An investigation of politeness : two request situations in English and Japanese

  • Noriko Tanaka

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    Until recently, English teaching in Japan focused on giving much grammatical knowledge to students, and paid little attention to communicative competence, ‘competence as to when to speak, when not, and as to what to talk about with whom, when, where, in what manner’ (Hymes 1971: 277). However, nowadays, the importance of communicating with foreign people for mutual understanding is often pointed out, and communicative competence is gradually receiving more attention in English teaching in Japan. Grammatical knowledge is not sufficient for making students communicate well, and in addition to grammatical knowledge, the knowledge of appropriate use of the language is necessary for effective communication. Furthermore, as a part of communicative competence, ‘social competence’, the knowledge and ability to create and maintain a harmonious atmosphere in social interaction; should be given more attention in order to allow students to communicate with English speaking people harmoniously and effectively. Although a number of teachers have noticed the importance of communicative and social competence, such competence is not taught sufficiently in Japan. One reason for this is that, with few opportunities to communicate with native speakers of English in Japan, teachers themselves do not know well the communication patterns of English in actual situations. To develop students’ communicative competence, Japanese teachers of English need to know the cultural patterns in English, and to see what kind of problems could occur for Japanese students. It is intended that this field study will contribute a small part to the growing understanding of the cultural patterns in English and Japanese. Before considering the possible problems especially for Japanese learners of English, three possible causal factors of communication problems for non-native speakers are discussed:
    (1) lack of linguistic competence
    (2) transfer of native cultural patterns
    (3) false stereotyping.
    As a basis for considering the problems in terms of politeness strategies, in particular, Brown and Levinson (1978) 1s ‘face theory 1 is introduced, and some characteristics of Japanese cultural patterns which may cause some politeness problems are discussed. Based on the discussion, some hypotheses are built up about Australian and Japanese communication patterns, and an investigation has been conducted, focusing on two request situations:
    (1) asking a lecturer to lend a book
    (2) asking a friend to lend a book.
    Four Australian native speakers of English and four native speakers of Japanese were asked to role-play in each situation, and their results were compared with each other. These results were also analyzed in comparison with the results of four Japanese speakers of English and four Australian speakers of Japanese. Although this is a preliminary study and has some limitations in the investigation, the results show that, although politeness is a universal phenomenon, it is expressed differently in English and Japanese, and they indicate some possible problems in politeness strategies for Japanese speakers of English and for Australian speakers of Japanese. As to the implications of the results for English teaching in Japan, three points can be considered:
    (1) the need to make students aware of the cultural patterns of English
    {2) the need to teach students sufficient variety of expressions
    {3) the need to give students enough practice.
    In terms of these points, some weaknesses in English teaching in Japan are discussed. For example, teachers do not have enough knowledge of collll1unication patterns in English, materials used in class do not give enough information about the target culture and actual use of English by native speakers, and the amount of time spent on English in the school curriculum and the number of students in one class cannot be considered desirable for the purpose of giving enough practice to each student. These problems are not easy to solve, but it is possible to find ways to improve the situation. In the final chapter, some practical, though tentative, suggestions are made in the hope that English teaching in Japan will be improved to help students to communicate well with people in different cultures.
    Date of Award1986
    Original languageEnglish

    Cite this