Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.07.27

Arin Bayraktaroglu, Maria Sifianou (ed.), Linguistic Politeness across Boundaries: the case of Greek and Turkish. Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 88.   Amsterdam/Philadelphia:  John Benjamins, 2001.  Pp. xiv, 439.  ISBN 1-58811-040-0.  $114.00.  

Reviewed by Eleanor Dickey, Columbia University (

This interesting work, of tangential usefulness to Classicists wishing to understand ancient politeness strategies and their differences from our own, consists of a series of independent studies of specific politeness phenomena in modern Greek or Turkish. Despite the title, there is virtually no discussion of the interaction between the two languages and very little comparison of their respective politeness systems, nor is either language's politeness repertoire treated as a whole. Instead, six largely unrelated chapters discuss different (though sometimes overlapping) aspects of Greek politeness, and another six discuss separate aspects of Turkish politeness. There is no general conclusion and little cross-referencing. The individual topics addressed, however, are treated in considerable detail and reveal many interesting features of modern Greek usage, some of which may provide good clues of what to look for when studying ancient Greek politeness strategies.

The book is written for linguists, not Classicists; no attention is paid to the ancient or medieval antecedents of the phenomena examined. In addition, certain chapters are somewhat difficult to understand without a background in sociolinguistics. An attempt has been made, however, to minimize the use of unnecessary jargon and to avoid obfuscation, and in comparison with some other sociolinguistic works this one is relatively intelligible to the outsider.

The chapters on Greek are as follows:

Renée Hirschon, in "Freedom, solidarity and obligation: The socio-cultural context of Greek politeness," argues that the "overriding premium placed on personal autonomy and freedom" in Greek society shapes linguistic politeness. This social priority is responsible for the inappropriateness of using "thank you" in many situations where an English speaker would expect it, as well as the free use of insults without serious consequences. It results in a lower level of accountability for one's speech and less consistency between word and action than speakers from other cultures anticipate.

Theodossia-Soula Pavlidou, in "Politeness in the classroom? Evidence from a Greek high school," challenges the standard theory that girls are more polite than boys, though she does find qualitative differences between male and female politeness. She also finds a strikingly low level of investment in politeness in the classroom setting, particularly on the part of students.

Marianthi Makri-Tsilipakou, in "Congratulations and bravo!" examines how and when Greeks use the expressions of approval συγχαρητήρια and μπράβο.

Eleni Antonopoulou, in "Brief service encounters: Gender and politeness," presents data that appear to show women being more polite than men. She argues, however, that the differences stem not from females' greater politeness but from the way that males and females differently construe the events in question; she also notes that both men and women are more polite, and engage in more linguistic accommodation as regards politeness strategies, when addressing members of the opposite sex.

Angeliki Tzanne, in "'What you're saying sounds very nice and I'm delighted to hear it': Some considerations on the functions of presenter-initiated simultaneous speech in Greek panel discussions," challenges a number of studies showing aggressive behavior in all-male televised panel discussions in other countries. In her data, interruptions are frequently polite and supportive, findings she attributes to a Greek cultural orientation to positive rather than negative politeness (i.e., a Greek, unlike an American, would be more pleased to be interrupted with a compliment than to be listened to in respectful silence).

Maria Sifianou, in "'Oh! How appropriate!' Compliments and Politeness," argues that Greek compliments are not as formulaic as those in most other languages. She also contributes to the gender debate, supporting the standard view that "women both pay and receive significantly more compliments than men." Her examination of the syntax and semantics of modern Greek compliments, and the use of simile and metaphor, may be the most interesting part of this book for Classicists.

In general, the chapters on Greek are reasonably well-written (certainly better written than most works in English by non-native speakers) and convincing; on the whole this is a good book, though of only marginal relevance to Classicists.

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