Being Polite in Conversation: Power, Distance, and Self-Esteem in Persian Requests
Polite linguistic behaviour is concerned with how society and individuals interact. Speakers modify their linguistic choices based on a sociocultural context. Most research on politeness examines social variables such as power and distance (e.g., Brown & Levinson, 1987), but rarely the individuals themselves. This study looks both at how social factors and facts about individuals such as self-esteem affect request dialogues in Persian. In this mixed methods study, 36 Iranian men participated in open role plays to collect controlled yet quasi-normal speech across scenarios differing by power and distance. The self-esteem of each participant was collected using the Rosenberg (1965) self-esteem questionnaire. Request speech acts and supportive moves were coded and quantitatively compared to test the impact of power, distance, and self-esteem. Additionally, stimulated recall interviews were conducted to gather the thoughts of the participants about their choices in each prompt. Interviews were analysed through inductive content analysis to identify themes and develop theory. Finally, the role play request dialogues were treated as whole conversations (Clark, 1996), rather than singular speech acts. In this approach, request conversations are joint interactional activities that the speakers wish to accomplish, allowing the study of both the key elements of that joint task and the manner in which request conversations develop.In alignment with Brown and Levinson’s predictions, Persian speakers used more words and more turns when their addressee was of a higher power status, and also when the addressee was an intimate. Moreover, participants identified power and distance as important to their decisions, and power shaped the request conversation. There were also variations in conversation style and thought processes for speakers of low versus high self-esteem.The triangulated method of studying requests additionally revealed critical concepts for behaviour beyond power and distance, conversational motivations for linguistic politeness choices, and the need for additional categories for coding Persian requests. Finally, speech act quantification and interviews revealed that speakers do make strategic politeness choices. However, control of those choices is frequently divided between speakers such that the request does not arrive fully formed from the requester. Rather, it is co-constructed during the conversation, and what look from the outside like strategic choices of the requester are actually interactional consequences of choices from the addressee.
Advisor: Hatfield, Hunter; Feryok, Anne
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: English and Linguistics
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Persian; Request; Politeness; Conversation; Pragmatics; Self-esteem
Research Type: Thesis