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  • Author: Maria Sifianou x
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This article explores the parallel English and Greek announcements heard in the Athens Metro stations. It is argued that these announcements constitute a new genre, characterized by a specific format including three stages (opening, main body, closing) and manifesting the interplay between global and local linguacultural influences. The way English is used in this context diverges from native English speaker norms and, despite the expected brevity because of the temporal and acoustic constraints of the environment, elaborate constructions are employed. Both the Greek and the English announcements are verbose, since elaboration is assumed to indicate the required formality and politeness. This in turn contributes to the construction of a serious and polite institution, which can therefore be trusted by passengers. The underlying assumption seems to be that in impressive surroundings such as the Athens Metro, the linguistic code should be equally impressive rather than follow the norms of pithy announcements heard in the London Underground stations. This partly reflects the current linguistic reality in Greece, where elaborate formal constructions are thought to convey “seriousness” and “importance”.


In recent years, researchers have explored politeness and impoliteness extensively and have attempted to construct theoretical frameworks that would account for both phenomena. Research on im-politeness focuses almost exclusively on linguistic performance and investigates the phenomena in relation to the behavior of individuals in verbal interaction (see Brown and Levinson, Politeness: Some universals in language usage, Cambridge University Press, 1987 [Universals in language usage: Politeness phenomena, Cambridge University Press, 1978]; Leech, Principles of pragmatics, Longman, 1983; Spencer-Oatey, Rapport management: A framework for analysis, Continuum, 2000; Mills, Gender and politeness, Cambridge University Press, 2003; Watts, Politeness, Cambridge University Press, 2003 among others). Departing from this line of investigation, in our paper, we consider im-politeness as broad phenomena that involve verbal and/or non-verbal means of expression and manifest themselves primarily at a societal level.

The main aim of the paper is to explore how young Greeks conceptualize im-politeness and to briefly consider whether these perceptions have changed in the last 25 years. Another aim of the paper is to investigate whether our informants believe that their society has become more or less polite than it used to be and to delve into the reasons to which they may attribute this change.

Our findings indicate that our informants view impoliteness as being different in nature from, but not the polar opposite of, politeness, while the conceptualization of both phenomena reveals the respondents' preoccupation with societal issues concerning social norms and rights and the ensuing notion of appropriateness in context. Another interesting finding that emerged from this study is that for the majority of our informants, impoliteness is expressed verbally, whereas the reverse is true of politeness, which is primarily seen in terms of non-verbal action. Finally, rather expectedly, our informants view their society as becoming less polite than it used to be and attribute this change primarily to the fast and hectic pace of life.


The main aim of this paper is to investigate how Japanese and Greek female students conceptualize politeness and then compare the findings in order to tease out any cross-cultural similarities and differences. The data is drawn from a questionnaire filled in by two hundred female undergraduates (one hundred from each group). The results show that there are significant similarities as well as some differences. Although research on im/politeness has concentrated almost exclusively on linguistic performance, a significant similarity between the two groups is that politeness is conceptualized as primarily non-linguistic action. Another major similarity is that both groups conceptualize politeness mainly as “consideration to others” and “appropriate behavior,” the former expressed mostly non-linguistically and the latter involving both linguistic and non-linguistic manifestations. Most participants view politeness as conveyed through attentiveness/helping others, respect and empathy. Differences were located mostly in the numbers of participants who mentioned the various subcategories. For example, more Greek participants related a broad sense of “respect” to politeness, whereas more Japanese participants related it to “empathy” and only Japanese participants mentioned “honorifics.” Our participants’ understandings of politeness appear to be in contrast to earlier politeness theories which view politeness as strategic concern for conflict avoidance and closer to current approaches which view it as relational, expressing concern for the needs and feelings of others.