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Journal of Politeness Research

Language, Behaviour, Culture

Ed. by Grainger, Karen

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Context-dependency and impoliteness in intercultural communication

Istvan Kecskes
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  • State University of New York, Albany, United States of America and Tomsk State University, Russian Federation
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Published Online: 2017-02-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/pr-2015-0019


There has been a great deal of research on impoliteness focusing on one particular language or cross-cultural differences between languages (e.g. Bousfield 2008; Bousfield and Locher 2008; Culpeper 2005, 2009; Haugh 2007, 2011; Kienpointner 1997). However, much less attention has been paid to impoliteness in intercultural communication in which all or some speakers communicate in a language other than their native tongue.

On the basis of research on L1s and cross-cultural analysis of impoliteness, most of the researchers (e.g. Culpeper 2005, 2009, Haugh 2011; Watts 2003) in the field seem to agree that no act is inherently impolite, and that such an interpretation depends on the context or speech situation that affects interpretation (see Culpeper 2009). The paper will examine this context-dependency in intercultural communication where interlocutors cannot always rely on much existing common ground, shared knowledge and conventionalized context but need to co-construct most of those in the communicative process. It will be argued that limited shared knowledge and common ground may restrict the interpretation process to the propositional content of utterances, which may result in an increase in the actual situational context-creating power of utterances. Recent research (e.g. Abel 2003; Bortfeld 2002, 2003; Cieślicka 2004, 2006; House 2002, 2003; Kecskes 2007) demonstrated that in intercultural communication the most salient interpretation for non-native speakers is usually the propositional meaning of an utterance. So interpretation generally depends on what the utterance says rather than on what it actually communicates. As a consequence of their taking propositional meaning for the actual meaning of an utterance, interlocutors are sometimes unaware of impoliteness conveyed implicitly or through paralinguistic means.

Keywords: context-dependency; prior context; actual situational context; salience; common ground

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Published Online: 2017-02-02

Published in Print: 2017-02-01

Citation Information: Journal of Politeness Research, ISSN (Online) 1613-4877, ISSN (Print) 1612-5681, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/pr-2015-0019.

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