Positive and negative politeness can be regarded as the adequate strategies to ensure the efficacy of any communicative event. Apparently, each ethnic group, each culture, and each community understands the essence politeness differently. In other words, the conception of politeness differs across the cultures and communities. The concept of politeness is inherently related to the process of globalization and the idea of multiculturalism.

Globalization and multiculturalism have proved themselves to be the distinctive features of our age. It happened so mainly due to the fact that the impact of globalization and multiculturalism on the main spheres of human activity is continuing to increase. In this regard, the problem of politeness strategies can be regarded as topical and relatable to the life and coexistence of communities that have fundamental differences in their perception of the world.

Politeness strategies, either positive or negative, are directed to make the interlocutors feel most comfortable. The fact of being familiar with the politeness strategies of a culture different from that, that the one belongs to is closely related to the competence of a man as a linguistic identity. This is especially true of non-native speakers. In other words, knowing the similarities and the distinctive features of politeness strategies characteristic of different cultures is important by all means. Korean and Chinese languages are similar due to their cultural affinity. American English language and culture as such are commonly referred to as a ‘melting pot’. On the other hand, American English language and American culture in particular encompass and represent the features characteristic of the so-called Western civilizations. Evidently, there is a principal difference between the American, Chinese, and Korean cultures. Thus, it is possible to assume that the principle difference exists within the aforementioned cultures in understanding politeness.    


Review of Literature

After a careful examination of Korean, Chinese, and American English politeness strategies, the linguists have found out the following. Korean native speakers express disagreement in both direct and indirect ways. The Korean native speakers’ multifunctional strategies are as follows: questioning, repetitions, and code-switching. The Korean native speakers’ non-confrontational strategies, in their turn, are the following: disagreeing in a playful way, remaining silent, giving opinions, and making references to personal experience. The researchers argue that in the vast majority of cases (such as, for instance, making a request and expressing disagreement) Korean native speakers tend to use the negative strategies of politeness. As far as making a request is concerned, it is important to admit that the native Korean speakers prefer to use indirect types of request. The native Korean speakers tend to stick to the so-called query preparatory strategy, which implies that the representatives of this particular category like to keep distance within a communicative event regardless of extra-linguistic factors. Korean native speakers operate very few kinship terms. Another distinctive feature of Korean native speakers is that they take the social status of an interlocutor into account. It is claimed that Korean women, who have been reputed to be “less assertive and less expressive”, are more polite that Korean men.

Self-denigration is peculiar to modern Chinese language. This can be explained by the fact that in Chinese linguistic and cultural traditions, self-denigration is considered a permissible face-saving strategy and a factor contributing to positive image of self. The principle of reciprocity and a strategy to remain silent are characteristic of Chinese language as well. All things considered, native Chinese speakers nowadays pay close attention to the concept of face. Politeness in Chinese literally means “positive appearance”. The fact that Chinese people lay emphasis on positive face/image can be explained by the assumption that the Cinese people value strict order and hierarchy above all else. Chinese people take the extra-linguistic factors into account, in a sense that the social status of interlocutors is considered important by all means. The state of thing one can observe in Chinese culture and the linguistic peculiarities of Chinese are closely connected to the history of China itself. In other words, the historical development of China has determined the state’s cultural and linguistic development. The concept of ‘limào’ is the nucleus of Chinese conception of politeness. Four notions determine and reflect the essence ‘limào’ and they are as follows: refinement, modesty, warmth of attitudes, and respectfulness. Balance and sincerity, in their turn, are the key principles of ‘limào’. All things considered, Chinese language and culture have been subject to “unique cultural ad psychological influences”.

Americans have been reputed as people easy to reason with. In other words, it is assumed that the Americans are talkative and easy-going. Apparently, the American English native speakers and the representatives of the American culture alike strive for creating a positive self-image. On the other hand, it often happens so that the Americans do not take the specificities of other cultures into account. The American people are not familiar with the purposes of use of the positive and negative politeness strategies characteristic to other cultures. Specifically, it has been proved that the Americans tend to misinterpret self-denigration, which is the distinctive feature of the Chinese conception of politeness. It is not in a nature of the American people to adhere to the principle of reciprocity. All in all, flexibility, pursuit of individual profit, openness, candor, and impartiality are believed to be the distinctive features and the priorities of the American people.


Examination and comparative analysis of the conception of politeness is considered to be an academic problem. However, the methods being employed while carrying out a research on different conceptions of politeness are mostly qualitative. The qualitative parameter of the research methods, in this particular case, is attributed to the fact that the problem itself is descriptive in spite of its academic nature and theoretical background. In the vast majority of works being presented within the framework of this essay, the research groups are students and young people (adolescents and adults). In most cases, the researcher groups were given the purposed circumstances and a set of options to choose from as, what they might have considered, a most appropriate response. In other cases, the research groups were asked to do the multiple choice tests.

The findings and the researches themselves can be characterized as descriptive. The research procedure was followed by the analysis, systematization, and synthesis of the quantitative data obtained in the course of the researches. Mostly, the results were presented in the forms of tables.


As far as the findings of the researches being discussed are concerned, it is important to admit the following. Evidently, the researches of that kind are unique in a sense that a) they address the scientific problem that triggers broader social concern, and b) they are difficult to organize technically.

Even though the researches carried out within the framework of the works being discussed do not show a full vision of the problem, they give insight into different conception of politeness by different cultures, namely, American English, Chinese, and Korean. All things considered, using negative politeness strategies is the distinctive feature of the Korean native speakers. 

Chinese native speakers argue the importance of positive face as such. The principle of reciprocity, self-denigration, distance, and hospitality are the distinctive features of the Chinese native speakers. Distance in particular is the quality both Chinese and Korean people have in common.

There is a principle difference between Korean and American English, Chinese and American English cultures. The distinctions manifest themselves primarily through the process of cognition and thus, different world views. Unlike the Chinese and Korean people, the American people are frank, open, and hot-tempered. It is assumed that the Americans are uncomprehending in the face of self-denigration and pessimism. The American people are flexible, yet it is believed it is not in their nature to bind somebody else. Unlike the Korean native speakers, the American English native speakers tend to use positive politeness strategies. The meaning of politeness in American English culture resonates with the concepts of comfort and use.     


Linguistic science refers to a human being as a linguistic identity. Person’s own vision of self and self-associated representation as such can be termed “face”. Face-saving acts stand opposed to face-threatening acts. Face saving act gives insight into the very gist of politeness from the perspectives of linguistics. In other words, positive and negative politeness alike are directed to minimize a threat to interlocutor’s positive face. Face-threatening act, in its turn, poses a threat to interlocutor’s positive face. Therefore, the politeness strategies as a rule do not approve of face-threatening acts and find the latter intolerable. At the same time, the scholars agree that the conception of linguistic politeness differs across the cultures.

The scholars admit that proper and full understanding of “socio-cultural and emotional backgrounds of the target languages” is needed to ensure successfulness of a communicative event and to guarantee effective communication in general. Loss and distortion should be taken into account while dealing with intercultural communication. In this respect, the researchers assert that: “Thought and speech are not two different things which are casually connected … They are closely linked together like cause and effect, like form and substance …”. Developing the foregoing statement further, the scientists point out that culture and communication are in a relationship of inseparable connection and interdependence. It is admitted that learning both cultural and linguistic codes of a target language are obligatory to ensure successful adaptation and effective functioning of a non-native speakers “within a society or culture other than their own”.

Numerous researches proved that “politeness is culture-specific”. At the same time, politeness is “socially determined”. Consequently politeness should be studied “through the way it manifests itself in interaction”. Even though the conception of politeness differs across the cultures, the agree that “pragmatic clarity and noncoerciveness” are the mandatory attributes of politeness.

Finally, strict system of moral porinciple characteristic of Chinese and Korean cultures may potentially contribute to the spread of bias and prejudices. Open-mindedness of the American people helps to eliminate the negative impact of prejudices and bias, however, circumstantially, it might have caused focused specialization/narrow focus. 

Concluding Statements

Language is the space for speaker’s actions and thinking. As a result, language forms speaker’s cognitive map. Apart from determining the norms of communication between the interlocutors representing one and the same culture, politeness strategies mediate cross-cultural/intercultural communication as well.

The conceptions of politeness in Korean, Chinese, and American English culture have both similar and different traits. However, all three modes of thinking represent three different world views. The conception of politeness on Korean native speakers’ part means doing everything to make another person feel as comfortable as possible during a communicative event. Chinese native speakers employ all strategies possible to save a positive face. At the same time, Chinese people respect deeply other people’s feelings and dignity. Respect of other people’s individual space, life choices, and freedom can be viewed as the key aspect of the conception of politeness on part of the American-English native speakers.

The concept of politeness is important. However, it remains ambiguous until nowadays. Examination and comparative analysis of the common and distinctive features of different conceptions of politeness may potentially help to elaborate a unanimous, unified approach towards the definition of politeness. The latter is especially important under the circumstances of globalization and within the multicultural communities.


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