In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviews 303 Maria Sifianou, Politeness Phenomena in England and Greece: A Cross-cultural Perspective. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1992. Pp. xi + 254. £30.00. According to the blurb on the dust-jacket, "this book presents the first application of Brown and Levinson's ground-breaking theoretical work in a full-length comparative case-study." However, this is not the only reason why Sifianou's book is important. Most significantly, it constitutes the first major attempt to investigate the Greek language from a pragmatic perspective by looking at linguistic politeness as an example of the interface between language and society. Sifianou's working hypothesis is that "politeness is conceptualized differently and, thus, manifested differently in the two societies; more specifically that Greeks tend to use more positive politeness than the English, who prefer more negative politeness devices" (p. 2). Positive and negative politeness are terms that come from Penelope Brown's and Stephen C. Levinson's theory about the principles for constructing polite speech, first presented in volume 8 of the Cambridge Papers in Social Anthropology (1978) and later reissued, with a new introduction, as Politeness: Some Universab in Language Usage (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1987). According to this theory, any member of a linguistic community wishes to be desirable to at least some others ("positive face") and also to be unimpeded by others ("negative face"). Positive strategies emphasize solidarity and in-group relations whereas negative ones value privacy and individuality. Sifianou believes that this difference in the kind of politeness devices used in Greek and English is responsible for the stereotypical characterizations of the two cultures and the consequent misunderstandings between them. After a brief introduction, the main theories on politeness are surveyed (chapter 2), followed by an examination of the issue of universality and specificity of politeness across cultures, which touches on forms of address (chapter 3). With regard to these, Sifianou notes that the Greek system of address is more elaborate than the English one in that it provides possibilities both of Title + First Name (Κϕϕιε Αντώνη) and of Title + Position Title (Κϕϕιε Καθηγητά) as well as a wider range of affective terms of address (like Βϕε, ϕε παιδιά, etc.) that reveal the Greek preference for solidarity markers. Chapter 4 comments on politeness in non-verbal communication and concludes with an attempt to define politeness as the "set of social values which instructs participants to consider each other by satisfying shared expectations" (p. 86). Important differences are reported in the native speakers' perception of politeness, as shown by data coming from a questionnaire. The Greeks' definition of politeness is broader, more straightforward, and less conventionalized than that of the English, which constitutes further evidence for the positive-negative distinction. In chapter 5, the emphasis shifts from attitudes toward language usage to linguistic usage itself, with the study of a specific type of speech act, namely requests. Differences in the use of "utilizable" and conventionalized request constructions in the two languages are reported in the next chapter. Greek conventionally employs present indicative constructions (such as Μου δίνετε 304 Reviews τη φωτιά σας;) that would be impossible as direct requests in English, and subjunctives (Εα δανειστώ αυτά τα Βιβλία;), whereas English has more elaborate constructions with modals ("Could I have your light, please?" "May I borrow these books?"). Again, these observations reflect the different conception of what is polite in the two cultures. Sifianou rounds off the presentation of linguistic evidence with an excellent discussion of the range and role of items such as openers, hedges, and fillers, as well as external modification devices, all of which modify the request. For instance, it is pointed out that English speakers seem to prefer weakening modifiers ("I just wonder if you could help me") while Greeks are fond of terms of endearment or closeness such as diminutives or intensifiers (Δώσε μου λίγο νεϕάκι, παϕακαλώ). The evidence supports the belief that there cannot be an absolute measure for politeness. One culture cannot be assessed as more or less polite than another; rather, each is polite in a different way or conforms to different norms of politeness. Therefore, the usual portrayal of the English as too formal and hypocritical and of the Greeks as too friendly and intrusive inhibits a better understanding of the ways in which each people evaluates and realizes politeness. I am not sure...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 303-304
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.