The management of relationship


A 10 hour module with Dr Doris Dippold, PhD Applied Linguistics, MA Germanic Languages and Literatures, PGCert Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, and guest lecturer for the MA "Learning and Development in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts" at the University of Luxembourg.

I would like to start with some recollections of this interesting module, followed by a summary of relevant points for my area of interest. Her directness in talking to us, her openness and frankness, her habit to illustrate most theoretical concepts with hands on examples and her way of engaging us in the activities were a delight.

Keywords that I remember include politeness theory by Brown & Levinson and the critical approaches that say that this theory doesn’t account for negative politeness, impoliteness and the social-cultural factors that influence us, FTA’s (face threatening acts), the concept of face as something used in theatre in the form of masks all of us put on, be it the face of the student, the husband, the father, the player, …

Brown & Levinson use speech act theory as their basis. The critic suggests that social context is not accounted for. The use of the word politeness has also been criticised. Emotionsarbeit may go in that direction. It is seen as a way of describing the world, meaning our relationship with all that surrounds us, the meaning we give to people and the world.

We had a look at DCT’s (discourse completion tasks) and what they mean. An example would be that your neighbour has played loud music late at night (not the first time) and you need to get up the next morning. You call her to complain. What do you say? In this example I said: This is JM N here, your neighbour, would you mind turning of the music, we are trying to sleep and it’s rather late. Based on a graph called: possible strategies for doing FTAs my answer would be a FTA, on record, without redressive action, baldly.

An FTA off record would be in the situation where you are at someone’s place and you feel cold because the window is open and you say: isn’t it cold here? You also wouldn’t do a FTA if for example the queen was present. FTA’s are particularly relevant in requests.

Regarding the notion of cross-cultural and intercultural communication, I expressed the view that more and more intercultural communication is applicable in Luxembourg and elsewhere where people from various cultural backgrounds meet, live and interact.

Is face personal and social? You shoot and it’s bounced back to you by others. This statement leads to the following: when you engage with someone, doing a particular ‘face’, the other person responds and gives you her/is interpretation of your ‘face’. This in turn is important for you, as you deal with the other person’s view of your ‘face’ and continue to interact with this framework and constraint.

For Goffmann ‘face’ is a construction of self & others. For Brown & Levinson ‘face’ consists of positive face (the want for connection) and negative face (the want for distance from others).

For Spencer-Oatey (2007) ‘face’ and identity are similar in that both relate to the notion of ‘self-image …, and both comprise multiple self-aspects and attributes. She suggests that ‘face’ has two interrelated aspects: quality face (desire for people to evaluate us positively, in terms of our personal qualities, e.g. our competence, abilities, appearance, etc.) and identity face (desire for people to acknowledge and uphold our social identities or roles, e.g. as group leader, valued customer, close friend) and that sociality rights have two interrelated aspects: equity rights ( our belief that we are entitled to personal consideration from others, so that we are treated fairly) and association rights ( we are entitled to an association with others that is in keeping with the type of relationship that we have with them). Much of this explanation comes from her paper.

What remains to be done now is to have a good luck at the handouts and some of the suggested papers: Goffmann, Spencer-Oatey and Ikuko Nakane, Silence & politeness in intercultural communication in university seminars (2005) and complete the assignment.

Dippold also mentioned Gumperz and a well-known example in the 1970’s where staff at B.A. complained about the unpoliteness of cantine-serving staff. Gumperz came in and audio recorded interaction and discovered that it had to do with intonation when the food was served; rather than saying: gravyá the catering staff said ágravy. As I could not find this example I include a brief passage about interactional sociolinguistics from Wikipedia.

Interactional sociolinguistics is a subdiscipline of linguistics that uses discourse analysis to study how language users create meaning via interaction.[1] Interactional sociolinguistics was founded by linguistic anthropologist John J. Gumperz.[1][2] Topics of interest include cross-cultural miscommunication, politeness, and framing.

In terms of research methods, interactional sociolinguists analyze audio or video recordings of conversations or other interactions. Analysis focuses not only on linguistic forms such as words and sentences but also on subtle cues such as prosody and register that signal contextual presupposition. These contextualization cues are culturally specific and usually unconscious. When participants in a conversation come from different cultural backgrounds they may not recognize these subtle cues in one another’s speech, leading to misunderstanding.[2]

Applying the ‘golden rule’ (an ethical code that states one has a right to just treatment, and a responsibility to ensure justice for others; also called the ethic of reciprocity) in our interactions may prove to be a valuable asset and tool for managing our relationships and serve as an overarching principle. Jaan Valsiner in cultural psychology talks about a level 4 hypergeneralization that can help us to guide our relationships.


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