Indirectness in the Age of Globalization: A Social Network Analysis

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Indirectness has traditionally been viewed as commensurate with politeness and attributed to the speaker’s wish to avoid imposition and/or otherwise strategically manipulate the addressee. Despite these theoretical predictions, a number of studies have documented the solidarity-building and identity-constituting functions of indirectness. Bringing these studies together, Terkourafi 2014 proposed an expanded view of the functions of indirect speech, which crucially emphasizes the role of the addressee and the importance of network ties. This article focuses on what happens when such network ties become loosened, as a result of processes of urbanization and globalization. Drawing on examples from African American English and Chinese, it is argued that these processes produce a need for increased explicitness, which drives speakers (and listeners) away from indirectness. This claim is further supported diachronically, by changes in British English politeness that coincide with the rise of the individual Self. These empirical findings have implications for im/politeness theorizing and theory-building more generally, calling attention to how the socio-historical context of our research necessarily influences the theories we end up building.

About the authors

Marina Terkourafi

Leiden University Centre for Linguistics

professor and chair of sociolinguistics at Leiden University Van Wijkplaats 4, 2311 BX Leiden, The Netherlands


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Copyright (c) 2019 Terkourafi M.

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