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Intercultural aspects of the speech act of promising: Western and African practices
Citation Information: Intercultural Pragmatics. Volume 3, Issue 4, Pages 443–464, ISSN (Online) 1613-365X, ISSN (Print) 1612-295X, DOI: 10.1515/IP.2006.027, December 2006
- Published Online:
This paper examines the reasons for a frequent intercultural misunderstanding between Africans and Westerners with regard to promising. After studying the conditions of use for the act of promising in each culture, I look at the cultural premises underlying these conditions of use for the act of promising in each culture. I argue that the notions of sincerity and commitment so closely attached to the Western promise stem in fact from the deeper level of Western cultural premises and that the African promise is typically informed by different cultural premises, even though commitment can be attached to an African promise through a verbal negotiation.
In order to clarify whether the African promise can still be called an illocutionary act of promising, it is examined in the light of Searle's felicity conditions for the promise. Concerning its place in conversational structure, the African promise appears to be used as a means to politely close a verbal exchange.
Finally, looking at lexical expressions for designating the act of promising in a number of West African languages reveals that the non-binding and the binding promise are referred to by speech act verbs from different illocutionary classes, thus confirming that the polite promise and the binding promise are different illocutionary acts.