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CROSS-CULTURAL ANALYSIS OF THE CONCEPT OF POLITENESS

Abstract

This paper investigates aspects of the concept of politeness in Japanese and American cultures. Ten Japanese and ten American adults in Tucson, Arizona answered three questions. The first question asks the informants to consider what the term "being polite" means in their culture. The second question asks informants to judge whether the ten items of which it is comprised are considered "polite"/teineina in their culture. These ten items describe certain acts based on either negative or positive politeness strategies shown by Brown and Levinson (1987). Informants must judge if each given act is considered as "polite"/teineina in their culture. The third question asks informants to consider to what degree other adjectives such as "well-mannered"/reigitadashii and "friendly"/shiragashigena are similar to "polite"/teineina.

The results suggest that: 1) the basic concept of politeness is similar for Americans and Japanese; 2) although both cultures regard negative-politeness acts as more polite than positive-politeness acts, Americans are more likely than Japanese to perceive positive-politeness acts as polite; 3) the American term "polite" tends to have a wider range of meaning including "considerate" and "friendly" in addition to "well-mannered" and "respectful," whereas the Japanese term teineina tends to be confined to "well-mannered" and "respectful."

This research is significant in that it explores the similarities and differences between the Japanese and American concepts of politeness from new perspectives. These involve incorporating Brown and Levinson's notion of positive and negative politeness and modifying Ide, Hill, Carnes, Ogino, & Kawasaki's (1992) research methods.

 

How to Cite

Kato, A., (1997) “CROSS-CULTURAL ANALYSIS OF THE CONCEPT OF POLITENESS”, Journal of Second Language Acquisition and Teaching 5, p.59-72.

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Akiko Kato (University of Arizona)

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This article has been peer reviewed.

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