LINGUIST List 14.2806

Thu Oct 16 2003

Sum: Cross-Cultural Politeness

Editor for this issue: Naomi Fox <>


  1. Fay Wouk, summary: cross-cultural politeness

Message 1: summary: cross-cultural politeness

Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2003 11:20:51 +1300
From: Fay Wouk <>
Subject: summary: cross-cultural politeness

A while back I posted a query (Linguist 14.1811) on the sources of the
following three claims, which I believed I had read somewhere:

1. Cross-culturally polite/mitigated utterances tend to be longer
(more words, longer words) than bald-on-record/unmitigated utterances.

2. Cross-culturally politeness tends to increase with greater
differences in status, in particular from the lower status person to
the higher status person.

3. In many cultures, the politeness/intimacy relationship follows a
u-shaped curve, with greatest politeness in the middle area, with
acquaintances, and less politeness with intimates and strangers.

I would like to thank Maria Sifianou, Susan Burt and Jo Tyler for 
their helpful responses.

In response to my first point, no one was able to specify a source. 
So if anyone reading this summary can remember reading such a claim 
anywhere, and can identify the source, I would still be interested in 
hearing from them.

Mary Sifianou suggested that Brown and Levinson might have made such 
a claim, howver, I have gone back and looked through B&L, and have 
not yet found them to say anything along these lines.

Susan Burt wrote:

I think that this is the usual assumption, although there are some 
indications that this may be an antifact of research methods--written 
responses to DCTs (discourse completion tasks) tend to be longer than 
corresponding spoken responses. In addition, there seems to be some 
tendency for non-native speakers to produce longer utterances than 
native speakers. Articles you might want to look at include:

Bardovi-Harlig, Kathleen and Beverley S. Hartford. (1993). 
"Refining the DCT: Comparing Open Questionnaires and Dialogue 
Completion Tasks." Pragmatics and Language Learning 4, pp. 143-165.

Beebe, Leslie M. and Martha Clark Cummings. (1995). "Natural speech 
act data versus written questionnaire data: How data collection 
method affects speech act performance." in Susan M. Gass and Joyce 
Neu (eds.), Speech Acts Across Cultures: Challenges to Communication 
in a Second Language, pp. 65-86. Berlin and New York: Mouton de 

Cohen, Andrew (1995). "Investigating the production of speech act 
sets." in Susan M. Gass and Joyce Neu (eds.), Speech Acts Across 
Cultures: Challenges to Communication in a Second Language, pp. 
21-43. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Hartford, Beverly S. and Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig (1992). 
"Experimental and Observational Data in the Study of Interlanguage 
Pragmatics." Pragmatics and Language Learning 3, pp. 33-52.

Hinkel, Eli. (1997). "Appropriateness of Advice: DCT and Multiple 
Choice Data." Applied Linguistics 18:1, pp. 1-26.

Houck, Noel and Susan Gass. (1995). "Non-native refusals: A 
methodological perspective." in Susan M. Gass and Joyce Neu (eds.), 
Speech Acts Across Cultures: Challenges to Communication in a Second 
Language, pp. 45-64. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Johnston, Bill, Gabriele Kasper and Steven Ross (1998). "Effect of 
Rejoinders in Production Questionnaires." Applied Linguistics 19:2, 
pp. 157-182.

Kasper, Gabriele (2000). "Data Collection in Pragmatics Research." 
In Helen Spencer-Oatey (ed.) Culturally Speaking: Managing Rapport 
Through Talk Across Cultures. London: Continuum, pp 316-341.

Kasper, Gabriele and Merete Dahl. (1991). "Research Methods in 
Interlanguage Pragmatics." Studies in Second Language Acquisition 
13, pp. 215-247.

Kuha, Mai (1997). "The Computer-Assisted Interactive DCT: A Study in 
Pragmatics Research Methodology." Pragmatics and Language Learning 
8, pp. 99-123.

Rintell, Ellen M. and Candace J. Mitchell (1989). "Studying Requests 
and Apologies: An Inquiry into Method." in Shoshana Blum-Kulka, 
Juliane House and Gabriele Kasper (eds.) : Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: 
Requests and Apologies, pp. 248-272. Norowood, NJ: Ablex.

Rose, Kenneth R. (1992). "Speech acts and questionnaires: The effect 
of hearer response." Journal of Pragmatics 17, pp. 49-62.

Rose, Kenneth R. (1994). "On the Validity of Discourse Completion 
Tests in Non-Western Contexts." Applied Linguistics 15:1, pp. 1-14.

Wolfson, Nessa, Thomas Marmor and Steve Jones. (1989) "Problems in 
the Comparison of Speech Acts Across Cultures." in S. Blum-Kulka, J. 
House and G. Kasper (eds.) Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: Requests and 
Apologies, pp.174-196. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

In response to my second point, both Mary Sifianou and Susan Burt 
pointed me back to Brown & Levinson, as having first made that claim.

In response to my third point, Mary Sifianou, Susan Burt and Jo Tyler 
provided the following references:

Nessa Wolfson (1988). The Bulge: A Theory of Speech Behavior and 
Social Distance. In Jonathan Fine (ed): Second Language Discourse: A 
Textbook of Current Research. Norwood NJ: Ablex.. pp. 21-38

Nessa Wolfson, Perspectives: Sociolinguistics and TESOL, 1989, pp. 
129-139 (Heinle & Heinle)

Jo Tyler also pointed out that Diana Boxer, in studying the speech 
act of complaints, found a different "bulge" pattern (Complaining and 
Comisserating, 1994, Peter Lang Publishing

Dr. Fay Wouk
Senior Lecturer in Linguistics
Department of Applied Language Studies and Linguistics
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019
New Zealand
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue