Ways of Expressing Apologies and Thanks in French and Japanese Personal Emails: a Comparison of Politeness

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Abstract


This article examines the ways in which politeness is used in French and Japanese personal emails (i.e. from one person to another). The data for the study consist of 411 emails from both communities and regrouped by criteria such as the correspondents’ gender, age and relationship (close vs distant; hierarchical vs equal). Two widely studied acts, very present in the French and Japanese data, namely thanking and apologising, are analysed. First of all, the notion of politeness is examined as it is understood in French and Japanese cultures, followed by a discussion of the positioning adopted by the various established approaches to this notion. This leads us to reconsider the concept of face as it is understood in Europe and Asia, the notion of discernment (Ide) and the theory of the territory of information (Kamio), as well as to re-examine the approach of politeness in the light of recent research findings. Following this overview, the paper proposes a framework where a distinction between politeness and civility is advocated. In this perspective, the means used to express politeness ( politeness in its broader meaning) are based on personal choices: either due to politeness (in a specific meaning) or according to social obligations ascribable to civility. More specifically, politeness (in it specific meaning) in one side is linked to personal choice. In French for instance, this can result from language used: formal language vs common language ( convier vs inviter ); verbal choices (conditional verbs instead of indicative tenses: je voudrais vs je veux ); syntax (inversion of the subject or not in questions), etc. In Japanese, politeness can be detected through the choice to use of the suffix desu ( kawaii desu ( it is cute )) when neutral or common language could be suitable ( kawaii ( it is cute )). In the other side, civility refers to the obligation to respect social norms. In French, the speaker may have to use the pronoun of address vous (vs tu ) as required by his and the hearer position, status, rank, etc. while his Japanese counterpart may have to use forms of humility or deference. The two visions embrace the Western and Asian conception of politeness: they complement each other. Furthermore, the impact of electronic devices on the evolution of writing practices is considered, with particular regard to the function of politeness discursive configurations such as apologies and thanks, and compared to another genre like letters. Thus the analysis of the writing styles shows the kind of patterns of linguistic behaviour chosen by cyberwriters of each language and culture. Finally, the results of the analysis show that attention to the addressee leads to the use of apologies in Japanese where in French, attention to the speaker/writer leads to the use of thanks. In addition, some expressions seem to be used only in certain relationships.

- Chantal Claudel (

University Paris 8-Vincennes-Saint-Denis

Email: chantal.claudel@univ-paris8.fr
General and Applied Linguistics

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