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]