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Review of  Teaching and Learning (Im)Politeness


Reviewer: Wei Ren
Book Title: Teaching and Learning (Im)Politeness
Book Author: Barbara Pizziconi Miriam A. Locher
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Pragmatics
Sociolinguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 27.4143

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Review:
Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

SUMMARY

Politeness research has undergone a tremendous shift from traditional approaches such as Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Theory (1987) to discursive approaches such as relational work (e.g. Watts 2003; Locher & Watts 2005) and rapport management (Spencer-Oatey 2005; Spencer-Oatey 2008). In addition, impoliteness is now viewed as an important form of social practice, rather than the opposite to politeness. However, these research trends have not been well imported into second language acquisition (SLA) research and language pedagogy. The book ‘Teaching and Learning (Im)Politeness’ edited by Barbara Pizziconi and Miriam A. Locher therefore is a timely attempt to bring together the fields of (im)politeness and second language acquisition and teaching.

The volume consists of nine chapters, with the first chapter (Pizziconi and Locher) serving as the introduction and the last chapter (9) as the epilogue. In the introduction chapter, Pizziconi and Locher explicitly write that in this collection ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’ are understood as broad labels for issues of cultural transmission and acculturation in many diverse contexts (p.5).

The main chapters of this volume include two sections. Section 1 ‘(Im)politeness in L2 instructional contexts’ consists of four chapters (2-5). In the second chapter, ‘Teaching politeness?’, Spyridoula Bella, Maria Sifianou and Gngeliki Tzanne propose an eclectic approach to teaching politeness in second language (L2) learners. It first reviews traditional approaches to politeness research particularly on the merits of Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory (1987), and the more recent discursive or postmodern approaches. The authors argue that Brown and Levinson’s theory, although widely criticized and challenged, offers a number of means of relating linguistic form and social function, which is significant for language pedagogy. As noted by the authors, L2 users are bearers of different lingua-cultural systems who need familiarization with the basics before proceeding with the particularities of the target language and assistance in enriching their available resources. Therefore the information provided to learners and teachers should not be the same. Teacher trainers, textbook writers and finally teachers have to be eclectic as to what will be useful to their respective audiences. The chapter then provides suggestions as to what a teacher-training program should include, and specific suggestions for learners at the lower-intermediate and intermediate level, focusing on teaching Greek to L2 learners in Greece. For the latter case, the authors call for a ‘production—awareness raising—production’ teaching approach.

Chapter 3 (Eiko Gyogi), ‘Voices from the Japanese language classroom: Honorifics do far more than politeness’, examines the effect of an experimental class on directing learners’ attention to the indexical properties of Japanese honorifics, on learners who were intermediate students majoring in Japanese as a foreign language. The chapter starts with a brief overview of previous studies on honorifics, followed by a review of three major Japanese textbooks. The students were asked to translate a BBC news article on the Japanese imperial couple from English to Japanese to a hypothetical Japanese host father and a hypothetical Korean friend. Before the translation task, the students were given three Japanese newspaper articles reporting the same news but with different uses of honorifics towards the royal family. Analyses of learners’ classroom interaction, homework and learning diaries indicate that the lesson design was successful in directing the students’ attention to multiple and variable contextual factors affecting the use of honorifics. Although it is not explicitly acknowledged by the author, the experimental lesson design in this study can be considered as an awareness-raising—production approach.

In Chapter 4, ‘(Im)politeness and L2 socialization: Using reactions from online fora to a word leader’s “impolite” behavior’, Caroline L. Rieger reports on a German class activity which makes use of a video clip containing a controversial incident with respect to (im)politeness, together with a handful of English and German comments taken from online forums. The chapter reviews some key concepts from interpersonal pragmatics and relational work, how politeness is currently taught in language classes, and the challenges L2 users face in intercultural encounters. It then describes the instructional activity aiming at teaching (im)politeness to a group of advanced learners of German (at B2 to C1 level according to the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR)). Analyses of the learners’ comments suggest that the instruction, which can be considered as an awareness-raising approach, was successful, because the learners showed the more elaborate metapragmatic and metalinguistic knowledge necessary to communicate about (im)politeness in their L2.

In Chapter 5, ‘Teaching and learning (im)politeness: A look at the CEFR and pedagogical research’, Pizziconi explores how CEFR conceptualizes (im)politeness. It reviews various understandings of (im)politeness in the pedagogical literature, highlighting the necessity of practice in addition to explicit teaching. Furthermore, the author argues that multiple models must be made available to learners when teaching (im)politeness. The chapter then meticulously analyzes the contextualization of (im)politeness in the descriptive scheme and in the proficiency level descriptors of CEFR, highlighting a few shortcomings or demerits with regard to the above aspects.

Section 2, ‘Teaching’ and ‘learning’ (about) (im)politeness in L1 and L2, consists of 3 chapters. In Chapter 6, ‘Paths to politeness: Exploring how professional interpreters develop an understanding of politeness norms in British Sign Language (henceforth BSL) and English’, Rachel Mapson investigates an under-explored area, the acquisition of BSL as an L1 and as an L2. Eight highly experienced BSL/English interpreters took part in the study. Four acquired BSL naturally as L1 and acquired English in childhood as L2. By contrast, the other four acquired English as their L1 and learned BSL formally as their L2. Data were generated in a series of semi-structured discussions with the two participant groups (BSL as L1 vs. as L2). Each group was interviewed three times within six months with approximately two-month intervals (but the study only discusses the data collected during the first two sessions). The findings are discussed with respect to acquisition of politeness as children, experiential learning as adults, formal learning of BSL, and participants’ understanding of politeness. Interestingly, three of the four participants of BSL as L1 revealed that they adopted a different personality when interacting in BSL and in English. In addition, constraints on transferability were less restrictive for bimodal bilinguals, because elements of signed and spoken language could be produced concurrently.

Chapter 7 (Locher), ‘“After all, the last thing I wanted to be was rude”: Raising of pragmatic awareness through reflective writing’, reports how pragmatic knowledge is reflected in a corpus of reflective texts written by medical students at a British university. The data were 189 writings of one to four pages in length in connection with a clinical communication skills course. The students received instructions asking them to focus on communication skills and to include reflections on the feelings and emotions that were part of the experience. The reflective writings were analyzed in terms of the following aspects: teaching input on clinical communication skills, the communication skills mentioned in writing, awareness of empathy and rapport, presentation of self, and comments on (im)politeness and emotions. It is argued that reflective writing tasks can be considered a good first step in making individuals aware of their subconscious expectations about their roles and their behavior in different communities of practice.

In Chapter 8, ‘Children instructing kin and peers in politeness routines in Japanese’, Matthew Burdelski examines the ways Japanese-speaking children informally instruct kin and peers in non-honorific politeness routines. The analysis draws on four sets of audiovisual recordings of naturally occurring interaction in households and preschools in Japan and the United States. The findings demonstrate that children instruct kin and peers in politeness routines in various situations within the home and preschool. Furthermore, children may instruct children in the immediate presence of caregivers (home and preschool), and outside their immediate presence (preschool). Second, the findings also indicate that the instructed child may respond to the instruction or display his/her agency by refusing to repeat the elicited expressions. Third, the findings have shown that children prefer to use elicited imitation in dyadic arrangements, contrary to the triadic arrangements preferred by adults.

In the last chapter (9), ‘Epilogue: Impoliteness in learning and teaching’, Juliane House comments on individual chapters of the volume and makes a few suggestions about learning and teaching impoliteness.

EVALUATION

This edited volume has many strong points. First, it successfully links new perspectives on (im)politeness with the literature of studies on pragmatic competence (particularly second language pragmatics and pragmatic development). Second, the chapters examine a variety of languages, including English, Greek, Japanese, German, and British Sign Language, expanding the pool of target languages in the existing research on pragmatic competence. Third, studies included cover various contexts for teaching and learning of (im)politeness, such as general university language departments, naturalistic interactions (children, British Sign Language), and a specific communication course for medical students. Fourth, some chapters provide detailed suggestions for pedagogy, highlighting the importance of raising awareness in developing pragmatic competence. Fifth, the studies feature not only oral interactions but also written discourses, for instance reflective writings and translation tasks.

There are a couple of limitations, however. First, as noted by House in the epilogue, although the title of the edited book is ‘teaching and learning (im)politeness’, impoliteness is only discussed in three chapters in detail. Nevertheless, relational frameworks observe that impoliteness is not necessarily a marked phenomenon, which deserves more attention in a volume targeting the issues of politeness and impoliteness. Second, although several chapters showcase teaching activities to enhance students’ pragmatic awareness of (im)politeness, they lack objective measures to demonstrate the improvement of the learners’ pragmatic competence or performance in real interaction. Third, since (im)politeness is often perceived as situated in intercultural communication, using English as a lingua franca (henceforth ELF), where nonnative speakers dominate, poses new challenges to normativity of (im)politeness. Pragmatic strategies employed by interactants in ELF communication (e.g. Ren 2016) are not discussed in the volume but may provide useful implications for teachers and learners in many real-life situations in intercultural communication.

To conclude, despite the few weaknesses mentioned above, the edited volume makes important contributions to the existing literature of second language acquisition/teaching and (im)politeness research. It consists of studies from various research backgrounds and explores several topics that are under-researched. I highly recommend this book for researchers and graduate students in the fields of first/second language pragmatics, (im)politeness research, and second language acquisition and pedagogy.



REFERENCES

Brown, Penelope & Levinson, Stephen C. (1987). Politeness: some universals in language usage. (Studies in interactional sociolinguistics ; 4, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Locher, Miriam A. & Watts, Richard J. (2005). Politeness theory and relational work. Journal of Politeness Research 1, 9-33.

Ren, Wei (2016). Strategies used in Chinese university students’ ELF emails to remedy or prevent problems in understanding. In Yuan-Shan Chen, Der-Hwa Victoria Rau & Gerald Rau (eds.), Email Discourse among Chinese Using English as a Lingua Franca 163-181. Berlin: Springer.

Spencer-Oatey, Helen (2005). (Im)Politeness, face and perceptions of rapport: Unpackaging their bases and interrelationships. Journal of Politeness Research 1, 95-119.

Spencer-Oatey, Helen (2008). Face, (im)politeness and rapport. In Helen Spencer-Oatey (ed.), Culturally speaking: Culture, Communication and Politeness Theory 11-47. London: Continuum.

Watts, Richard (2003). Politeness. Cambridge: cambridge University Press.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Wei Ren is currently Professor of Applied Linguistics and a Yunshan Young Scholar at the Center for Linguistics & Applied Linguistics at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China. His research interests include L2 Pragmatics, Cross-Cultural Pragmatics, and Pragmatics in English as a Lingua Franca Communication. His recent publications include a monograph L2 Pragmatic Development in Study Abroad Contexts and articles in Applied Linguistics, Critical Discourse Studies, ELT Journal, Journal of Pragmatics, Pragmatics, System, and Language Teaching.