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Western politeness principles reviewed in the Japanese notion of "wakimae"

Hausarbeit 2014 20 Seiten

Soziologie - Kommunikation


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Brief glimpse of politeness research
2.1 First-wave approaches
2.1.1 Robin Lakoff
2.1.2 Geoffrey Leech
2.1.3 Brown and Levinson
2.2 Conceptions beyond first-wave approaches
2.3 Second-wave approaches

3. Politeness and East Asia
3.1 Honorific forms in Japanese

4. Sachiko Ide and the notion of discernment

5. Criticism against wakimae
5.1. Eelen
5.2 Pizziconi
5.3 Cook

6. Conclusion

7. References

1. Introduction

Considering the term “polite” seems to be straightforward in our way of thinking today. However, to get to the bottom of politeness is not as easy as it appears at a first glance. The topic by itself and the principles beyond politeness are quite complex. To determine a general definition of politeness is desperately sophisticated. Politeness includes a great amount of subareas and distinct characteristics among a broad range of countries and cultures. Given these points, Watts (2003: xi) distinguished politeness research with “being in combat with a many-headed hydra”. Watts was on solid ground. Once you have separated one head of this hydra, all the more heads climb up instead. First of all, the spectator has to observe politeness research across-the-board. This fact by itself faces a huge and difficult challenge. Especially, if the observer keeps a close eye on issues related to politeness research. One of these subjects is the use of honorific forms in Western and Eastern societies. One conception beyond the usage of honorific forms was established by the Japanese sociolinguist Sashiko Ide (1989), who adjudicated the Japanese notion of wakimae as a conceptualization to define the usage of honorific forms across cultures.

The aim of this paper is to challenge the applicability of wakimae with reference to Western politeness principles. The first head of the hydra that has to be controlled deals with Western politeness principles. A brief glimpse of politeness research is provided because it is essential for the understanding of politeness research and Ide’s conception of wakimae. Current conceptions are predominantly based on these previous theories, labeled as first-wave approaches. Among first-wave approaches, the conception of Brown and Levinson was the most influential work in the field of politeness research. Correspondingly to first-wave approaches, a further head of the hydra appears in the field, the so called second-wave approach to politeness. After the clarification of first- and second-wave approaches, the conceptualization beyond East Asian and Japanese politeness enters the limelight. Another occurring and important head of the hydra is the notion of wakimae by itself. The end of this paper and the last head of the hydra are represented through a critical reflection of the Japanese notion of wakimae.

2. Brief glimpse of politeness research

To acknowledge the subject of politeness, but principally East Asian and Japanese politeness, it is necessary to have a look at former studies with reference to politeness research. Jonathan Culpeper (2011) redefined past studies and theories with the notion of “first-wave approaches”, whereas contemporary scholarships are labelled as “second-wave approaches”. Therefore it is essential to have a brief view at first-wave and second-wave approaches for the very reason that these studies built up the core of politeness research at the present day.

2.1 First-wave approaches

The focus of attention in this reflection is, to a greater or lesser extent, the clarification of fundamental hypotheses with reference to first-wave approaches. As pointed out in Understanding Politeness, by Kádár and Haugh (2013: 13), the main idea behind these conceptions contains a hypothetical perspective of politeness. This point of view relies predominantly on theory. That implies conceptions are borrowed from realness, but nevertheless there is no actual “reality” (2013: 13) beyond these approaches. Due to this matter of fact, Kádár and Haugh specified politeness within first-wave approaches as “modelled in abstract terms” (2013: 13). According to Culpeper (2011: 397), politeness studies are greatly influenced on the pragmatic theory of Paul Grice (1975, 1989), also referred to as the Cooperative Principle (CP). Another influential pragmatic theory in the field was the Speech Act Theory by Austin (1962) and Searle (1969, 1975).

2.1.1 Robin Lakoff

One of the first academics who tried to develop a universal definition of politeness was Robin Lakoff (Kádár, Haugh 2013: 16). According to Eelen, Lakoff can be called “the mother of modern politeness theory”. Lakoff was the first researcher who dealt with the topic from a “pragmatic perspective” (2001: 2). Lakoff compared the notion of politeness with the maxims by Grice in terms of “rules”, underlying her conception of politeness. She outlined three valid norms in her perception of being polite: “‘Don’t impose’ (rule 1), ‘Give options’ (rule 2) and ‘Make A feel good, be friendly’ (rule 3) (Lakoff 1973: 298)”, as displayed by Kádár and Haugh (2013: 17). With regard to the three norms, determined by Lakoff, cultures can be distinguished according to their politeness policy. As seen in Eelen’s critique (2001: 3) cultures can be divided towards the three regulations into: “Distance (rule 1), Deference (rule 2), or Camaraderie (rule 3)”. With this classification, Eelen concluded that European people belong to the first category (‘Distance’), whereas people or cultures from Asia are located in the area of “Deference”. Lastly he classified “modern American” civilizations into the third and last sector, named “Camaraderie” (Eelen 2001: 3).

2.1.2 Geoffrey Leech

In addition to Lakoff, Geoffrey Leech (1983) designed a conception of politeness. According to Leech’s notion, politeness affiliates into a complex system of special principles on the basis of “interpersonal rhetoric” (Eelen 2001: 6). Leech made a difference among semantics and pragmatics. He distinguished between (grammar, linguistic system, code) on the one hand and between rhetoric and its realization on the other hand. On that account he displayed that semantics is “rule-governed” whereas pragmatics is “principle-governed”. Nevertheless, “interpersonal rhetoric” requires semantics as well as pragmatics because “sense (semantics)” and “force (pragmatics)” are in correspondence with each other. Leech declares “interpersonal rhetoric” as a form of “informal logic” which is upgraded by the notion of the “Tact maxim” (Eelen 2001: 6). According to Eelen’s implementations politeness, in accordance with Leech, can be regarded as “‘Minimize the expression of impolite beliefs’ – and its (less important) counterpart ‘Maximize the expression of polite beliefs’”. This implies that polite “beliefs” can be viewed as “favourable” as opposed to impolite “beliefs” which can be considered as awkward (Eelen 2001: 7). The conception of Leech’s politeness policy is based on two additional maxims in comparison with the Cooperative Principle by Grice. To be more specifically, the following six maxims: “'tact', 'generosity', 'approbation', 'modesty', 'agreement' and 'sympathy'.” (Ide 1989: 224).

2.1.3 Brown and Levinson

On any account, the fundamental thesis in politeness research was done by Brown and Levinson (1978, 1987). Their basic ideas were the basement for further papers in politeness research to originate new methods and theories of this particular sector in sociolinguistics (Kádár, Mills 2011: 4). The two of them became the most famous researchers in the field of politeness studies. Eelen (2001: 3) characterized Brown and Levinson’s names as “synonyms with the word ‘politeness’ itself”. Kerbat-Orecchioni (1997: 11) highlighted their achievements in politeness studies as “impossible to talk about it without referring to Brown & Levinson’s theory” in order to illustrate the importance of their assumptions. In the same way as Lakoff’s theory, they looked upon politeness as a form of “conflict avoidance”. Brown and Levinson introduced the terms “rationality” and “face” as salient points of their study. With reference to Eelen (2001: 3), the essential assumption in their theory is the claim that “rationality” and “face” are “universal features, i.e. possessed by all speakers and hearers – personified in a universal Model Person”. With this intention Brown and Levinson established the notions of “positive- and negative-face wants” within their study, provided that positive face wants are preferable to other persons while negative face wants are unimpeded in conversations with anybody else (Eelen 2001: 3).

2.2 Conceptions beyond first-wave approaches

Kádár and Haugh categorized first-wave theories under various aspects: “universality, face/rationality, culture-specificity and speech acts/indirectness” (2013: 16-26). The first aspect concentrates on the conception of politeness as a universal approach. The main idea beyond this concept is to adapt a general theoretical framework to the idea of politeness in principle. That implies that researchers use the same hypothetical background to analyze languages. No matter which culture or language they are focusing on, the appropriate model is universal for every individual speech-community (Kádár, Haugh 2013: 16). This universality can be found, in a manner of speaking, in the three main conceptions of first wave approaches, e.g. Lakoff, Leech and Brown and Levinson.

However, the introduction of the term “face” was fundamental in politeness research because there is really no way to talk about politeness strategies without mentioning the conception of face. Referring to chapter 2.1.3, Brown and Levinson introduced the notion of “face” as a “technical” concept, including negative- and positive “face-wants” for the purpose of determining negative politeness as well as positive politeness. It must be remembered that these terms display considerably more “preferences” as given conditions in communication (Kádár, Haugh 2013: 16).

Another key conception in first-wave approaches is the so called phenomenon of “rationality”. Expressed through Kádár and Haugh’s words as “a certain form of politeness is chosen to address the hearer’s face needs, the speaker is making a rational choice to observe the ‘face-wants’ of the hearer.” (Kádár, Haugh 2013: 16). To put it another way, the conception of rationality is accomplished via a certain procedure, named “means-end process”, based on cultural and sociological aspects (Kádár, Haugh 2013: 16).

As can be seen from above, the notions of “face” and “rationality” played a central role in politeness research. With attention to “cross-cultural differences”, both terms are used to bring light into the darkness of this particular field. Academics point of criticism was, in this case, the universal applicability of “face” and “rationality” to any culture. Criticism was voiced by East Asian scholars, i.e. Ide (1989), Yuego Gu (1990) and LuMing Mao (1994). Of particular importance was Ide’s conception of “discernment”, which will be explained in more detail in chapter 4 (Kádár, Haugh 2013: 20-22).

Another aspect that must be remembered is the influence of Speech Act Theory by Austin (1962) and Searle (1969, 1975) as well as the notion of indirectness, occurring in first-wave approaches. With respect to politeness, speech acts seem to be essential because “requests and apologies are commonly associated with acts of politeness” (Kádár, Haugh 2013: 23). In any case there is a connection between speech acts and indirectness. Considering indirect speech acts, Kádár and Haugh observed that politeness, i.e. conflict avoidance, made a good couple. Solely, the question if indirect speech acts are applicable to diverse languages is still a continuing discussion in politeness research (Kádár, Haugh 2013: 23).

2.3 Second-wave approaches

As shown above, we can conclude that several theories in first-wave approaches had a big say in the field. Predominantly Brown and Levinson’s study (1987) was the dominating study in politeness research, determining the 1980s and 1990s. The begin of the 21st century represented a turning point in politeness research because the assumptions, made in first-wave approaches, had to except a new wave of occurring challenges (Jonathan Culpeper 2011: 409). However, Richard Watts considered it advisable to see politeness research from a different perspective, as it was defined previously by Brown and Levinson. Correspondingly with Watt’s approach, Eelen’s – A Critique of Politeness Theories (2001) – was equally important in the field of politeness studies, especially in second-wave approaches (Watts 2003: xii).

The basic principle beyond second-wave approaches was to differentiate between “lay and technical understandings of politeness” (Kádár, Haugh 2013: 36). As can be seen in Watts’s conception, there was a distinction of politeness in “ongoing verbal interaction ‘folk interpretation’ or ‘lay interpretations’”. On the contrary, there was another way to interpret politeness, with further focus on theory of “social interacting” and technique beyond politeness (Watts 2003: 4). With this in mind, scholars introduced new terms of politeness. According to Eelen (2001) and Watts (2003), the term politeness was defined in the following way:

“I shall call ‘folk’ interpretations of (im)politeness ‘first-order (im)politeness’ (or, following Eelen 2001, (im)politeness1) and (im)politeness as a concept in a sociolinguistic theory of (im)politeness ‘second-order (im)politeness’ (or(im)politeness2).”.

(Watts 2003: 4)

Compared with first-wave approaches, second-wave approaches place their value on investigating the interacting persons, without solely concentrating on the speaker. Seeing that, the focus of attention, in second-wave approaches, lies on the speaker and the hearer (Kádár, Haugh 2013: 36). Considering the conceptualization of second-wave approaches, the following assumptions can be determined. To put it differently, a tendency that appeared in first-wave approaches was the negligence of “lay people”, i.e. their way of looking at politeness was, in a manner of speaking, neglected. Kádár and Haugh paraphrased this circumstance thusly: “data produced by ‘laymen’ go through a scholarly sieve, and if certain pieces of data do not conform with the theory they are regarded as inappropriate.” (Kádár, Haugh 2013: 40).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
558 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Erfurt
Politeness Western Culture Japan Japanese Culture Wakimae Soziolinguistics



Titel: Western politeness principles reviewed in the Japanese notion of "wakimae"