Bayraktaroglu, Arin, and Maria Sifianou (2001) Linguistic Politeness
Across Boundaries: The Case of Greek and Turkish. John Benjamins
Publishing Company, xiv+435pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-040-0 (US),
90-272-5107 (Eur), $114.00, Pragmatics and Beyond New Series 88.
Reviewed by Chaoqun Xie, Foreign Languages Institute, Fujian Teachers
University, Fuzhou, Fujian, China
Linguist List book announcement at
According to DuFon et al. (1994), in the western tradition, the
earliest book on politeness is Libro del cortegiano [English
translation: The book of the courtier. Harmondsworth: Penguin] by
Castiglioner Baldesar in 1528 (cf. Xie, in preparation a). It is
Goffman's (1967), Lakoff's (1973), Grice's (1975), Leech's (1983) and
Brown and Levinson's (1978, 1987) now-seminal work that has all made
significant contributions to helping this very subject enjoy ever-
increasing popularity with students of linguistics and language use
(cf. e.g., Kasper 1990; Sifianou 1992: 1). Recent years have witnessed
a geometric, or in Chen's (2001: 87) words, 'mammoth- like' increase in
the number of publications dealing with politeness phenomena.
Politeness has, undoubtedly, grown into a major topic of concern in the
academic domains of pragmatics, anthropology, sociolinguistics,
culture, communication, discourse analysis and even cognition, where
nine out of ten publications or presentations (e.g., Escandell-Vidal
1996; Foley 1997; Grundy 2000; Johnstone 2002; Wardhaugh 1998; Xie
2000; Zhuang 2001) discuss more or less this very line of inquiry. Some
researchers (e.g., House 1998; Sell 1991) have even expanded the scope
of politeness by examining it within the framework of translation and
The present volume under review, which is a collection of papers in
reality, endeavors to fill a fraction of a gap brought about by limited
knowledge despite "the time that has elapsed and the considerable
number of publications that have appeared concerning the complex issue
of politeness and its realizations" (p. 1; cf. Ide 1989: 97). This
volume is special and unique indeed, in comparison with other recent
publications on politeness (e.g., Lee-Wong 2000; Marquez Reiter 2000;
cf. Pérez-Parent 2001; Yus 2001; Xie inpreparation b), in that all the
papers collected in this volume are devoted to politeness phenomena at
the cultural intersections of Europe, Asia and the Middle East (cf. p.
xii; p. 1). According to the editors, this volume has at least three
purposes to achieve. First, it serves to draw our attention to
politeness phenomena in areas other than English, which has hitherto
been the playground of theory-makers; second, it makes available to
observers regional patterns of behavior, which are located between the
East and the West; and third, it demonstrates the results of cultural
interaction, even when the interaction is in the past (p. 7). All the
papers, arranged in pairs, are devoted to expounding realizations of
politeness in relation to social parameters. After all, politeness is
at once a language phenomenon and a social phenomenon. My critical
evaluations will be inserted into each chapter reviewed, and I attempt
to make a comparison with the Chinese context where it is appropriate
The first two chapters in this volume present a more general
ethnographic picture of the two societies. The first chapter
contributed by Renee Hirschon, is entitled "Freedom, solidarity and
obligation: The socio-cultural context of Greek politeness" (pp. 17-
42), which focuses on some aspects of Greek politeness behavior in the
context of social norms and cultural values, and the indigenous Greek
emphasis on freedom in particular. Adopting an anthropological
approach, Hirschon contends that verbal expressions are interpretive in
an overall cultural context and in relation to prevalent values (cf. p.
18). The concept of "face" is seen here as a cognate concept, the
equivalent of "honor", a key notion for the interpretation of Greek
social conduct and values in the anthropological approach. It is
generally agreed that the study of politeness is closely linked to the
notion of "face", however, this is not to say that the study of
politeness is equal to that of "face" (cf. Mao 1994). Besides, although
the study of "face" owes much to Goffman (1955, 1967; cf. p. 19;
Terkourafi 1999), it is as early as in 1944 that Hu Shien Chin, a
Chinese anthropologist, introduced the notion of "face" to the west for
the first time (cf. Scollon and Scollon 1995: 34).
Hirschon argues that politeness codes have a direct bearing on notions
of honor and reputation (cf. p. 20), which is, to some extent, true of
the Chinese case and that identifying the primary value of freedom and
personal autonomy helps to make sense of some cultural features and of
language use. An important and insightful point made by Hirschon is
that "face" or self-esteem is not entirely determined by literal
expression of an utterance, because words themselves have a "face
value" (cf. p. 35). It is also pointed out by the author that verbal
accountability is lax in Greek linguistic behavior.
In "Politeness in Turkish and its linguistic manifestations: A socio-
cultural perspective" (pp. 43-74), Deniz Zeyrek examines the influence
of socio-cultural phenomena on language. Viewing politeness as an
important aspect of socio- culturally sanctioned behavior, Zeyrek
analyzes its manifestations in the vocabulary, formulaic expressions
and conversational styles. The Turkish society is one of collectivism,
and family and the country are top of the list for almost all Turks (p.
44). Individuals are expected to place group advantages before personal
ones, which actually determines the type of appropriate behavior in
linguistic communication. And some utterances concerning privacy like
"Are you married?" or "Why aren't you married?" put to a new
acquaintance are deemed appropriate and as a means of establishing
relationships instead of intrusive. And insistence on making offers are
shown to be "a way of showing cordiality" (p. 53) and intrinsically
polite rather than a downright imposition as generally understood by
The following pair deals with the variables of power and status in
classroom and other interaction, and. In "Linguistics of power and
politeness in Turkish: Revelations from speech acts" (pp. 75-104),
Seran Dogancay-Aktuna and Sibel Kamisli try to provide answers for the
i. What is the preferred mode of speech behavior of native speakers of
Turkish in disagreeing with and correcting an unequal status
ii. What type of politeness markers do Turks utilize to soften the
effect of potential FTAs?
iii. What is the effect of social status and context on choice of
politeness markers by Turkish speakers?
According to the findings, in giving corrections in the classroom,
professors are significantly more direct than higher status bosses
disagreeing with their assistants. Besides, professors do not feel the
need to be indirect in giving corrections, whereas in the workplace,
considerations of the face-needs of the others are more expected (p.
83). In the Chinese context, however, even the professor feel the need
to take into account the negative politeness of his/her student when it
comes to giving corrections.
In "Politeness in the classroom?: Evidence from a Greek high school"
(pp. 105-136), Theodossia-Soula Pavlidou aims to give an intra-cultural
account of politeness in an institutionalized context, and more
specifically in the classroom. The author shows that students tend to
neglect their teacher's positive face wants, while teachers seem to
care less for their students' negative face and put a greater emphasis
on the positive face wants of their students. Pavlidou argues that the
classroom interaction under discussion is characterized by minimal
politeness investments, especially on the students' part, a fact that
can be explained in terms of roles of students and teachers in the
classroom, the type of speech activity that is expected of each and the
group presence of students and the solo appearance of the teachers. And
the author is right in concluding that one needs to "make a much more
systematic intra-cultural examination of contextual aspects in the
study of politeness" (p. 131) before talking about inter-cultural
differences in politeness.
The next pair focuses on variables of solidarity in advice giving and
in the use of approbatory expressions. In "Congratulations and bravo!"
(pp. 137-176), Marianthi Makri-Tsilipakou investigates two related
approbatory expressions used in everyday interpersonal communication
between Greeks, i.e. "congratulations" and "bravo". As observed by the
author, "bravo" in Greek seems to be more of an exclamation than
"congratulations"; "congratulations", part of a more formal register,
seems to presuppose some culturally recognized event or ceremony and is
more of a conventional expression than "bravo" (cf. 138-149). Moreover,
real language data have shown that neither of the two approbatory
expressions can be associated exclusively with the illocutionary forces
they were initially matched with, and "bravo" sometimes ends up self-
directed while "congratulations" is strictly other- directed. The
author concludes that both expressions are driven by the positive
polite concern for involvement.
In "Advice-giving in Turkish: 'Superiority' or 'solidarity'" (pp. 177-
208), Arin Bayraktaroglu, one of the two editors of this volume,
demonstrates the differences existing between American/British English
and Turkish through case studies in regard to the speech act of advice-
giving. Advice-giving is said to be highly face-threatening in Western
culture, where negative politeness is usually the norm (cf. e.g., Brown
& Levinson 1978, 1987; Leech 1983; Wardhaugh 1985). However, it is
widely employed in Turkish to underline and consolidate solidarity.
According to the author, not all trouble-talk sequences incorporate an
advice turn, nor does advice always appear after the mention of a
personal problem, but the occurrence of the two in the same stretch of
talk is fairly common (p. 188; cf. pp. 188-192). Besides, social
distance between the speakers seems to plays a decisive role concerning
the sequential development after advice-taking (p. 193; cf. pp. 194-
203). Unsolicited advice shows some variation in the sense that
socially distant partners produce advice turns heavily marked with
hesitation, while intimate speakers alternate between crude and
mitigated utterances. All these observations are explained in terms of
collectivism within which Turkish society falls, and they, as the
present reviewer sees it, need to be further evidenced.
The next pair concentrates on service encounters and the differential
use of language by males and females. In "The use of pronouns and terms
of address in Turkish service encounters" (pp. 209-240), Yasemin
Bayyurt and Arin Bayraktaroglu look at two aspects of nominal and
pronominal use as is exhibited in Turkish service encounters. One
aspect is the variation affected by the economic prestige attached to
the setting, as well as the familiarity between the interlocutors. The
other aspect is concerning gender differences. The authors find that
male customers are influenced by the economic affluence of the setting
more than the females and that they are more at ease to switch to the
solidarity forms in shops of frequent use than the female counterparts.
And this can find also some expression in the Chinese context.
Brief service encounters involve mainly requests besides optional
greetings and leave- takings. In "Brief service encounters: Gender and
politeness" (pp. 241-269), Eleni Antonopoulou touches upon gendered
linguistic behavior in Greek service encounters. As observed by the
author from exchanges between 380 customers and a couple running a
small shop. According to the author, both men and women, on the whole,
show a preference for positive politeness devices, selecting, however,
different ones, probably functioning on the basis of distinct
internalized stereotypes of expected behavior (p. 242). The author
finds, among others, that the whole exchange can be performed in
silence (cf. pp. 246-247), though it is the least frequent in the data
examined. However, such a finding would find little support from the
Chinese context. It is incredible that requests in service encounters
should be dealt with in dead silence, even though the customer and the
owner of a shop are very familiar with each other. Moreover, remaining
silent is not necessarily "the utmost expression of politeness" (Brown
and Levinson 1987: 72); rather, it could be regarded as a high degree
of impoliteness. And instances of elliptical requests observed in the
data examined can also be found in Chinese service encounters.
The following pair is devoted to investigating the use of interruptions
in television talk. In " 'What you're saying sounds very nice and I'm
delighted to hear it': Some considerations on the functions of
presenter-initiated simultaneous speech in Greek panel discussions"
(pp. 271-306), drawing on Goldberg's (1990) classification of
simultaneities into "power-related", "rapport-related" and "neutral",
Angeliki Tzanne examines 5 hourly all-male panel discussions aiming to
identify the functions of presenter-initiated simultaneous speech.
According the author, simultaneous speech relates to the presenters'
intention to control the direction and the substance of the discourse.
Besides, the supportive simultaneities under examination are closely
related to the positive politeness orientation of the Greek people,
that is, to their preference for cultivating the positive aspect of
face of their interlocutors.
In "Analysis of the use of politeness maxims in interruptions in
Turkish political debates" (pp. 307-340), Alev Yemenici examines two
major categories of interruptions made during political interviews:
interviewer interruptions on interviewee talk and interviewee
interruptions on interviewee talk. According to the author,
interviewers tend to make news interviews full of heated debates in
multiparty interviews to capture the audience and to increase viewing;
interviewees, especially politicians, on the other hand, are anxious to
get more votes and to appeal to both their own voters and potential
voters. Thus, interviewers and interviewees use interruptions as a
strategy to achieving their aims. And some interviewer interruptions on
interviewee talk are found to be convivial and polite especially when
interviewers employ politeness strategies such as mitigation and
apologies for interruption. As the present reviewer sees it, the
present study would be better if it took into account gender
differences in interruptions. Under the Chinese context, which is
characteristic of masculinity, the chances are that male interviewees
interrupt more than female ones. More often than not, female
interviewees seem to remain silent until asked to take the floor.
The last, but not the least pair tackles compliments in interaction.
Relevance theory proposed by Sperber and Wilson (1986/1995) claims
utterance comprehension and interpretation is a cognitive process,
which costs some mental effort and achieves some cognitive effect. It
has now grown into a much-researched topic and some people (e.g.,
Escandell Vidal 1995, 1996, 1998; Jary 1998) have attempted to account
for politeness from the relevance-theoretic perspective. However,
relevance theory does not make any claims as to whether polite or
impolite behavior is more likely (cf. Jucker 1988). In "Relevance
theory and compliments as phatic communication: The case of Turkish"
(pp. 341-390), Sukriye Ruhi and Gurkan Dogan tries to bring a new
dimension to the cognitive approach to politeness by linking the social
aspects of compliments to relevance theory (p. 12). Complimenting is
identified here as a form of phatic communication that may contribute
to creating/maintaining a positive mutual cognitive environment between
the complimenter and the complimentee (p. 359). As observed by the
authors, most compliments in Turkish are formulaic and mainly occurs in
close relationship to emphasize in-group solidarity. As far as gender
and complimenting are concerned, the authors find that men compliment
women more and that women compliment other women more than they do men
(cf. pp. 366-377). The authors are right in arguing that the
propositional content of utterances for complimenting is of minor
importance. It is what is implied in the utterance that counts.
In the last paper, "Oh! How appropriate!: Compliments and politeness"
(pp. 391-430), Maria Sifianou, on the basis of an extensive corpus of
over 450 compliment exchanges , claims that compliments are not as
formulaic in Greek as has been shown to the case with other languages.
Sifianou argues that compliments are interpreted as giving gifts and
function as that of offers and that women both pay and receive
significantly more compliments than men. The author also calls for a
distinction between routine and non-routine or genuine compliments.
The editors of the present volume must be credited with the insights
shown in presenting to us readers empirical studies of linguistic
politeness in Greece and Turkey by recurring to the approaches of
ethnography, speech acts, conversational analysis and discourse
completion tests (cf. p. xiii). All the chapters, arranged in pairs as
mentioned earlier in the review, are empirically oriented, most of
which hold much water. Many of the papers are couched within the
framework of Brown and Levinson's politeness model, which has been
proved "the most influential and comprehensive so far" (p. 7). All the
contributions in this volume help to show what is peculiar in
politeness phenomena in these two countries. I am, apart from other
things, deeply impressed with exhaustive notes at the end of some
papers (Hirschon, Makri-Tsilipakou, Pavlidou, Ruth & Dogan, Sifianou,
and Zeyrek), which is helpful for both clarification of some relevant
points and further researching. Of course, we should not forget some of
the universals of various cultures at the same time of talking about
peculiarities of each. In actual fact, smooth communication is the
ultimate point in accounting for the ever-increasing zest in politeness
studies, especially in this age of cultural globalization following
economic globalization (cf. Xie in preparation a). And it is no
exaggeration to predict that, where there is communication, there is
politeness studies. And the best policy, in my view, would be to agree
to disagree. After all, we human beings are all members of a large
family separated by the fallen Babel. This volume is well-edited in
terms of both content and style. In addition, it has very few typos.
This volume would surely be embraced by any reader interested in
language use in general and in politeness studies in particular, be it
native speaker of Greek or Turkish or not. I recommend it without
reservation and with admiration.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Chaoqun Xie is a lecturer with Foreign Languages Institute, Fujian
Teachers University in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, China. His main areas
of research interests include cognitive linguistics, pragmatics,
translation and communication. He is particularly interested in
relevance theory and politeness theory from the cognitive-pragmatic
perspective and is seeking cooperation with researchers of the same