Date: Thu, 23 Oct 1997 10:47:40 CST
From: Ellen Johnson Ellen.Johnson[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]WKU.EDU
Subject: sociolinguistic competence
Whoa! Let's step back from our cultural defenses and look at
politeness from a metalinguistic standpoint. Whether I view it as
good or bad is linguistically irrelevant. The relevant matter is that
we acquire language in a sociocultural setting and along with it the
pragmatic conventions of that culture (at least most of us do!).
Every culture has rules about greetings and leavetakings,
conversational maxims about how much or how little to talk, etc. As a
linguist, I am interested in how these vary, but I try to refrain from
using terms like "rude" and "deceitful" just as I don't talk about
people using "poor" or "substandard" English. One point of interest
is how these rules change over time, but we need some empirical
evidence before we start making claims like "people aren't polite
Some of this reminds me of a discussion on linguistic competence vs.
fluency (i.e. rhetorical skill). We all make performance errors in
violating politeness norms, but what of the individual who seems not
to have acquired them, or who purposely flaunts them? Is
sociolinguistic competence really analogous to linguistic competence?
ellen.johnson[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]wku.edu