February 2, 2016
Postmodern accounts of politeness are founded on the idea that theoretical ‘second order’ conceptualizations (e.g., politeness2) must be grounded in ‘first order’ interlocutor interpretations (e.g., politeness1). One consequence of this assumption is that the generalizability of all theoretical conceptualizations has been called into question (e.g., Eelen 2001). Some even declare an end to “the age of grand theorizing” (Mills 2011: 34). The current analysis rejects this conclusion. Rather, it argues that a culture-general construct can be valid assuming it provides an account of underlying cognitive processing mechanisms. In line with this argument, a social cognitive account is presented which describes relational work in terms of the underlying cognitive processing mechanism ‘salience’. Specifically, behaviors which conform to norms and expectations are defined as salient in a ‘correlative’ fashion and behaviors which go against expectations as salient in a ‘contrastive’ fashion. By incorporating these two seemingly contradictory dimensions of salience, and the affective response associated with each, a culture-general account is achieved which is independent of and yet compatible with culture-specific analyses. This account, it is further demonstrated, overcomes a variety of limitations associated with previous accounts including their inability to provide a unified account of deference and volitional type linguistic phenomena.