Cross-Cultural Variation of Politeness Orientation & Speech Act Perception

Nisreen Naji Al-Khawaldeh, Vladimir Žegarac


This paper presents the findings of an empirical study which compares Jordanian and English native speakers’ perceptions about the speech act of thanking. The forty interviews conducted revealed some similarities but also of remarkable cross-cultural differences relating to the significance of thanking, the variables affecting it, and the appropriate linguistic and paralinguistic choices, as well as their impact on the interpretation of thanking behaviour. The most important theoretical finding is that the data, while consistent with many views found in the existing literature, do not support Brown and Levinson’s (1987) claim that thanking is a speech act which intrinsically threatens the speaker’s negative face because it involves overt acceptance of an imposition on the speaker.  Rather, thanking should be viewed as a means of establishing and sustaining social relationships. The study findings suggest that cultural variation in thanking is due to the high degree of sensitivity of this speech act to the complex interplay of a range of social and contextual variables, and point to some promising directions for further research.



Linguistic Variation, Cross-Cultural Pragmatics, Speech Act of Thanking, Perceptions of Politeness

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