Politeness, in many attitudes, is a universal phenomenon. However, based on numerous cross-cultural studies, understanding of politeness and norms of politeness vary across different cultures [Larina 2008] [Leech 2005] [Leech and Larina 2014] [Reiter 2000] [Sifianou 1992]. The purpose of the study is to scrutinize how British and Persian cultural values construct the style of interpersonal interactions in family setting. We aimed at analysing the norms and politeness strategies with concentrating on the speech act of making request which are routinely applied in everyday interactions. The material for the study was extracted from a discourse completion test (DCT) answered by 112 British and Persian objects and ethnographic observations. Our findings have confirmed that the style of interactions between children and parents in British context is absolutely egalitarian. Meanwhile, in Persian culture, there are salient distinctions among communicative styles in top-down (parent to children) and bottom-up (children to parents) contexts.
The fundamental aspect of people’s communication is politeness which currently draws a great attention from scientists in many different fields of study such as sociolinguistics, pragmatics, discourse analysis and intercultural communication. Initially, the principal theories of politeness focused on highlighting politeness within a peculiar culture and afterwards they tended towards comparing the forms and practices of politeness across distinctive cultures. In fact, people make communication through an approach which is conducted by cultural values and these cultural values structure the communicative style of people.
Brown & Levinson’s  politeness theory by propounding the notions of face, face-threatening acts and politeness strategies has granted a great motivation to the trend of researching into politeness with concentrating on the speech acts’ performance through interpersonal interactions. Nevertheless, there were not sufficient social, cultural, historical, and contextual ideas among a lot of criticisms which were made about Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory. Norms of politeness are specified by regional, class and gender differences which have permanent reflections in people’s interpersonal interactions. These differences in politeness norms between distinctive cultures provoke numerous questions about the study filed of intercultural politeness in contradiction with the research of popular cross-cultural politeness. [Feng 2017]
In the section of our analysis of family discourse, we have concentrated on the speech act of making request which obtained from eight designed situations. Our discourse completion test (DCT) is still under further analyzing of other speech acts, therefore, we present some preliminary results in this article. These results are compatible with our ethnographic observations as well as the recognized differences in British and Persian politeness. The comparative analysis puts emphasis on this fact that in British families the communicative styles in making request in top-down contexts (parents to children) and bottom-up contexts (children to parents) do not disclose salient differences. Meanwhile, in Persian families, the communicative styles in making request in top-down contexts (parents to children) and bottom-up contexts (children to parents) bear significant differences. Some examples of requesting and response to request will illustrate this type of tendency.
Our preliminary results confirm that British families in both asymmetrical top-down and bottom-up contexts make request indirectly through questions with modal verbs (1-2). Besides, based on our data, imperative form is not applied in British contexts.
Meanwhile, in Persian families, the form of request relies strongly upon the context. According to our results as well as our ethnographic observations, children make request to their parents indirectly in an extra polite manner with applying long indirect speeches. Meanwhile, Persian parents through conversation with their children adopt direct communicative style. In most cases, they prefer formulating request without “please” or “may”. In fact, parents make request to children in an imperative form.
Responses to requests have also discovered some fantastic differences. In British families, these types of communicative styles are friendly and unofficial as in the situation of father’s responding to his son’s request for repairing bike (6-8):
On the other hand, British children’s responding to their parents’ request is also friendly and unofficial and it could be even in the type of offering an option or refusing of request as in the situation of daughter’s response to mother’s request for babysitting the young sibling (9-10).
In responding to parents’ request, in comparison with British children, Persian children play a less independent and more obedient role to their parents. In most cases, they do not negotiate the request of parents and show their constant eagerness to react to parents’ request without any hesitation. Persian children often apply the word “chasm” which is a polite affirmative word in Persian language in order to illustrate respect to parents as soon as positive responding to their request(s) immediately.
In conclusion, our primiliary findings confirm that the style of interpersonal interactions between children and their parents in British context is perfectly egalitarian and children treat their parents as equals which approves a low power distance in British society. Meanwhile, in Persian culture there are salient distinctions between communicative styles in top-down and bottom-up contexts which specify a considerable index of power distance in Persian society. This research manifests that norms differ across cultures and that linguistic politeness strategies are rooted in cultural context and conduct’s ideologies.
- Brown, Penelope, and Stephen C Levinson. 1978 & 1987. Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Edited by John J Gumperz. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press: Press Syndicate of the University Of Cambridge.
- Feng, Hairong. 2017. Wiley Online Library: Politeness across cultures. December 13. Accessed May 13, 2019.
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