Success in communication depends on grammatical competence and the appropriate use of pragmatic aspects of a given language. Languages differ in the patterns of interaction and the speaking rules, which vary from one community to another. Non-native speakers may not be aware of the patterns of interaction and the speaking rules. Consequently, they may not be able to communicate effectively, irrespective of having a reasonable command in vocabulary and grammar (Pinto & Raschio, 2007). Various cultural factors influence the patterns of interaction and rules of speaking. Depending on the culture and language used, each community has distinct rules and patterns of communication or communication strategies (Bassiouney, 2009). One cultural factor that influences communication strategies is the social distance (or solidarity). The theory of politeness explains how social distance influences communication.
Politeness and solidarity_Similarities and differences between Arabic and English
The politeness theory posits that people from individualistic societies have different perceptions and expressions of politeness from individuals living in societies with high level of cohesiveness (Kadar, 2013). According to Brown and Gilman, politeness can be divided into positive and negative categories. According to Bassiouney and Katz (2012), politeness is an aspect that is used by speakers to preserve the face of others. ‘Face’ refers to an individual’s self-image in the midst of others, or how other people perceive an individual. Both positive politeness and negative politeness aim at preserving the self image of the speakers (Meier, 1997). As Searle explains, indirect speech often has the effect of saving the face of both speaker and addressee. On the other hand, direct speech acts often lead to the exposure of crucial information. As such, direct speech acts may threaten an individual’s ‘face’ or self image (Yu, 2011). However, the negative impact of the direct speech acts on politeness can be reduced through the use of syntax and lexical features.
As Wierzbicka (2003) explain, the politeness of speech acts is also influenced by the culture of the parties involved in communication. Individuals from the same culture often use the same communication strategies. On the other hand, individuals from different cultures often use different communication strategies. Culture influences the extent to which people use direct or indirect speech acts. In individualist societies, the social distance between individuals is bigger than in societies with collective cultural traits. In individualized societies, people avoid engaging in any form of communication that may lead to the intrusion of the addressee’s self-image. Consequently, they tend to use indirect speech acts. On the other hand, in societies where the social distance between people is small, they often allow, to some extent, the intrusion of individual’s territory. In such societies with collective culture, people express solidarity and allow the use of direct speech acts during communication. According to Ogiemann (2009), people in individualized societies tend to use conventional indirectness during communication, whereas people from societies that show cohesiveness or solidarity use conventional directedness. However, there are limited studies conducted to test the hypothesis on the relationship between politeness and solidarity. In addition, the previous studies related to the issue have produced mixed results. In this regard, the current study aims at filling the gap, through investigating the influence of social distance (solidarity) on politeness.
Numerous previous studies have sought to determine the relationship between speech acts used in different communities and social distance or solidarity. However, the studies have yielded mixed results. As well, the different scholars have taken different approaches to the issue. Despite this, the researches generally focus on determining the use direct and/or indirect speech acts in different cultures. Most of the studies have focused on the use of direct and/or indirect speech acts when making requests. For instance, Tawalbeh and Al-Oqaily (2012) conducted a study to determine the directness/indirectness of the requests that are made by the Arabic native speakers in South Arabia and English native speakers in America. Tawalbeh and Al-Oqaily (2012) collected data for the study from 30 underground students. The sample comprised of both Americans and Saudi Arabians and they were selected randomly. The respondents were given a Discourse Completion Test that helped to gather information regarding directness/indirectness of their speech acts when making requests.
The findings of the study showed that Americans used indirect speech acts when making requests. The Americans used the conventional indirectness strategy in their communications. On the other hand, the results indicated that Saudi Arabians used direct speech acts when making requests. The results indicated that directness in speech acts when making requests varied among the Saudi Students. The researchers attributed the variations to contextual factors. A significant aspect of the finding was that there were cross-cultural differences. The American students often used direct speech acts when making requests to their friends only when the requests were not weighty. On the other hand, Saudi students used direct requests in most cases involving intimate relationships. Unlike the Americans, the Saudi students perceived direct speech acts as an expression of group-connectedness, closeness and affiliation, rather than impoliteness. The findings derived from the study conducted by Tawalbeh and Al-Oqaily (2012) therefore supported the politeness theory. A study conducted by Lee (2005) on Cantonese-speaking and native English-speaking respondents on the same topic found similar results.
Although Al-Marrani and Sazalie’s (2010) focused their study on determining gender differences on communication, their findings are relevant to the current study. Al-Marrani and Sazalie’s (2010) conducted a study to determine the strategies for communication used by Yemenis when making requests. Precisely, the study focused on determining the directness/indirectness of speech acts in male-female and male-male interactions. The results derived from the study indicated that men tended to use direct speech acts when making requests to other men. On the other hand, men used indirect speech acts when making requests to women. As well, women tended to use indirect speech acts when making requests to men. The differences in the results derived from the study were attributed to cultural factors. The use of indirect strategies in the interactions between men and women was attributed to religious and cultural values. On the other hand, the directedness of male-male interactions without losing face was attributed to cultural norms. The male-male interactions emphasized solidarity and involvement between men.
Alaoui (2011) on English-speaking and Arabic-speaking respondents in Morocco showed that both groups tended to use direct speech acts in their communication interactions. Both the English-speaking and Arabic-speaking respondents accorded importance to negative politeness. However, the respondents in the two groups tended to use different strategies to reduce the impact of directedness of their requests. The Arabic-speaking respondents tended to use lexical downgraders, whereas the English-speaking respondents tended to use syntactic downgraders. For instance, in their replies, the Arabic-speaking respondents tended to use the word “llah yrdi ‘lik” (God bless you). The use of the lexical and syntactic features helped to reduce the imposition of the speaker’s will on the addressee.
Umar (2004) carried out a study to investigate the strategies used by native English-Speaking learners and Arab learners of English when making requests. The findings derived from the study showed that both the native English-speaking learners and the Arab learners tended to use direct speech acts when making requests to their friends. However, the study results showed that the native English-speaking learners tended to use more lexical and syntactic features than the Arab learners of English. The researcher attributed the difference to the linguistic superiority of the English-speaking learners. Al-Shalawi (2007, as cited in Al-Ali & Alawneh, 2010) found findings that contradicted the findings of the study conducted by El-Shazly. Al-Shalawi (2007, as cited in Al-Ali & Alawneh, 2010) investigated the use of semantic formulas during communication by American and Saudi undergraduate students. The findings derived from the study indicated that the Saudi students applied cultural values and beliefs in their communication strategies and they portrayed collective culture. On the other hand, the Americans were more individualistic and they applied conventional directness in their communication strategies.
Some studies have focused on the communication strategies used by individuals in different communities when making an apology. Al-Hami (2003, as cited in Karasneh, 2006) also investigated the similarities and differences in the use of apology strategies between Arabic and English speakers. The researcher aimed at investigating the frequency of use of apology strategies by both groups. The findings derived from the study also showed that both the respondents in both groups tended to use direct speech acts when giving apologies. However, the English-speaking respondents expressed more regret than the Arab-speaking respondents. In addition, the English-speaking respondents acknowledged lack of intent than the Arab-speaking respondents.
Despite some studies showing that Arabians tend to use direct speech acts, other studies have found that they use indirect speech Acts. For instance, a study conducted by El-Shazly (2003, as cited in Alaoui, 2011) showed that Arab societies tend to use indirect strategies in their communication with other communities and among themselves more than the people from English-speaking societies. Unlike some studies that have shown that Arabic societies tend to use unconventional indirectness, El-Shazly (2003, as cited in O’Sullivan, 2007) found that they tend to use conventional indirectness. Hussein and Hammouri (2003, as cited in Umar, O’Sullivan, 2007) investigated the communication strategies used by the American English-Speakers and the Jordanian Arabic speakers when making apologies. The researchers found significant cultural differences in the strategies used by the two groups. The American English-Speakers were more direct and used less elaborate strategies than the Jordanian Arabic speakers. There were more variations among the Jordanian Arabic speakers than within the other group.
There are several issues that emerge from the literature review. One of the relevant issues identified in the previous studies is that there are cross-cultural differences in communication strategies (Holmes, 2001). The studies examined indicate that the Arabs-speaking societies have different communication strategies as compared to the English-Speaking societies. A second issue that emerges from the findings of the previous studies if that people living in individualistic societies tend to use indirect speech acts when communicating to other members of the community or to the members of different community. The studies show that there is high level of individualism in the westerns societies and hence, there is no close social distance between people. The lack of closeness among people explains the reason why people tend to use indirect speech acts when communicating.
A third issue emerging from the review of the previous studies is that people living in a community where social distance between the community members is close tend to use direct speech acts. There is high level of collectivism especially among men in the Arab-speaking societies (Holmes, 2001). The impact of the closeness is that people tend to use direct language towards each other, without minding the impact on social image. A fourth issue identified in the previous studies is that there may be variations in communications strategies used by people from the same society. Some of the previous studies found significant variations in the use of speech acts among the Arabs. The studies also show that despite the high level of collectivism in the Arabic-speaking societies, the relationship between men and women involves some respect that hurts the closeness. The findings derived from the studies indicate men in the Arabic countries tend to use indirect language when addressing women. As well, women tend to use indirect speech acts when addressing men.
Another issue arising from the literature is that people tend to use indirect language when addressing people who rank higher than them. On the other hand, people tend to use direct language when addressing people who rank lower than them. Another observation derived from the study is that the people from the individualized societies may use conventional indirectness, whereas people from the societies with high level of collectivism tend to use nonconventional directness.
Most of the issues observed in the previous studied on the politeness theory. In particular, the findings derived from the studies conducted by Tawalbeh and Al-Oqaily (2012), Lee (2005), Al-Marrani and Sazalie’s (2010), Umar (2004) and Alaoui (2011) support the suggestions made in the theory. However, there are studies that derive results that contradict the suggestions made in the theory. The studies conducted by El-Shazly (2003) and Hammouri (2003) found results that oppose the suggestions of the theory.
Another issue identified during the review is that there is limited research focusing on the relationship between politeness and solidarity in different cultures. Most of the existing studies have focused on the use of communication strategies when making requests and when making apologies. As well, the previous studies have paid significant attention to the influence of culture on the choice of communication strategies adopted by different groups. However, only a few studies have focused on how solidarity or social distance influences the choice of communication strategies. At the same time, previous studies have found that different societies perceive politeness differently; what is considered as polite behavior in one community may not be perceived to be polite behavior in another community. There is need for additional research in order to confirm the proposed elements of the politeness theory. In this regard, the purpose of this paper, therefore, is to fill the existing gap, through exploring the relationship between politeness and solidarity in Jordan and Australia.
The researcher will use secondary data only for the research. The secondary data will be collected through exploration of previous primary studies related to the study topic.
The findings for the study will be important in various ways. To start with, the results will augment the results of the previous studies that have sought to test various elements of the politeness theory. As such, the results will help confirm the theory’s correctness. Secondly, the results will be useful as a guide for future researches related to the current topic. Third, the paper will examine how social distance in Arabic and Western cultures influences the use of direct or indirect speech acts when communicating. The results will be useful for both the Arabic and the English speakers. Studies conducted by Tawalbeh and Al-Oqaily (2012), Lee (2005), Al-Marrani and Sazalie’s (2010), Umar (2004) and Alaoui (2011) have shown that Arabs are likely to fall back to their cultural background when communicating to the follow community members and to members of other communities.
The study results are useful to the English-speaking people who interact with the Arabs. The results will make the English-speaking people to understand the reason why the Arabs seem to be authoritative when communicating. In other words, the native English speakers will understand the reason why Arabic speakers tend to use language that they perceive to be polite or impolite. At the same time, the Arabic-Speaking people will learn the need to use some words that reduce imposition of force to the addressee when speaking. As they adjust their patterns of speaking, they will enhance their relationships with the English-speaking people. In short, the results of the study will enlighten both the English-speaking and the Arabic-speaking societies on their cultural differences that impact on their communication strategies. As such, the study will help to improve the relationships between the different societies.
The findings of the study will also have pedagogical implications. In other words, the study will have an impact on the learning and teaching practices. To start with, the study will highlight the importance of pragmatic competence. As mentioned earlier, pragmatic competence refers to the ability to integrate patterns of interaction and rules of speaking of a given cultural group when communicating. As Abdul, Lah & Suleiman (2009) explain, teachers in most ESL and EFL classes have been focusing on teaching grammar and ignoring the patterns of interaction and rules of speaking related to the western culture. At the same time, students have been focusing on acquiring grammatical skills only and ignoring the patterns of interaction and rules of speaking. As a result, the English learners from the Arab-speaking societies miss essential communication skills when interacting with the students from English-speaking societies. The result of the lack of skills is misunderstanding, which may have a negative impact on the relationship between students from the different cultures. As such, the study’s results will impact EFL and ESL learners and teachers. They will all learn the importance of focusing on the pragmatic skills, and not just the grammatical skills. In order to understand how to teach students to gain pragmatic competence, the teachers will need to gain adequate knowledge of the patterns of interaction and rules of speaking of both Arabic-speaking societies and the English-speaking societies. In addition, it will be essential for the teachers to apply patterns of interaction and rules of speaking for both cultures in the class room so that the students can learn practically how to do so. Lastly, the results of the study will emphasize on the need to provide students with materials with information on how to gain pragmatic competence so that they can also learn on their own.
In conclusion, numerous studies have paid attention to the influence of culture on the communication strategies adopted by a given community. The politeness theory proposes that people from the same community tend to use the same communication strategies. On the other hand, people from different communities tend to use different communication strategies. People from the same community may also have variations in their communication strategies. The results derived by most studies support the suggestions of the politeness theory. However, few studies have found results that contradict the suggestions of the theory. In addition, limited studies have tested the theory’s suggestion about the relationship between politeness and solidarity or social distance. The researcher will therefore seek to fill the gap through carrying out an empirical study on the influence of solidarity on communication strategies and politeness among the Arabic and English speakers. The Researcher will collect the data for the study in undergraduate schools in Jordan. Apart from the primary data, the researcher will also utilize secondary data from previous studies. The results of the study will be useful to both Arabic and English speakers and also to the future researchers. Misunderstandings during communication will reduce and thus, their overall relationships will improve. As well, the results will be useful to the teachers and learners in schools. They will learn the importance of focusing on the pragmatic skills in class, and not just the grammatical skills. One of the recommendations to be drawn from the findings is that students should be provided with class materials which equip them with knowledge on how the patterns of interaction and rules of speaking of the other societies they are interacting with. Secondly, the teachers should act as examples to the students and use practical examples in classrooms to teach the students on how to apply the pragmatic knowledge.
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