need not to be imposed on (negative face) and (2) the need to be liked and approved by others (positive face). There is considerable debate concerning the functional purpose underlying the use of politeness forms across languages (e.g., Matsumoto, 1988; Ide, 1982), and an examination of Japanese children's use of polite language may provide invaluable insight into this issue.
It is not the grammatical structure that makes polite language so elusive in Japanese, but rather, the socio-interactional relations which underlie the whole system. There is no given "standard" of polite speech. Politeness levels vary greatly from person to person, as well as according to factors such as situation, gender, dialect, and age. In order to become a competent language user, a child must acquire many registers and learn when and how to use them. Such communicative competence facilitates social interaction. Children who lack this flexibility are at risk. Although Japan has become less hierarchical and more democratic, sociolinguistic errors involving inappropriate use of keigo tend to trigger an instantaneous negative reaction in the listener.
Even preschoolers clearly have a fundamental understanding of the appropriateness of polite forms used to indicate particular roles and situations. They are able to use a variety of greetings/polite expressions, as well as referent, addressee and beautification honorifics. They receive much prompting and guidance from their parents and teachers. With increasing age, aided by better grammatical skills and more sophisticated cognitive abilities, as well as a wider range of social experiences, they gradually expand their repertoire of pragmatic skills and acquire communicative competence.
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