• Ingen resultater fundet

5. The Theoretical Foundation for the GEBCom Reception Test Politeness as incorporated in the GEBCom Reception test



forms) as a concept shared by all members of a given culture makes little sense because it is an individual interpretation.

I do not expect my project to be able to answer the many questions raised regarding the notion of politeness, nor is it my intention to be able to develop a new (or revised) theory of politeness. Yet I do hope to be able to shed some light on a small corner of this great area, namely the relationship between politeness and linguistic form. By including in my investigation of the comprehension of directives an element of politeness, I want to test if my participants, native-speakers and non-native speakers alike, interpret any relation between a certain linguistic form and what they find to be polite or not. As seen from the discussion of comprehension and its role in communication, the grammar of a language and hence also linguistic form played a very important part in uniting speaker and hearer. As the theory does not directly address the issue of politeness, it seemed even more interesting to include this element and investigate if and how it might relate to linguistic form. When we incorporated the element of politeness into the GEBCom Reception test, we thus kept the context surrounding it the same, altering only the linguistic form. Knowing very well that the individual participant no doubt would make his or her own interpretation of context, at least this interpretation would be the same throughout the texts. Another important point from the literature on politeness was the focus on speaker vs hearer. As this is an investigation into the (hearer’s) comprehension of English, we knew that we wanted to emphasise the hearer’s perspective. However, as this category was only one of ten categories and only six texts out of 36, there were some restrictions as to how we could do so. Rather than eliciting real speech, we made them evaluate a fictive scenario (an email).

On the texts and their different elements

The texts for this category are fictive email correspondences between a student and her/his professor. The category includes six texts in which the linguistic shape of the request is the only thing that varies. The rest of the text remains the same, and the questions (and their possible answers) also remain the same. The scene is an email from a professor to a student about possible corrections to a draft paper made by the student and sent to the professor. The text that the participants have to comprehend is the reply from the professor about the draft paper, which is similar in all texts except for the formulation perhaps include/you should include/it needs to have/I would probably include/why don’t you include/couldn’t you include. The participants take on the role of the student. The idea behind this was to make it more relatable as they themselves are


students. It also means that we see the same relationship in terms of power distance and social distance between speaker and hearer throughout the texts. Exactly how this relationship is interpreted is not controlled by me, but by the individual participant. Naturally I expect great differences in how a professor-student relationship is understood both on individual levels but also across cultures. I do not necessarily see this uncertainty as a problem, but more as a natural consequence similar to the variations that would occur in real life in intercultural setting, be it university or business. Furthermore, however different the relationship is interpreted, it is most likely interpreted in the same way by the same participant across the texts as we change nothing about the relationship in the different texts. The only thing that changes is the formulation we wish to test the comprehension of.

To ease the reading of the further discussion of the different elements in the texts from this category, I have included an example of the text from the test13 below:

13 The entire GEBCom test with all 36 texts from all ten categories can be found in Appendix A.


Please read the following text and answer the questions below.

Your new professor, whom you do not know very well, has asked you to prepare a draft paper for an upcoming conference. You have prepared the paper and have sent it to your professor. You now receive the following email from your professor:


Thank you for the paper. It is alright but you should include more details in section 1.

Kind regards

Please select ONE answer for each question:

- Was this email




- This was the professor’s




Piece of advice






- Should you change section 1?




Table 6 Example of text from the category Form of Approaching the Hearer. Marked with bold red is the only part of the text that is altered throughout the six texts from the category. The blue brackets indicate the different elements of interest.

As can be seen from the example above, the texts for the category Form of Approaching the hearer are followed by three questions14, each focused on a special element of interest. Politeness Evaluation addresses how the texts are interpreted in terms of being polite or not. Intention relates to which speech act the participants understand the text to express. Finally the Willingness to Change deals with which course of action the participants would take based on the email.

14 For a discussion of the various concerns and challenges regarding design of texts and questions, please see the following Chapter 6.

This question refers to the element of Politeness Evaluation

This question refers to the element of Intention

This question refers to the element of Willingness to Change


As for the options regarding Politeness Evaluation, we simply asked them if they found the email to be polite, neutral or rude. The option of neutral was added based partly on Watts (2005 [1992], 2003) distinction between politic and polite behaviour. By politic behaviour, Watts (2005 [1992], p. 50) means the: “socio-culturally determined behaviour directed towards the goal of establishing and/or maintaining in a state of equilibrium the personal relationship between the individuals of a social group, whether open or closed, during the ongoing process of interaction”

or in his later definition (Watts, 2003, p 276): “that behaviour, linguistic and non-linguistic, which the participants construct as being appropriate to the ongoing social interaction”. In other words, politic behaviour is simply being appropriate in a given situation. Watts (2005 [1992], p. 50) refer to this as the unmarked form of interaction. Contrary to this, are the two marked forms: one is negative, the so-called non-politic form, and results in a communication breakdown, the other is positive, the so-called polite form (Watts, 2005 [1992], p. 51). His point is that: “what counts a polite behaviour depends entirely on those features of the interaction which are socio-culturally marked by the speech community as being more than merely politic” (Watts, 2005 [1992], p. 51).

Based on this, I wanted to include the option of neutral to encompass the possibility that the request in the texts was not consider neither polite or rude, but simply appropriate in the given situation.

Regarding the different options for the element of Intention, the directive in the email was thought of from our side as a form of Request, but we wanted to leave open the possibility that the participants might very well have another comprehension of it. We therefore added several different options, ranging from weak to strong in the sense of the impact from the speaker on the hearer15. Weak can thus be seen as implying little or no future action from the hearer, whereas strong may be seen as expecting future action from the hearer, depending of course on how the participants comprehend the different options. As a last element, we added a question regarding which course of action the participant would make based on the email, whether or not they would actually make the implied changes. As a speaker would normally issue a directive to make the hearer carry out a desired action, it is interesting to see if the participants actually understand the email as requiring them to act.

15 The idea to range the suggested Intentions was partly inspired by Wierzbicka’s division of English speech act verbs (Wierzbicka, 1987)