Japanese Linguistic Politeness as Speakers’ Rational Choice and Social Strategy

Xuexin Liu


Japanese linguistic politeness is a commonly observed phenomenon and the speaker’s being linguistically polite is an expected social behavior in the Japanese society. Most previous studies of Japanese politeness describe such a polite social behavioral pattern at a superficial or observational level without exploring the linguistic nature of such a polite behavior or the speaker’s motivations for performing a polite speech act in a particular speech context. From some linguistic, sociolinguistic, psycholinguistic and sociological perspectives, this study defines “politeness” as the speaker’s rational choices and a social strategy in the Japanese culture beyond surface language forms themselves. This paper claims that so-called “polite” or “honorific” language forms as commonly employed by the speaker in various social interactions do not necessarily always indicate that such a speaker must be a polite person. The so-called “polite” language is “linguistic” in nature and is thus more about a particular language form itself than about the speaker himself/herself. This paper further claims that the speaker makes rational choices of particular polite language forms to realize his/her communicative intention with the outcomes as perceived. Thus, this study explores the relationship between polite language forms and their social, cultural, and pragmatic functions. It concludes that speakers in the same speech community are conscious of linguistic choices which conform to their normative views for the interaction types; there is no simple equation between polite forms and polite speakers, and speakers are rational actors in making linguistic choices.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.22158/sll.v7n1p8


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