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UNDERNEATH THE CONVERSATION

LaShaundra Tyler Language Theory Dr. Klein

Underneath the Conversation

LaShaundra Tyler

Underneath the Conversation

Rules are associated with language. Rules can be manipulated to create new rules for our language and society. This paper wrestles with the dichotomy or contradictions that are in our language because of the ability to play with rules. The speech acts I am focusing on are phatic communication and face work in order to accomplish this. With phatic communication I am focusing on the lies and contradictions I see in phatic communication. With lies, Im looking at it from a moral standpoint vs. a society standpoint. The lies and contradictions in phatic communication are the basis for maintaining society. With face work, I observe it from a positive and negative standpoint mainly negative based on some of the comments from the class. I explore the negative side of face work in our legal system and in our relationships. I chose the topic of social maintenance for my topic because its one of the topics that fascinated me the most in class. There were some very good points brought up in class that piqued my interest in wanting to explore phatic communication and face work more. I decided to examine myself and others in phatic communication and what it does for society as a whole. My claim is that phatic communication and face work both hold our society together and tear it down. My thesis has two parts. First, I explore how phatic communication contains contradictions and lies in regards to politeness and social interactions. Second, I explore how face work weakens our society through the manipulation of the language game that involves lying and deception that tears our society down and in other cases supports it.

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Underneath the Conversation

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Phatic Communication, Rules, and Social Responses


As stated above, language involves rules that are to be followed during discourse. Phatic communication is no different. Malinowski defined phatic communication as follows: There can be no doubt that we have a new type of linguistic use-phatic communion I am tempted to call it, actuated by the demon of terminological invention-a type of speech in which ties of union are created by a mere exchange of words(Malinowski, 297)

Phatic communication can also be seen as mere phrases of politeness. I will speak more about politeness later. There are rules that govern phatic communication. fulfills a function to which the meaning of its words is almost completely irrelevant. Inquiries about health, comments on weather, affirmations of some supremely obvious state of things-all such are exchanged, not in order to inform, not in this case to connect people in action, certainly not in order to express any thought. It would be even incorrect, I think, to say that such words serve the purpose of establishing a common sentiment, for this is usually absent form such current phrases of intercourse; and where it purports to exist, as in expressions of sympathy, it is avowedly spurious on one side. (Malinowski,pg.296) Now speech is the intimate correlate of this tendency, for, to a natural man, another mans silence is not a reassuring factor, but, on the contrary, something alarming and dangerous. The stranger who cannot speak the language is to all savage tribesmen a natural enemy. To the primitive mind, whether among savages or our own uneducated classes, taciturnity means not only unfriendliness but directly a bad character. This no doubt varies greatly with the national character but remains true to a general rule. The breaking of silence, the communion of words is the first act to establish links of fellowship, which is consummated only the breaking of bread and the communion of food.(Malinowski, pg.297) After the first formula, there comes a flow of language, purposeless expressions of preference or aversion, accounts of irrelevant happenings, comments on what is perfectly obvious. (Malinowski, pg. 297) The three quotes above define the rules and social norms for phatic communication. See Figure 1 for examples of common phatic communication dialogue. Phatic communications main purpose is to break the uncomfortable silence that exists between strangers. Humans long to connect and fellowship with one another because we are social creatures. Phatic communication can also been seen as a

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Underneath the Conversation

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doorway to a deeper relationship with the stranger. At this point, the stranger becomes a friend and possibly something more.

Figure 1. Examples of Phatic Communication

Greeting How are you today?

Response Fine, Great, Good

Nice weather we are having today, huh?

Yes

So glad the sun is out

Me, too

Good Morning!

Good Morning!

Have a nice day or Have a great evening

You, too!

(In the winter in Arkansas): Its really cold out there. Wow! In March? Thats crazy. You The weather man says its (-2) out there. never know what type of weather we will have in Arkansas.

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Underneath the Conversation

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Since phatic communication has rules these rules can be broken. When they are broken, it can become uncomfortable for all involved. Always the same emphasis of affirmation and consent, mixed perhaps with an incidental disagreement which creates the bonds of antipathy. Or personal accounts of the speakers views and life history, to which the hearer listens under some restraint and with slightly veiled impatience, waiting till his own turn arrives to speak. For in this use of speech the bonds created between hearer and speaker are not quite symmetrical, the man linguistically active receiving the greater share of social pleasure and self-enhancement. But through the hearing given to such utterances is as a rule not as intense as the speakers own share, it is quite essential for his pleasure, and the reciprocity is established by the change of roles.(Malinowski, 297) Take into consideration Figure 2 on page 5. It is a comic that gives an account of a rule broken during the phatic communication process. In the comic, a friend is greeted by two friends. The two friends greet with Hi and How are you? Her response is Well and proceeds to say how she is really doing. She informs her friends, I am very tired today. I dont like anyone at work, and Ive got diarrhea like you cant imagine! Im considering contract killer for my mother-in-law and Ive got a sore throat and clammy feet. One friends response, People are meant to say Im fine and then change the subject! The other response, How conventional of you. So the young lady broke the phatic communication rule by not responding phatically. She chose to inform and express her thoughts to her friends. Her friends were not happy about the fact that she skipped answering their question phatically first before disclosing her inner thoughts. The young ladys response is the basis for the first part of my claim for this paper. I will explain more later. But first, lets look at what politeness is and how this plays into phatic communication and later how it involves lies and contradictions with the purpose of maintaining society.

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Figure 1. Example of a rule being broken in a phatic communication exchange

(http://thesociallinguist.wordpress.com/tag/phatic-communication/)

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Politeness
Politeness is the practical application of good manners or etiquette. It is culturally defined which means that what is polite in one culture may be rude in another culture. The purpose of politeness is to make everyone feel relaxed and comfortable with one another. The standards of politeness can also be used to inflict shame on a designated party. Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson identify two kinds of politeness which derives from Erving Goffmans concept of face. This can also be characterized as the polite theory. They are negative and positive politeness. Negative face, with its derivative politeness of non-imposition, is familiar as the formal politeness that the notion politeness immediately conjures up. But positive face and is derivative forms of positive politeness, are less obvious. The reduction of ones self image or personality to a want that ones wants be desirable to at least some others can be justified in this way. The most salient aspect of a persons personality in interaction is what that personality requires of other interactants- in particular, it includes the desire to be ratified, understood, approved of, liked or admired. The next step is to represent this desire as the want to have ones goal thought of a desirable. In the special sense of wanting that we develop, we can then arrive at positive face (Brown and Levinson, pg. 312)

An example of negative politeness would be if you dont mind, could you pass me the salt? Or if it is not too much trouble, could you hand me my shoes? An example of positive politeness would be a female wears a new dress to church. She desires that her family and friends comment positively on her dress. She desires to hear, you look great in that dress, where did you get that dress from?, or I love your dress She will happily respond with gratitude or tell them where she got the dress from. This is how phatic communication can be seen as a means of politeness as well. When you are speaking to someone you desire a response on the most minimal level. It can be both in a positive or negative face. Lets look at how this plays into the first claim that I wish to explore. First, I will explore the lies that are associated with phatic communication when being polite. Then I will look at the contradictions.

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Underneath the Conversation Thou Shalt Not Lie

LaShaundra Tyler

Social maintenance and language was of great interest to me. I think it is at the heart of social linguistics. Phatic communication, the notion of face, and being polite are all a part of our being social every day. Two things I want to explore with these concepts are the necessity of them and the need to be real when communicating. Phatic communication involves communicating with another human being just for the sake of communicating and connecting with another human being. It communicates sociability rather than information. Being able to engage in phatic communication means being to engage in small talk in social settings whether its at work, a ball, a game, or school. Its vital to ones status and networking abilities in life. According to On Phatic Communication by Bronislaw Malinowski, There is in all human beings the well-known tendency to congregate, to be together, to enjoy each others company. Many instincts and innate trends, such as fear or pugnacity, all the types of social sentiments such as ambition, vanity, passion for power and wealth, are dependent upon and associated with the fundamental tendency which makes the mere presence of others a necessity for man.(Malinowski, pg. 297) Humans are social creatures and its a part of their nature to connect with other human beings. Its how we learn about the world around us and how we learn language. Phatic communication is also a form of politeness. It is a way to greet people in passing or a trusted friend. This greeting also has the expectation of a response. To go along with this politeness, there are certain phrases that are taught in order to communicate that you are polite as shown in Figure 1 on page 3. What you say during this exchange is also an indicator of how knowledgeable you are of social norms. There is inappropriateness in phatic communication as demonstrated in the comic strip (Figure 2 on page 5).

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Bethany May gave another example of an inappropriate greeting in the name of phatic communication. Nice to have the nuclear war going on dont you think. This definitely would not solicit a desired response because it would not be polite to express a thought like this. One the other hand, If a person decides not to greet nor respond to the greeting while passing another person, then they are considered to be rude and their character is already sized up to be bad. While growing up, I was taught to always speak to other people. In school, I was taught to speak to other people. It was just a part of who I was supposed to be. As Ive gotten older, Ive witnessed the reactions of people when they are not spoken to. There seems to be an immediate expression of displeasure and disgust for the person who did not engage in this act with them. I was walking with one of my coworkers one day. We passed by the directors secretary desk. We spoke but the lady did not speak back. My coworker immediately expressed that she was rude to her and never speaks to her when she comes in. She mentioned that she would introduce herself to see if that would make a difference. It didnt stop there though. She didnt feel like she was noticed by any of the other staff at this location. She decided to take this mission further to get more respect and spoken to by the people there. Another coworker of mine is very sociable and vocal. One day after coming off the elevator, he mentioned that there was a man on there that would not say a word to him whenever he spoke. This happened about two other times. After that my coworker decided not to get on the elevator if the man was about to get on the elevator at that time. He would rather wait. Speaking of elevators, this leads me to my first exploration which is exploring the necessity of phatic communication. I tend to like the awkward silence. I really dont have anything to say. I really dont want to know what is thought about the weather because the weather is the weather. In the

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spring, it is cool to warm and, yes, Arkansas has crazy weather. In the summer, it is hot. That hasnt changed since the beginning of time. In the winter, it is cold. In the fall, it is cool to warm as well. It seems that it is a surprise to everyone that each season is characterized with certain temperatures. I think its much more meaningful to know if you like the season or not and state the reasons why. I dont know if its really necessary to ask how someone is doing just because they are standing there. For one, I know that I am going to hear the overused response of fine or I will hear things that I really didnt want to know in the first place. All because I was simply being polite, demonstrating my home training, or just didnt want to be perceived as being rude or with a bad character. Lastly, no, I didnt hear on the news last night about the cat that rescued the woman out of the tree because I dont have time to watch the news. I wouldnt know what to contribute to the story except my amazement at such a feat. This leads me to wonder if phatic communication is more about being sociable or more about breaking the silence between humans. After reading Malinowskis text about phatic communication, I gathered that phatic communication is first to break the silence and then to be sociable. Now speech is the intimate correlation of this tendency, for, to a natural man, another mans silence is not a reassuring factor, but, on the contrary, something alarming and dangerous. The stranger who cannot speak the language is to all savage tribesmen a natural enemythe breaking of silence, the communion of words is the first act to establish links of fellowship, which is consummated only by the breaking of bread and the communion of food. The modern English expression, Nice day to-day or the Melanesian phrase, Whence comest thou? are needed to get over the strange and unpleasant tension which men feel when facing each other in silence.(Malinowski, pg.297) I mentioned earlier about phatic communication being meaningful. I think phatic communication is only meaningful when you have a connection with the person you are greeting. In this sense, small talk is a means of reconnecting with the one you love or are associated with. In this case, phatic communication is not empty and merely polite. It is the opening of fellowship between the ones in the relationship.

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Another way phatic communication is meaningful is through the exchange of useful information that will either give someone insight on what they need to do in a particular situation which can serve as a divine intervention. It can be an opportunity to meet a new best friend or someone to network with for a future endeavor. It serves well in social events where lots of people are present that may or may not know each other. In these cases, it is important to learn the skill of small talk because of the benefit it may serve for you and the other person. I prefer these beneficial exchanges in phatic communication. On the other hand, for people we dont know or care to know, it carries an air of fakeness or lying because are not always expressing our true feelings. I say this because I we may not care that the other person is fine or they may be telling us that because that is the proper response but thats not how they really feel. They are probably having a horrible day but they have to lie about it to you because they dont know you but its sociably acceptable to lie in this instance. Would I rather that they not speak at all because they are being true to not wanting me to know how they truly feel? Probably in order for them to be truthful about how they feel but then again since Ive been trained that its rude not to speak, Id rather that they speak for fear of being considered a bad person. In this case, it would be good to lie. Id rather this be done to maintain the society as is. I wonder if language can be constructed to avoid the need to lie in order to maintain society. This leads to more questions about the meaninglessness of phatic communication and avoid the notion of lying for peace sake. I dont have the answers to all these questions but they are ones that I ponder. What would the world be like if we really cared about what a stranger thought, felt, or was experiencing that day? I know there are rare occasions where this takes place which is usually in the face of tragedy or downcast look on a persons face. What could language do to change this social fallacy? I know its to maintain society but what if society was maintained differently through communication that was truly caring and where people are allowed to be truthful? Could we handle their truth? Do we want

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to handle their truth? Should we just stick to good morning and not ask even how you are? Should we just tell of our likes and dislikes about the weather or tell important information about what the weather is supposed to be like for that week? Should we talk about how compassionate we feel about the most recent tragedies that happened or a good book we read? Should we impart this meaningful dialogue as a means of small talk rather than empty rhetoric? Should people that waste our time talking about things that dont add to our lives with empty discourse be viewed as rude and inconsiderate of our time? Why do responders seem to be guarded? Why are some enraged when you tell them good morning on a Monday morning? Is phatic communication all that is cracked up to be? Is it really necessary for maintaining society? Are there other forms of language that serve society better in maintenance? Is phatic communication really about being nosy and prying into peoples private lives? How much do we want to know? How much do we need to know? What if silence is truly golden in the face of being nosy? Im asking these questions because I think in these cases one is forced to lie in order to maintain peace. This can be a moral issue for some. Christians, for one, are taught not to lie. I dont like telling a complete stranger that I am fine when Im really not. I dont like saying Good Morning when it seems that everything that could go wrong did before even arriving at my destination. However from another Christian standpoint, uttering Good Morning or fine when youre circumstances say otherwise could be a Christianese response. Christianity imparts that we are to speak how we want things to be instead of how things are. Christians are urged to name it and claim it. So I guess in this case, its really not lying. However, there are other situations to consider when we are forced to tell a good lie for protection, prevention, and privacy. For example, a woman may see her friend in the hospital and she

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looks very bad. Instead of telling her that she looks bad, she may tell her that she looks beautiful in order to lift her spirits. I think of these things when deciding to communicate with someone on the elevator. I analyze and wonder do they really care about how I am doing and should I even ask how they are doing? Is it prying into their lives? Is it opening me up for an embarrassing moment where I have to save face? I know these are a lot of questions, but I do wonder about these things after my analysis of phatic communication exchanges and after taking this Language Theory class.

Dont Talk to Strangers


I also see contradictions when it comes to phatic communication and being polite. For one as children, we are taught not to talk to strangers. Yet, it shows bad character not to speak to someone in social gathering. Two, politeness for women and men is not equal. It is not as much of a big deal if a man does not speak as compared to a woman not speaking. According to Women, Men and Politeness: Agreeable and Disagreeable Responses by Janet Holmes, women communicate with others differently than men. We are more cooperative in communicating while men are more aggressive. Since women are supposed to communicate in this way, it may not fare well for not to speak as compare to a man not speaking. Three, phatic communication blurs the lines of right vs. wrong because of the force to lie concept as well what to do vs. what not to do in certain situation. Deciding when to speak to a stranger and when not to speak to a stranger may be difficult for a child to grasp.

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Face Work
Ive heard of stories where people have embarrassed themselves for the sake of small talk and having to save their face. Saving face has to do more with than just small talk; its another form of expression performed in communication. I will talk about face later. In the spirit of saving face when it comes to phatic communication, there are time when being quiet is the most important decision to make. For example, Ive heard of many horror stories of where people have asked a woman with a perfectly round belly if she was pregnant. This causes embarrassment for the asker with only the saving grace to say I apologize or deciding to be condescending by saying, Oh. For the offended woman, it will be an angry moment. I experience this. It was not a pleasant moment. I wore a certain dress to church that made me look bigger than I was. Looking back on it, it did make me look pregnant. Needless to say, I have not worn that dress since then. The woman who asked me this question didnt acknowledge my answer at all. I guess it was because she knew me. Other women who have been on this receiving end have expressed pure outrage or pain associated with this question. Ive heard responses of if someone asks me one more time if Im pregnant Im going to scream or respond with yes for about five years now. You can actually see the plummeting of their self-esteem and the rise of self-pity and anguish. In this case silence is golden. Face or lines have a lot to do with language and communication among humans. Its the way for humans to interpret and analyze what is being said even in the midst of meaningless rhetoric of phatic communication. Ironically, face seems to only matter to adults. Adults have been ingrained in caring about how their face looks when they are speaking or when someone else is speaking. They were taught not to express their true sentiments, in most cases, when things are bad in order to avoid conflict or to save the face of another person.

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Children in their innocence do not have this issue.They express how they feel or think about a particular infraction or things that dont make sense to them. Adults, if they are around, usually are the ones who save face for the child or children. Ive had to do this for my children several times. In one instance, my second oldest daughter saw our neighbor at the time smoking while she was pregnant outside. She walked up to her and asked her, Why are you smoking? I was outdone. I remember thinking why did she just ask this woman that. Why didnt she know that it was not kosher to ask a stranger why they are doing things that harm themselves and other innocent people? I quickly apologized for my daughter. The woman said that it was okay (which is another phatic response) and saved face by saying, Shes right I should not be smoking while Im pregnant anyway. I was amazed that my daughter who was then four recognized that it was bad for the baby. I wondered how this affected the lady and did it encourage her in making a decision not to smoke for the rest of the pregnancy. I dont remember seeing her do again after that encounter. In another instance my family and I went to a popular BBQ restaurant called Rendezvous in Memphis. After looking at the menu, we begin to express our displeasure amongst ourselves that the main side for their dishes was fries. We expected more since weve heard so much about them. We ordered any way just to give the BBQ a try. Shortly after our food arrived, my youngest daughter yelled out this food is nasty. This is almost every parents nightmare, the moment when their child loudly expresses their displeasure in a restaurant. We quickly silenced and corrected her. All she could say was, but it is. Besides children not having this notion of face, the older population tends to ignore it as well. The reason behind this is that they have earned the right to be blunt and to say whatever comes up. They count it as a privilege to tell how it is at any given moment. If you really want to know the truth, ask the elderly and a child. I admire these traits in these generations but I also think the receivers

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feelings should be taken into consideration as well. Saving face does not seem to be a notion for children and the elderly because they are usually forthright about what they are experiencing and thinking. Telling the truth is a great thing so saving face must be another form of lying. Saving face is another way the rules of language have been manipulated. Saving face can be a bad thing for society because of the deception it carries, especially in our legal system and in relationship. Consider the movie, the Lincoln Lawyer. Lucas came from a well-to-do family and was charged with raping and assaulting a woman he picked up from the club. He hires Mickey Haller to defend him in this case. In one scene, he is being questioned by the Mickey about the events that took place the night the attack occurred. Lucas insisted that he did not do it. He was shown a picture of a knife. He told Mickey and his associate that the knife was not his. He was truthful in saying the knife was not his but that was the only instance. His face was perfect in holding its innocence until evidence proved otherwise. Mickey found out that Lucas was involved in the killing of another young lady. Because Mickey was Lucass defense lawyer, he had to maintain his face in order to keep defending him on the current case even though he knows that his client was not innocent. Lucas won the case. However, Mickey had him arrested for the murder of another young lady.

(thelastreel.blogspot.com)

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This leads me to question, how much better would our society be if criminals were truthful about their crimes? We would not have criminals walking around on our streets while innocent men or women rot in jail. Its amazing that the face can serve such a purpose as to get away with murder. Now consider the movie, Crazy. Stupid. Love. In this movie, the wife admits to having an affair with a coworker while her husband denies having affairs with nine different women during their separation. This creates complications for him because of the ladies happens to be his sons teacher. When he discovers this, he does all he can to conceal it but the teacher works hard to reveal it. He finally has to admit his faults. After the truth comes out between the couple, the marriage begins to heal.

www.imdb.com

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How much better would our relationships be if the truth was told? This could save people a lot of heartbreak and shame. It could also save lives. However, there are times when the good lie will be used to protect someones feelings. I think this can help a relationship thrive. In conclusion, I explored phatic communication and face work and how they are used to maintain and destroy society. I had more questions than answers but I think Ive gained a better understand of these speech acts work in order to keep society afloat. However, language is so powerful and I wonder if language rules can be changed in order to rid society of the destructive side of phatic communication and face through the means of lying, deception, manipulation, and contradictions.

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References
Malinowski,Bronislaw. On Phatic Communication. The problem of meaning in primitive languages. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Eds. Adam Jaworski and Nikolas Coupland. New York: Routledge., 2006. 296298. Print. Goffman, Erving. On Face Work: An Analysis of Ritual Elements in Social Interaction. Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face to Face Behavior. Garolen City, New York: Anchor Doubleday. Eds. Adam Jaworski and Nikolas Coupland. New York: Routledge., 2006. 299-310. Print.

Brown, Penelope and Stephen C. Levinson. Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Eds. Adam Jaworski and Nikolas Coupland. New York: Routledge., 2006. 311-323. Print.

Holmes, Janet. Women, Men,and Politeness: Agreeable and Disagreeble Responses. Women, Men, and Politeness. London: Longman. Eds. Adam Jaworski and Nikolas Coupland. New York: Routledge., 2006. 324-331. Print.

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