Is Self-Denigration Polite or Impolite in Modern Chinese Interpersonal Interaction?

Author: Zhou Ling, Zhang Shaojie (Northeast Normal University)
Speaker: Zhou Ling, Zhang Shaojie
Topic: Applied sociolinguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


Back in the early 1990s, Gu Yueguo formulated the Politeness Principle and its maxims to explain Chinese politeness phenomena, as a counter reaction to Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory, which claims that politeness is a universal phenomenon in language usage. It is beyond all doubt that Gu’s illustration of politeness phenomena in Chinese has attracted considerable attention from pragmaticians and helped explain culture-specific politeness in an in-depth way. According to Gu’s formulation of Politeness Principle in Chinese, the Self-denigration Maxim is among the seven maxims of politeness (namely Address Maxim, Self-denigration Maxim, Tact Maxim, Generosity Maxim, Refinement Maxim, Balance Maxim and Virtues-words-deeds Maxim). This study will reconsider the Self-denigration Maxim by addressing three questions: First, is self-denigration polite or impolite in modern Chinese interpersonal interaction? Or can self-denigration be categorized as one of the maxims of Politeness Principle in contemporary China? Second, how do people conceptualize self-denigration in modern Chinese interpersonal interaction? And third, what might be the hidden demarcation line drawn between politeness and impoliteness of self-denigration in modern Chinese interpersonal interaction? The revisit of the Self-denigration Maximdemonstrates that polite behavior in Chinese is exhibited in an appropriate or acceptable way in accordance with theModestyMaxim, including humble yourself to others and depreciate yourself to others.

Keywords: Self-denigration, Politeness Principle, Maxims, Chinese Culture, Interpersonal Interaction