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Explaining cross-cultural pragmatic findings: moving from politeness maxims to sociopragmatic interactional principles (SIPs)

By Helen Spencer-Oatey and Wenying Jiang


This paper focuses on how culture can be treated as an explanatory variable in cross-cultural pragmatic studies. It starts with a review of pragmatic maxims [Grice, H. Paul, 1989. Logic and Conversation. William James Lectures, 1967. (Reprinted in Grice, H.P. (Ed.), Studies in the Way of Words, pp. 22–40); Leech, Geoffrey N., 1983. Principles of Pragmatics. London: Longman; Journal of Pragmatics 14 (1990)237], discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the concept. It then presents the findings from a British-Chinese replication of Kim's [Human Communication Research 21(1996)128] cross-cultural study of conversational constraints, and argues that the notion of maxims should be reconceptualised as sociopragmatic interactional principles (SIPs). The notion of SIPs is defined and explained, referring to the sociopragmatic-pragmalinguistic distinction [Leech, Geoffrey N., 1983. Principles of Pragmatics. London: Longman; Applied Linguistics 4(1983)91] and other cross-cultural pragmatic approaches [House, Julianne, 2000. Understanding misunderstanding: a pragmatic-discourse approach to analyzing mismanaged rapport in talk across cultures. In: Spencer-Oatey, H. (Ed.), Culturally Speaking. Managing Rapport through Talk across Cultures. Continuum, London; 145–164; Journal of Pragmatics 9 (1985)145]. SIPs are also discussed in relation to Brown and Levinson's [Brown, Penelope, Levinson, Stephen C., 1987. Politeness. Some Universals in Language Usage. CUP, Cambridge (Originally published ad ‘Universals in language usage: politeness phenomenon’ In: Goody, E. (1987), Questions and Politeness: Strategies in Social Interaction. CUP, New York.)] perspectives on the impact of culture on language use. The paper ends with a call for more research to establish on an empirical basis the types of interactional principles that exist, and their interrelationships

Topics: HM
Publisher: Elsevier BV
Year: 2003
OAI identifier:

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