Janet Holmes, Meredith Marra, Stephanie Schnurr
August 5, 2008
In New Zealand, as in many other post-colonial societies, biculturalism is a one-way street: Māori New Zealanders are more likely to be bicultural than are Pākehā New Zealanders. Consequently it is Māori norms, including discourse norms, which are more likely to be ignored in most New Zealand workplaces, with the potential for misunderstanding, and even for offence and unintended insult. Our research in Māori and Pākehā workplaces suggests that unintended impoliteness can subtly infiltrate the core activities of workplaces, namely workplace meetings. We illustrate this by examining differences in the ways in which Māori and Pākehā New Zealanders open and close meetings, and the ways in which Māori and Pākehā make critical comments about the behaviour of workplace employees, relating these discourse moves to considerations of politeness and impoliteness. Our data suggests that while Māori meeting openings tend to be direct, explicit, and elaborated, Pākehā meeting openings are brief and minimal. On the other hand, Māori critical comments in the workplace tend to be indirect, implicit and generalized, while at least in some Pākehā workplaces, criticism can be direct, contestive, and confrontational. The paper concludes by emphasizing that the tendencies identified are based on exploratory research, and that further research is needed to confirm or contest our tentative generalizations.