Politeness in an American-Chinese Quotidian Negotiation

Jinping Zhu (1), Bin Li (2)

1: .Linguistics Program, University of Florida, United States of America 2: . Department of Chinese, Translation&Linguistics, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong S.A.R.-China


Much politeness research has focused on analyzing the politeness strategies and realization patterns of speech acts using Brown and Levinson’s theory (1978, 1987), this study, however, employs Watts’ social theory based politeness model (2003) since politeness is a social practice which needs to be evaluated by the participants in an ongoing interaction. His model is based on Bourdieu’s theory of social practice and his own emergent networks theory. Watts (2003) equates politic behavior as appropriateness and (im)politeness as exceeding appropriateness. Because (im)politeness can be best revealed in a conflict situation where cooperation and argument coexist, this study chooses an informal negotiation to investigate the politic behaviors, (im)politeness as well as the negotiation norms. Although a wealth of literature in negotiation investigates the formal business or political negotiation, limited research has been done to examine everyday negotiating activity as well as politeness involved in it. This study bridges this gap as well.

This study examines a negotiation conversation between an American instructor and a Chinese student triggered by a delay of an assignment. The data collection method used is triangulation, namely, questionnaires, role-play and retrospective interviews. Comparing the politic or appropriate behaviors produced by the American and the Chinese, we find that they have different negotiation norms to adhere to. Therefore, different interpretations on each others’ behavior are aroused. For example, the politic behavior, such as making a direct threat, considered appropriate by the American participant is interpreted as impolite by the Chinese participant whose norms avoid this. On the other hand, repeating questions, one of the Chinese positive negotiation strategies, is interpreted as impolite by the American participant because this deviates from their negotiation norms. This study proves that Watts’ post-modern politeness approach can also be applied to cross-cultural politeness research.

Session: POSTERS: Focus on interaction, discourse, media, professional settings
Friday, April 4, 2008, 12:45-15:45
room: foyer