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Politeness: Is There An East-West Divide?

Date: 6 December 2006 Time: 4.30-6.00 pm

Geoff Leech(Department of Linguistics & English Language, Lancaster University)Geoff will be giving a talk entitled:Politeness: Is There An East-West Divide?

>The paper of the same title (pubished by the Journal of Foreign Languages, Shanghai) can be found on Geoff's webpages at, under "Download article".Meta-abstract: I am going to talk about the content of the above article [abstract below], which is posted on the web for anyone who has the time and inclination to read it. I would like to address the theme of this lecture series "Cognitive and Social perspectives" with reference to theorizing about politeness, but I will not have time to go into much detail on the model of politeness I put forward in contrast to Brown and Levinson's. That is why I am suggesting that people look through the article if they have time.

Abstract: The theory of politeness of Brown and Levinson (1987 [1978]) has remained the most seminal and influential starting point for cross-cultural and cross-linguistic contrastive pragmatics. Yet it has also provoked countervailing arguments from Ide, Matsumoto, Gu, Mao, Wierzbicka and others, pointing out a Western bias in Brown and Levinson's theory, particularly in their construal of the concept of 'face', in their overemphasis on face-threat and their assumption of individualistic and egalitarian motivations, as opposed to the more group-centred hierarchy-based ethos of Eastern societies. This leads to the question in the title of this article: Is there an East-West divide in politeness? I present the following argument (based on a re-think of the model of politeness I put forward in Principles of Pragmatics 1983). There is an overarching framework for studying linguistic politeness phenomena in communication: a common principle of politeness and a Grand Strategy of Politeness (GSP), which is evident in common linguistic behaviour patterns in the performance of polite speech acts such as requests, offers, compliments, apologies, thanks, and responses to these. The GSP says simply: In order to be polite, a speaker communicates meanings which (a) place a high value on what relates to the other person (typically the addressee), and (b) place a low value on what relates to the speaker. The following hypothesis will be put forward, and supported by very limited evidence: that the GSP provides a very general explanation for communicative politeness phenomena in Eastern languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean, as well as in western languages such as English. This is not to deny the importance of quantitative and qualitative differences in the settings of social parameters and linguistic parameters of politeness in such languages. A framework such as the GSP provides the parameters of variation within which such differences can be studied. Hence this article argues in favour of the conclusion that, despite differences, there is no East-West divide in politeness.Wednesday, 6th December 20064.30 - 6.00 pmCavendish Lecture Theatre

Tea/coffee and mince pies/biscuits from 4.00pm.

All welcome!


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
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