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It's Not What You Sign, It's How You Sign It

Politeness in American Sign Language

Jack Hoza

Publication Year: 2007

The general stereotype regarding interaction between American Sign Language and English is a model of oversimplification: ASL signers are direct and English speakers are indirect. Jack Hoza’s study It’s Not What You Sign, It’s How You Sign It: Politeness in American Sign Language upends this common impression through an in-depth comparison of the communication styles between these two language communities. Hoza investigates relevant social variables in specific contexts and explores the particular linguistic strategies ASL signers and English speakers employ when they interact in these contexts. It’s Not What You Sign, It’s How You Sign It is framed within politeness theory, an apt model to determine various interpretations of what speakers or signers mean in respect to the form of that which they say or sign. The variations reveal how linguistic and cultural differences intersect in ways that are often misinterpreted or overlooked in cross-c+AP23ultural communication. To clarify these cross-linguistic differences, this volume explores two primary types of politeness and the linguistic strategies used by English speakers and ASL signers to express politeness concerns in face-to-face interaction. Hoza’s final analysis leads to a better understanding of the rich complexity of the linguistic choices of these language groups.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I am pleased to acknowledge the support and guidance of the many people who have made this research and the publication of this book possible. Numerous people have been instrumental in my work and have helped shape my understanding of cross-cultural communication and linguistic inquiry...

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1. Politeness—It’s How You Say It

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pp. 1-31

People may not always remember the specifics of a conversation, but they do remember their overall impressions of the other person, as well as how well they felt the conversation proceeded. For example, they may recall whether or not they felt the other person was cooperative, and whether or not the other person was...

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2. Exploring Linguistic Strategies

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pp. 32-62

An addressee may feel imposed upon when asked to do something. This is because inherent in a request is the implication that the addressee should be cooperative and should comply with the request. It can be difficult to say, “No,” unless the request truly seems unreasonable. At the same time, the person who is making the request...

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3. Requests in ASL and English

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pp. 63-105

Human beings who are engaged in conversation not only convey content and relay goals (functions), they also negotiate the interaction (convey textual meaning) and usually strive to present themselves as socially competent communicators by employing politeness strategies as needed. Linguistic politeness is like a dance. Just as we prefer to...

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4. Rejections in ASL and English

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pp. 106-125

Turning down a request can threaten a relationship and one’s involvement because the interlocutor may be seen as uncooperative. Of course, not all rejections have the same effect. If someone makes an outlandish request, you can usually feel confident saying no. There is usually little threat to face or to the relationship...

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5. Two Nonmanual Modifiers That Mitigate Smaller Threats to Face

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pp. 126-148

ASL signers and English speakers employ a variety of linguistic strategies when making requests and rejections. Although many of these strategies overlap, there are some unique strategies that are used by each language group. One particular kind of linguistic expression is unique to signed languages such as ASL: nonmanual modifiers...

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6. Three Nonmanual Modifiers That Mitigate More Severe Threats to Face

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pp. 149-187

Two nonmanual modifiers (NMMs)—the polite pucker (pp) and tight lips—that are associated with small to moderate threats to face are the most commonly used NMMs in the data collected in the discourse completion test (DCT). Three additional NMMs are used to mitigate more severe threats to face, and these markers can be ordered...

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7. Language Fluency and Politeness

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pp. 188-201

Deaf persons are not always born to Deaf culture and ASL. In fact, only a small minority of deaf people are born to deaf parents. Although researchers commonly report that 5% to 10% of deaf people are born to deaf parents (e.g., Lane, Hoffmeister, & Bahan, 1996; Moores & Meadow-Orlans, 1990; Neidle, Kegl, MacLaughlin...

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8. Why It Matters How You Say It

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pp. 202-213

All language users communicate at least four levels of meaning in any given utterance: content, function, textual meaning, and social meaning. In this study I investigated a particular area of social meaning in ASL and English: the linguistic expression of politeness. The data from the ASL and English versions of the discourse completion...

Appendix I

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pp. 215-217

Appendix II

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pp. 218-220

Appendix III

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pp. 221-223


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pp. 225-230


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pp. 231-235

E-ISBN-13: 9781563683848
E-ISBN-10: 1563683849
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563683527
Print-ISBN-10: 1563683520

Page Count: 238
Publication Year: 2007