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To find some answers Tim Machan explores the language's present and past, and looks ahead to its futures among the one and a half billion people who speak it. His search is fascinating and important, for definitions of English have influenced education and law in many countries and helped shape the identities of those who live in them.
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EDITORS: Watts, Richard; Ide, Sachiko; Ehlich, Konrad TITLE: Politeness in Language (Revised and expanded second edition) SUBTITLE: Studies in its History, Theory and Practice PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter YEAR: 2005
Michael Haugh, School of Languages and Linguistics, Griffith University
INTRODUCTION This edited volume is a re-publication of a collection of papers on politeness originally published in 1992, with the addition of a new introductory chapter written by one of the original editors, Richard Watts, and an expanded bibliography, which also includes selected (and presumably significant) works on politeness published since 1992. The original impetus for this volume lay in a workshop on linguistic politeness held in 1988, and this date is a crucial in that this collection is in many respects a critical reaction to the rationalist, modernist approach to politeness represented in Brown and Levinson's theory of politeness (which itself was re-published in 1987). Watts argues in the new introductory chapter that this collection also marked the beginnings of the postmodern or discursive approach to politeness (p.xiii), and the major concerns raised in the various chapters in the book are indeed ones that could be construed as falling into the postmodernist programme. While the move towards discursive approaches to politeness has really only gained momentum in the past five years, with Eelen's (2001) penetrating critique of politeness theory often being credited for this kick-starting this movement, Watts is perhaps justified in claiming the roots of this movement really lie in this collection of papers published more than ten years ago. For this reason, among others, the republication of this collection is indeed a welcome move.
The contents of the original edition have been published in this edition without any significant changes apart from the addition of a new introductory chapter written by one of the original editors, Richard Watts, entitled ''Linguistic politeness research: Quo vadis?'' In this chapter, Watts argues why a second edition of ''Politeness in Language'' is necessary, and summarises some of the main tenets of the discursive or postmodern approach to politeness, carefully showing how these principles can be related to various papers in the original collection. However, as Jucker (1994) pointed out in his review of the first edition of ''Politeness in Language'', despite the emergence of common themes that hint at a postmodern approach to politeness, this is really quite a heterogeneous book where ''there is very little agreement as to what politeness is'' (p.329). This makes a step-by-step summary of this book rather unwieldy. Moreover, having already been reviewed and digested by the academic community over the past ten years or so, one might question whether it is really necessary for another review to be written, at least for the original articles. For these reasons, the summary of the chapters in this book will be somewhat brief. There is a need, however, for a considered evaluation of the place of this collection in relation to current trends in politeness research, and so the present review of this second edition seems warranted.
SUMMARY Politeness in Language consists of thirteen chapters divided in to three sections, theoretical and historical perspectives, empirical studies, and studies of politeness in non-Western settings. These chapters are preceded by the original introduction written by Watts, Ide and Ehlich, and a new introduction written by Watts specifically for this second edition.
Each of these three sections reflects a number of different concerns of the postmodern approach to politeness. A number of key themes emerge from the first section which has six papers focusing on theoretical and historical dimensions of linguistic politeness. These themes are nicely summarized by Watts when he claims that ''politeness will always be a slippery, ultimately indefinable quality of interaction which is subject to change through time and across cultural space'' (p.xiii). The historical relativity of politeness is emphasized by Ehlich ('On the historicity of politeness') and Sell ('Literary texts and diachronic aspects of politeness'), while the problems we have in satisfactorily defining politeness are related back to the fact that evaluations of politeness are hearer-based and thus subjective in Watts ('Linguistic politeness and politic verbal behaviour: reconsidering claims for universality') and Held ('Politeness in linguistic research'). The distinction between unmarked behaviour, which is appropriate to the extent it is not impolite, and marked behaviour, where the speaker's behaviour is perceived as achieving some ends beyond the maintenance of the social equilibrium (Jucker 1994: 330), also emerges in various guises (although unfortunately with different terminology) in a number of papers in this section including Werkhofer ('Traditional and modern views: the social constitution and power of politeness'), Janney and Arndt ('Intracultural tact versus intercultural tact') as well as in the chapters mentioned above. The fact that there are no objective criteria with which to make this distinction, since politeness arises from the hearer's subjective evaluations in particular contexts (or what Watts, Ide and Ehlich (p.3) label ''first-order politeness'') is what makes politeness a ''slippery, ultimately indefinable quality of interaction'' (p.xiii).
In the second part, one of the key principles of the discursive approach, that empirical studies of politeness should be grounded in analyses of actual interactional data, is apparent. Two of the chapters, Knapp-Potthoff ('Secondhand politeness') and Stalpers ('Between matter-of-factness and politeness') rely on the analysis of recorded spoken data, which is taken to be crucial to a discursive approach, while the other chapter, Walper and Valtin ('Children's understanding of white lies'), relies on an analysis of interviews with subjects investigating their reactions to what are commonly termed 'white lies'.
The third part gathers together four papers investigating politeness in non-Western languages, including Hebrew (Blum-Kulka: 'The metapragmatics of politeness in Israeli society'), Japanese (Ide et al: 'The concept of politeness: an empirical study of American English and Japanese'; Coulmas: 'Linguistic etiquette in Japanese society'), and Thai (Kummer: 'Politeness in Thai'). The key theme here is that politeness cannot be defined in the same way across ''cultural spaces.'' This poses a challenge to the claim of universality made by Brown and Levinson (1987), although the issue of universality seems to have become of less importance in the field at present, as the difficulties - or perhaps even impossibility- of constructing a grand theory of politeness that can adequately encompass politeness phenomena across all cultures still remain unresolved to a large extent (although see Leech (2005) for some recent work on a universal theory of politeness). It also raises the issue of whether ''politeness'' itself is often evaluated positively (as in the Japanese context, for example) or negatively (as in the Israeli and British English context, for example), another concern of the discursive approach to politeness.
EVALUATION It is difficult to do real justice to the breadth and depth of the individual contributions in this collection within the space of a review such as this. There can be no doubting that these chapters, particularly those in parts one and three, first brought to light important notions that foreshadowed many of the issues currently being contested in the field of politeness research today. But there are also many subtleties in the ways these ideas were originally presented that need further teasing out, as it is fairly apparent that while Watts links all these papers to the emergence of a postmodern approach to politeness, not all of the contributors would consider themselves postmodernists. In particular, Ide's later work on politeness is predicated on a decidedly ''modernist'' stance, as can be witnessed in her latest collection of papers on politeness, co-edited with Robin Lakoff, which was also published recently (Lakoff and Ide 2005; for a full review see: http://linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-1235.html). However, since such an endeavour would require considerably more space than available here, this evaluation will focus primarily on the discursive approach to politeness outlined by Watts in the new introduction, and the value of the republication of this collection to current debates in politeness theory.
The 2005 introduction to ''Politeness in Language'' draws out the major themes of the postmodern approach to politeness with the aim, it would appear from the title of this introduction, of establishing a program for future politeness research. It is therefore worth considering what these themes entail for politeness researchers today. One highly controversial theme that has emerged from the postmodern approach, as represented by Watts (2003; cf. Locher and Watts 2005) at least, is a shift away from the notion of politeness to other terms such as ''politic'' or ''relational work.'' This shift is perhaps a natural consequence of an approach that regards politeness as ''a slippery, ultimately indefinable quality of interaction'' (p.xiii), and leads to a fairly clear hint of the ultimate consequence of adopting a postmodern approach to politeness, namely ''giving up the idea of a Theory of Politeness altogether'' (p.xlii). One could interpret this statement in a number of different ways, but in light of what Watts has previously written, particularly in his 2003 book ''Politeness'' (for a full review see: http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-2153.html), it appears that Watts is claiming that in relation to politeness neither a predictive nor descriptive theory is possible (p.xix; cf. Watts 2003: 142). In other words, a postmodern approach to politeness abandons the pursuit of both an a priori predictive theory of politeness (''used to predict when polite behaviour can be expected'', p.xix) and a post-facto descriptive theory of politeness (''used to explain post-factum why [politeness] has been produced'', p.xix). Instead, he argues that analysts need to ''pay closer attention to how participants in social interaction perceive politeness'' (p.xix). But if one follows this train of thought what is left for politeness researchers to do? Inevitably, the postmodern approach leads to the analysis of politeness only being possible within the framework of a wider theory of interpersonal interaction or communication that is not predicated on rationalistic or objectivist assumptions about language and communication. This is indeed an important, and necessary, move in politeness research, to which closer examination of many of the papers in this collection lends significant support. It is perhaps here that the value of republishing this collection really lies: in developing a true alternative to the objectivist (or modernist) approach to politeness represented most famously in Brown and Levinson's (1987) theory of politeness. It is perhaps reflective of the lack of progress in politeness research during the 1990s, at least before the publication of another significant work, the special issue on politeness published in ''Pragmatics'' (Kienpointner1999), and the emergence of the discursive approach in the past five years (in particular, Eelen 2001; Mills 2003), that a collection of papers originally published in 1992 can still have so much to offer politeness researchers today.
However, while the discursive approach as outlined by Watts in the new introduction, and foreshadowed in this collection of papers, has contributed immeasurably to real progress being made in the field of politeness research, there remains much to be resolved within the field. One continuing dilemma as to just how we should define politeness, or least delimit the range of allowable phenomena analysts should study, which has resulted in incoherence in the field of politeness research to some extent, as Jucker (1994: 334) pointed out more than ten years ago. Another issue that is far from being resolved either is within which more general theory of interpersonal/social interaction or communication politeness might be best analysed. A number of alternatives exist at present, including Arundale's (1999, 2006) Face Constituting Theory which is framed within an emergent and interactive view of communication (Arundale 2004), Terkourafi's (2005a, b) frame-based approach, which is framed within a neo-Gricean view of communication, and Watts' (2003) own discursive approach to politeness, which has been framed within a Relevance theoretic view of communication to date (although there is perhaps some doubt as to just how consistent the discursive approach is with Relevance Theory as Terkourafi (2006) has recently pointed out). Moreover, since the discursive approach is focused on how interactants themselves perceive politeness in interactions, the implications of more ethnographically-focused studies should not be neglected. Nevertheless, while it remains to be seen which alternative might finally emerge as dominant within the field, if indeed such an approach will emerge, in the meantime there is much to be gained from revisiting this founding work of the discursive approach to politeness in pursuit of a more coherent approach in the field of politeness research.
REFERENCES Arundale, Robert (1999). An alternative model and ideology of communication for an alternative to politeness theory. Pragmatics 9, 1: 119-153. Arundale, Robert (2004). Co-constituting face in conversation: An alternative to Brown & Levinson's politeness theory. Paper presented to the National Communication Association, Chicago, IL. Arundale, Robert (2006). Face as relational and interactional: A communication framework for research on face, facework, and politeness. Journal of Politeness Research 2, 2. Brown, Penelope & Stephen Levinson (1987). Politeness. Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Eelen, Gino (2001). A Critique of Politeness Theories. St. Jerome, Manchester. Jucker, Andreas (1994). Review of Richard J. Watts, Sachiko Ide and Konrad Ehlich (eds.), Politeness in Language. Multilingua 13, 3: 329-334. Keinpointner (1999). Special issue on Ideologies of Politeness. Pragmatics 9, 1. Leech, Geoffrey (2005). Politeness: Is there an East-West divide? Journal of Foreign Languages (Shanghai International Studies University) 6: 3-30. Lakoff, Robin & Sachiko Ide, eds. (2005). Broadening the Horizons of Linguistic Politeness. John Benjamins, Amsterdam. Locher, Miriam & Richard Watts (2005). Politeness theory and relational work. Journal of Politeness Research 1, 1: 9-33. Mills, Sara (2003). Politeness and Gender. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Terkourafi, Marina (2005a). An argument for a frame-based approach to politeness: Evidence from the use of the imperative in Cypriot Greek. In Lakoff & Ide (eds.), 99-116. Terkourafi, Marina (2005b). Beyond the micro-level in politeness research. Journal of Politeness Research 1, 2: 237-262. Terkourafi, Marina (2006). Review of Politeness. Journal of Pragmatics 38: 418-428.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Michael Haugh is a lecturer teaching English as an International Language
as well as Linguistics in the School of Languages and Linguistics at
Griffith University. His main research interests include pragmatics,
sociolinguistics, intercultural communication, and the relationship between
language and identity. He has published work on politeness and implicature
in a number of journals including the Journal of Pragmatics, Multilingua,
Pragmatics and Intercultural Pragmatics, as well as a chapter on face in
the recently edited volume "Asian Business Discourse(s)." His most recent
work is an article on "The co-constitution of politeness implicature in
conversation" to be published in the Journal of Pragmatics.