Politeness in Chinese Face-To-Face Interaction

Politeness in Chinese Face-To-Face Interaction

Politeness in Chinese Face-To-Face Interaction

Politeness in Chinese Face-To-Face Interaction

Synopsis

This book attempts to bring in the perspective of situational variation in analyzing linguistic politeness, and looks at politeness in the larger framework of social context. It outlines the way into the problem of politeness in Chinese culture and the steps taken in the application of politeness strategies in verbal interaction.

Excerpt

One important issue in intercultural communication is politeness phenomena across cultures. Too often I have encountered contradictory comments made by Americans about Chinese politeness practice. I began to research the topic as a subject of sociolinguistics, and later as a problem in intercultural communication. In this book, I describe Chinese politeness behavior across three social settings: business encounters, official meetings and family gatherings; and explain why Chinese seem to be inconsistent in their politeness behavior and why it is not easy to generalize about cultural characteristics. I also discuss how the sociological variables of power, distance, and imposition of an utterance function in different social settings, and the limitation of focusing our analysis of politeness on these variables only. I show that politeness behavior is a social practice that encodes the ideology and cultural values in a particular society, and that there are different assumptions about how to be polite in different cultures. In this study, linguistic politeness is examined not only at the syntactic or lexical level, but also at the level of discourse. I argue that discursive features contribute more to the signaling of politeness than the syntactic or lexical items in the Chinese language.

The body of the analysis is presented in chapters 2 through 5, using language data from naturally occurring face-to-face interactions collected through ethnographic research in Southern China. The three social settings of business encounters, official meetings, and family gatherings serve as the basis for my discussion on the significance of the distinction between inside and outside social relationships in the initial stage of social encounters, and the importance of acknowledging hierarchical structure in the inner circle while choosing face strategies. The last chapter discusses the characteristics of politeness practice in Chinese culture, and suggests an approach to understanding how and when face strategies are applied in social interactions.

I envision the analysis presented here having theoretical as well as practical applications. This book attempts to bring in the perspective of situational variation . . .

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