LINGUIST List 31.2935

Mon Sep 28 2020

Confs: Pragmatics/Switzerland

Editor for this issue: Lauren Perkins <>

Date: 27-Sep-2020
From: Masaki Yamaoka <>
Subject: Contrastive Study for Considerate Expressions
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Contrastive Study for Considerate Expressions

Date: 27-Jun-2021 - 02-Jul-2021
Location: Winterthur, Switzerland
Contact: Masaki YAMAOKA
Contact Email: < click here to access email >

Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics

Meeting Description:

We have engaged in the research project adopted for the Japanese Kakenhi (Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research) since 2018. We aim to collect vocabulary and phrases of “considerate expressions” and sentence examples from Japanese corpus and to construct the database to prepare for future considerate expressions dictionary compilation. We have collected about 150 words and phrases in Japanese now.

We assume that “considerate expressions” is a universal linguistic category, so we can observe it not only in Japanese but also in other languages. Therefore, we are trying to describe their counterparts in English, Chinese, Korean, and Arabic. In this panel, we would discuss the aspects of considerate expressions in these languages and would establish the basis of a contrastive study on them.

In current research of Japanese linguistics, our interests in a category called “considerate expressions” are increasing. This topic is closely related to politeness. As is well known, politeness is a context-dependent interpersonal regulative act that is not inherently fixed to a specific linguistic form. In Japanese linguistics, however, it has been pointed out that specific words and phrases seem to perform politeness function as a second or third sense of the word. For example, a degree adverb chotto means a low degree in an ordinary sentence like (1):
(1)Kyo wa chotto samui. It is a little cold today.
today a little cold

But this adverb is often used not as a degree adverb but as just a hedge for negative politeness in interpersonal communication. For example, (2) is a refusal against the application of debt:
(2)Sono kingaku wa chotto muri desu. I cannot lend you such a high mount.
such (high) price ???? cannot (lend)

In (2), chotto do not have any logical sense, since refusal does not show degree, unlike (1). The speaker is more likely to use chotto just to relieve the awkwardness of refusal. In other words, chotto plays a role of negative politeness to a typical FTA in this sentence. The usage of chotto like this appears repeatedly in similar FTA contexts. And the frequent occurrence of similar contexts causes the conventionalization of politeness function. As a result, the politeness function is recognized a new sense of chotto, then, we can find it in the item of chotto of the latest version of the Japanese dictionary.

Similarly, a well-known phrase when giving a gift “tsumaranai mono desu ga” (This item is a low value.) is also one of the considerate expressions which are conventionalized of a kind of negative politeness to avoid condescending.

We can observe such a conventionalization of politeness in other languages. For example, in English the phrase “Can you~?” means originally a question about the hearer’s ability, but it is generally recognized as a request expression. It seems that a conventionalized politeness expression to avoid direct request as an FTA. Similarly, the Chinese request expression “Néng bùnéng~?” is also a considerate expression derived from a question about the hearer’s ability. Therefore, it is necessary to describe “considerate expressions” as a universal phenomenon that transcends individual languages.

Program Information:

We have engaged in the research project adopted for the Japanese Kakenhi with the co-researchers since 2018. Before this submission, we have already invited them to the panel. Of course, every member has agreed to participate. We have a plan to panel contents as below:
Presentation 1: Panel Introduction: How Universal is Considerate Expressions?
Presentation 2: On the Considerate Expressions in Japanese.
Presentation 3: On the Considerate Expressions in English.
Presentation 4: On the Considerate Expressions in Chinese.
Presentation 5: On the Considerate Expressions in Arabic.

Page Updated: 28-Sep-2020