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We go over politeness theory and discuss its implications for creating interesting conlangs and concultural interactions.

Top of Show Greeting: Zametulian

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5 Responses to “Conlangery #94: Face and Politeness”

  1. Vítor De Araújo

    This episode reminded me of Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. In one of the societies in the story (Karhide), there is a very prominent face-like concept called “shifgrethor” (a word related to ‘shadow’ in Karhidish), which the protagonist (an envoy from the League of All Worlds) struggles to understand. One interesting aspect of it is that giving advice directly is an offense to the shifgrethor of the listener. Karhiders also appear go to great lengths to avoid asking potentially “dangerous” questions. One example of that is this exchange between Estraven (a Karhider, outlawed by the king) and the people who gave him and the envoy shelter after they fled from the neighboring country of Orgoreyn:

    To those fishermen-villagers who live on the edge of the edge, on the extreme habitable limit of a barely habitable continent, honesty is as essential as food. They must play fair with one another; there’s not enough to cheat with. Estraven knew this, and when after a day or two they got around to asking, discreetly and indirectly, with due regard to shifgrethor, why we had chosen to spend a winter rambling on the Gobrin Ice [they were fleeing from Orgoreyn], he replied at once, “Silence is not what I should choose, yet it suits me better than a lie.”

    “It’s well known that honorable men come to be outlawed, yet their shadow does not shrink,” said the hot-shop cook, who ranked next to the village chief in consequence, and whose shop was a sort of living-room for the whole Domain in winter.

    “One person may be outlawed in Karhide, another in Orgoreyn,” said Estraven. [i.e., Estraven was outlawed in Karhide, and the envoy in Orgoreyn]

    “True; and one by his clan, another by the king in Erhenrang.”

    “The king shortens no man’s shadow, though he may try,” Estraven remarked, and the cook looked satisfied. If Estraven’s own clan had cast him out he would be a suspect character, but the king’s strictures were unimportant. […]

    • admin

      Ah yes, I remember. Shifgrethor could very well be seen as Karhidish culture’s term for “face”. It’s a bit similar to Chinese mianzi in that it is often explicitly invoked and talked about (though I think the actual mechanics and priorities are a bit different).

  2. Anteroinen

    Finns sometimes do the passive thing, in the past tense usually. For instance, in a shop the shop keeper might ask something like:

    Otettiinko maitoa?
    Take-passive-past-question milk-partitive
    Was some milk taken?

    This is used to say, in essence, “do you want some milk?”. This isn’t a terribly common thing, but it is done in certain structures and situations quite a lot.

  3. Matthew

    This post made me think about the phrase “Be a dear, and [imperative]”, for instance “Be a dear, and bring me my keys”. Setting aside that it’s not at all common any more, and that you probably won’t get away with saying it unless you’re someone’s grandmother, what politeness strategy/strategies do you think it employs?

    Obviously, it ends with a bald on-record command, but it starts out with this weird combination of a pet name and a command. I don’t know how to categorize it.

    • wm.annis

      A friend of mine had to cope with her son, at age 8ish, suddenly making requests with “would you be a lamb and…” She had to hold back on her natural response to a request framed that way in the interest of being a good role model.

      It does have something of the nanny or schoolmarm about it.


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