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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 XIII: A contrastive analysis of politeness strategies in West African Francophone and Igbo commercial interactions (Festus A. Soyoye / Tajudeen A. Osunniran / Joy C. Nnabuife)


Chapter XIII

A contrastive analysis of politeness strategies in West African Francophone and Igbo commercial interactions

Festus A. Soyoye, Tajudeen A. Osunniran & Joy C. Nnabuife

Department of Foreign Languages

Obafemi Awolowo University (Nigeria)


A commercial interaction is any transaction between two or more people for which goods or services change hands for remuneration. The focus of the present study is the language of such interactions. Although commercial contexts may vary, they often have a regular model or frame. According to Kidwell (2000), this model generally follows the following exchange pattern: opening greetings, enquiry about good or service, questions and answer concerning good or service and closing greetings. Every participant in commercial interactions has politeness expectations of what the verbal aspect of the transactions should be. We believe that there is a correlation between success and failure of commercial interactions and the politeness strategies used by those involved. This is why this study aims at identifying and comparing the various politeness strategies used in commercial interactions in a West African Francophone community, Republic of Benin and an Igbo community from South East Nigeria.

The Data

The primary data for this study came from recordings of natural interactions between French as a Second Language speakers in Cotonou (Benin Republic) and Igbo speakers from Onitsha (Nigeria). For Cotonou, five←233 | 234→ interaction situations were recorded in two bank and hospital formal settings (CBAO Banque; SGBBE...

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