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Pragmatic and Cross-Cultural Competences

Focus on Politeness

Edited By Thomas Szende and George Alao

The L2 speaker is able to function in the target culture only when s/he is able to understand, anticipate and produce the choices that the said society makes. Being polite therefore means: knowing how to draw on the conventions of a society, taking into account the expectations of an interlocutor regarding social relations at any given point, and is based on the appropriate language register to the communication situation; being able to balance standard and non-standard features and to adjust one’s speech by moving it towards more or less familiarity, or formality. The learner therefore needs to be aware of the pragmatic flexibility of speakers – native and experts – who move from one register to another and juggle between respect and caution, first degree meaning and irony, exuberance and excess, with difference in levels, nature and degrees of politeness.


This volume contains contributions whose theoretical reflections, field work experiences and authentic data from diverse African, Asian and European languages, literatures and cultures as well as a variety of corpora shed new light on politeness as a central phenomenon in pragmatics, and on what is at stake when teaching or learning the subject. It also opens up a conceptual dialogue with a whole range of domains likely to enrich the debate: sociolinguistics, literature, translation studies, semiotics, cultural anthropology, social psychology, etc.

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Chapter VI: Expressing politeness with discourse particles in Myanmar language (San San Hnin Tun)


Chapter VI

Expressing politeness with discourse particles in Myanmar language

San San Hnin Tun


1. Introduction

Given that language is a sociocultural phenomenon, for successful language learning, learners need to develop sociolinguistic competence defined as “knowledge and skills required to deal with the social dimension of language use” (Council of Europe, 20011: 118). Sociolinguistic competence requires knowledge of cultural conventions and norms of the target language community, and such knowledge is underlined in CEFR guidelines as an indispensable dimension of sociolinguistic competences for language learners. It is acquired (though not necessarily consciously) by a combination of knowledge and ability. It enables learners to function linguistically in accordance with the convention and norms of the target language community. Accordingly, learning a foreign language means learning a variety of language uses; learners need to use strategies to draw on various types of linguistic resources in order to perform different communicative acts, including the use of linguistic politeness strategies.

This chapter describes what is considered polite in Myanmar language communities and addresses the different ways native speakers modulate politeness using lexical items called ‘particles’. Where linguistic politeness is concerned in the Myanmar language, one might think first of honorific terms (somewhat comparable to the use of Sir and Madam in English, which is commonly associated with a polite language use), as well as a broad range of address terms and pronouns (comparable to the use of certain pronouns...

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