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Justdifferent

Ifpeopleonlysaidthebareminimum,thenthisworldwouldbeaverygruffplace.Thefactthatpeoplechatterawayeverywherehasalottodowithpoliteness.Aclearcase(notonly)forlinguistics.

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pur.pur

"Iwouldperhapslikeaschnitzel."WhenDrPetrNadenicekwasnewtoGermanyabout15yearsago,hechosethiswordingwhenorderinginarestaurant,withoutreallythinkingaboutit.Theresultwasmisunderstanding,asheremembers:"Thewaitressdidn'tknowhowtorespond.Sheaskedherself,doeshereallywantit,ornot?"Theguest,bornintheCzechRepublic,simplywantedtobepolite.Eventhougharestaurantisaserviceenterprise,inourneighbouringcountrytotheeast,itisconsideredcourteoustoexpressoneswishesinthesubjunctiveform.Andinthisexample,theword"perhaps"isspecificallyusedtoconveythesubjunctivemeaning."Bydoingthis,youdontputtheotherpersonundersomuchpressure,"explainedNadenicek,whoisnowactiveattheInstituteofSlavicStudies.If,forexample,theschnitzelwassoldout,thewaitresswouldnotfeelforcedtoflatlyrefuseanurgentrequest.

Talkingaboutthecurrentweatherusuallyhasnoinformativepurpose,unlesswearecaughtinthemiddleofastormsurge.

PetrNadenicek

Thislittlestoryisjustoneofcountlessexamplestoillustratedifferentnotionsofpolitenessfromcountrytocountry,andevenfromregiontoregion.Asthesenotionsareveryoftenexpressedthroughlanguage,thetopicisafascinatingareaforlinguistics-andatKielUniversity,especiallyfortheMaster'sdegreeprogrammeinMigrationandDiversity.Underthisorganisationalumbrella,DrNadenicekoffersaregularcoursetitled"GermanandSlavicpolitenessstrategiesincomparison".Thefocusisinitiallyonlinguistics.PetrNadenicekthusdirectstheattentionofthestudents,amongotherthings,tothefourconversationmaximsformulatedbyPaulGriceapproximately50yearsago.Accordingtothistheoryofthephilosophyoflanguage,communicationfollowsthemaximsofquality(truth),quantity(information),relation(relevance)andmanner(clarity).Whatissaidshouldthereforebetrue,asconciselyformulatedaspossible,itshouldbeofimportance,andultimatelyalsounderstandable.However,accordingtoNadenicek,anyonewholistenstopeopletalkingwillconcludethat"Webreaktheserules80to90percentofthetime.Andifso,itisofcourseinterestingtoknowwhywedoso."

Image of Petr Nadenicek
Geist

PetrNadenicekdealswithlanguageandpoliteness.

TheexpertssuchasGeorgeLakoff,GeoffreyLeech,PenelopeBrownandStephenC.Levinsonwidelyagreethatpolitenessplaysadecisiverole.Thisisnotonlyshownbyhowsomethingissaid,butoftenbythefactthatsomethingisbeingsaidatall."Talkingaboutthecurrentweatherusuallyhasnoinformativepurpose,unlesswearecaughtinthemiddleofastormsurge,"saidtheKielSlaviclinguistasanexample.Inprinciple,fromanexpert'sperspective,thiskindofeverydaycommunicationhasprimarilyonefunction:"Wemaintaincontactwithotherpeopleandindicatethatwehavenoevilintentions."

Itisthereforeamatterofpoliteness,asanessentialprerequisiteforaconflict-freecoexistence.Aswithorderingtheschnitzel,inthisregardtherearemanysituationsandalsomanydifferentwaysinwhichwecandemonstratebeingwell-disposedtowardsothers.Forexample,ifsomeoneentersanofficeinPolandorRussia,andgetsofferedsomethingtodrink,itisconsideredpolitetodeclinetheoffer.Youareindicatingthatyoudonotwishtocauseanyinconvenience,andwillperhapsonlyacceptthesecondorthirdtimeyouareasked.Ontheotherhand,Germansfindthissmallritualratherannoying,ifnotdownrightrude.Becauseitcanalsobeinterpretedthatthenegativeresponseisnotbeingtakenseriouslyatall.

Formsofaddress(greetings)alsoofferplentyofscopefortheanalysisofpolitenessstrategies.InareaswheretheCzechlanguageisspoken,usingacademictitlesisamatterofcourse,butthisisconsideredratherstiltedinGermany.Addressingothersinformally(usingfamiliarversionsofaddress,liketheduforminGerman)islessprevalent,andifatall,thenmoredifferentiated.Nadeniceksaid"InRussia,itiscertainlypossiblethattwouniversitylecturersaddresseachotherinformally(du),andthenswitchtoformalmode(Sie)assoonasstudentsarepresent.InGermany,oralsointheCzechRepublic,youmustbeawareoftheconsequencethatonceyouhaveagreedtosaydutosomeone,thisremainssopermanently."

Throughhiscourse,theKiellinguistprimarilywantstodrawawarenesstothesubtledifferencesincommunication.Andtopleadfortolerance,becauseheisfirmlyconvincedthat"neitherisbetterorworse,itisjustdifferent."

Author:MartinGeist