly elaborated category of second person.
Lorant Bencze claims that there is a split in Hungarian society between a traditional cultural paradigm and a new one; adherents of each paradigm have different conceptions of what politeness is, and thus, of how to evaluate verbal practices. The result of this split is that politeness practices may serve to maximize rather than minimize conflict. Bencze outlines the numerous variants of both address and reference, and places these within a system of solidarity and hierarchy, although factors such as authority, relationship and the presence or absence of the referent from the speaking situation also play a role. In Hungary, too, the tu/vous pronoun system is moving in the direction of increased use of symmetric tu, although older paradigm adherents find this impolite.
The chapter on "Politeness in the Czech Republic," by Jiri Nekvapil and J. V. Neustupny also reflects the Brown and Gilman analysis, in that here, too, the "management of honorifics" (p. 248) is an issue. A new economy has also changed the power relationship between customers and service personnel; a mutual use of the ty (= tu) pronoun, however, is the default case with increasing numbers of younger speakers. Yet the vy (=vous) honorific use remains, perhaps because of the long contact with Austria.
Southern Europe The chapter on politeness in Greece, by Maria Sifianou and Eleni Antonopoulou, is based on a fairly large number of previous research projects on Greek language politeness. The authors argue that the "positive politeness orientation" (p. 264) of Greek offers motivation for analyzing speech acts in terms of their enhancement of positive face as well as possible threats to negative face, as the Brown and Levinson framework considers. Furthermore, speech acts (for a number of reasons) should be analyzed in the natural sequence of conversations, rather than as isolated acts. Thus, apologies and thanks seem to be less frequent in Greek than in English-indeed, to socially close interlocutors, thanking might be offensive, given the positive politeness orientation of Greek society. Directive announcements in airplanes in Greek are more personalized than those in English, which include passives and other de- personalizing strategies. While Greek telephone callers do not self- identify (expecting to be recognized by their voices), in comparison to German telephone users, Greeks prefer to have "how-are-you" sequences as a part of call openings. In panel discussions, participants may on occasion break into another speaker's turn with a supportive contribution-all of these practices are evidence of the Greek preference for positive politeness.
Marina Terkourafi's chapter on Cypriot Greek acknowledges a diglossic relationship of this language with Standard Modern Greek; not surprisingly, the local koine is used 'to foreground sincerity and friendliness" (p. 279). Using 115 hours of taped conversations, Terkourafi notes that certain features serve to identify speakers as middle class, such as the "nonliteral use of the second person plural" (p. 283). On the other hand, Cypriot Greeks tend to dislike non-literal diminutives ("a small coffee"), which they also associate with the standard. Direct expressions are not perceived as impolite.
In "Politeness in Italy: The Art of Self-Representation in Requests," Gudrun Held takes a historical approach. Arguing that urbanity and courtesy were part of an early ideal of self-representation, Held describes how in various periods Italian politeness forms were "exposed to continuous overstatement and semantic reshaping" (p. 295). She cites passages from a rhetoric manual dating from 1240, where requests are embedded in compliment sequences, and passages from the eighteenth century plays of Goldoni, showing politeness forms "undergoing a semantic loss which has to be countered by further hyperbolisation" (p. 298). Thus, it comes as no surprise that from a 1995 questionnaire to young adults designed to elicit requests, Held is able to cite an elaborate request sequence, with greetings, minimizers, supportive acts, and even an offer. In Italian, "Being verbally polite requires high effort, informed by social competence and psychological pressure in order to maintain harmonious efficient interaction" (p. 303).
Maria Helena Araujo Carreira ("Politeness in Portugal: How to Address Others") describes Portuguese culture: "gregarious relationships, consensus and tact are favored over confrontation, frankness or the protection of an individual's territory" (p. 308). With this particular combination of traits, there seems to be an elaboration of politeness routines for numerous situations, such as routines for the deferral of leave-taking, some of which may seem too over-the-top to non-Portuguese. There are similarly numerous options for address terms; Carreira finds the Brown and Gilman (1968) model somewhat inadequate, and lists the variety of address forms that can replace "voce" or the zero-pronoun and combine with a third-person verb as a polite form of address. This variety of options, and the "fuzziness" that results, the author argues, helps render all of these options more polite than the tu form of address.
The final chapter, "Politeness in Spain: Thanks but no 'Thanks'," by Leo Hickey, describes Spaniards as admiring negative politeness but rarely engaging in it. Kindness and friendliness are highly valued, and Hickey's observations lead him to conclude that Spaniards prefer a high involvement style (Tannen 1984). Part of a positive politeness style are "lavish compliments and expressions of praise and appreciation," which are not perceived as flattery, but as "cornerstones of friendship and solidarity" (p. 320). Interestingly, however, Hickey shows that in gift-giving scenarios, explicit thanking seems to be rare, though expressions of appreciation are not, yielding what Hickey labels "non-formulaic, non- self-humbling, non-deferential thanking" (p. 329).
The editors, in speaking of these chapters as "snapshots," are candid about their goal. Reading these chapters is indeed like looking at a friend's travel photographs: the viewer is somewhat frustrated at not being able to see more, or to experience the pictured space first-hand, yet happy at the opportunity to see at least this much vicariously. Thus, while each chapter is necessarily short, there is a great deal of information in this volume. The breadth of territory covered does come at the expense of some depth: little is said, for example, about minority languages in some of the countries surveyed here, such as Frisian in the Netherlands, one case where politeness issues might be important.
Nevertheless, the goal of offering material for comparative purposes is clearly met. Thus, Spanish is explicitly compared with English and with Dutch, German with Danish and with English, and so on. But in addition, there are certain kinds of politeness issues that recur across these chapters, such as request-making and address forms, hardy perennials of politeness research, so that a certain amount of comparison between, say, address terms in Polish and in Portuguese is possible, should a reader be so inclined. Ultimately, however, each chapter relies on its own type of data; there was no uniform assignment for data-collection passed out to the authors. But the uniqueness of focus of each chapter increases rather than decreases the interest of the volume, which should appeal to scholars in cross-cultural pragmatics, anthropology, second-language acquisition and language teaching, as well as to scholars of politeness.
Blum-Kulka, Shoshana. 1987. Indirectness and politeness in requests: Same or different? Journal of Pragmatics 11: 131-146,
Brown, Penelope and Stephen Levinson. 1987. Politeness. Cambridge: CUP.
Brown, Roger and Albert Gilman. 1968 . The Pronouns of Power and Solidarity. In Joshua A. Fishman (ed): Readings in the Sociology of Language. The Hague: Mouton.
Burt, Susan Meredith. 1994. "Code Choice in Intercultural Conversation: Speech Accommodation Theory and Pragmatics." Pragmatics 4,4: 535-559.
Meier, A. J. 1996. Two cultures mirrored in repair work. Multilingua 15,2: 149-169.
Meier, A. J. 1997. What's the Excuse? Image Repair in Austrian German. The Modern Language Journal, 81, ii,: 197-208.
Susan Meredith Burt is Associate Professor at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. She is currently researching changes in politeness practices in the language of the immigrant Hmong community in Wisconsin. Her most recent publication is "How to Get Rid of Unwanted Suitors" in volume 1, number 2 of the Journal of Politeness Research.