Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Arts

First Supervisor

Dr Ian Malcolm


This thesis examines the issue of linguistic politeness in English with specific reference to Japanese ESL speakers. It develops a theoretical framework that sees shared assumptions concerning the marking of social-power and social-distance differentials as crucial. Developing the notion that linguistic politeness is a function of a status-dependent and context-dependent variety of language usage, it argues that there are four fundamental types of utterances, and that speech acts conforming to any of the power and distance configurations by means of which these four utterance types are defined can be considered to be polite if-but only if -both speaker and hearer have similar conceptions of their role-relationship within a given speech event. It argues further that perceptions of role-relationships -for both native speakers of Australian English and for Japanese ESL speakers-result from culturally codified understandings of family, and that these understandings provide the primary conceptual template for social actors manufacture and maintenance of social reality in extra-familial face-to-face interaction. As these conceptual templates are not congruent across cultures in the ways in which familial power and distance variables are codified, however, neither are the role-relationships in terms of which extra-familial social encounters are framed; and this, in tum, can lead to Japanese ESL speakers using politeness strategies in contextually inappropriate ways. From this theoretical perspective, the research uses a custom-designed interactive multimedia software package to compare choices of utterances with verified power and distance configurations made by Japanese ESL speakers with choices made by native speakers of Australian English in a variety of everyday speech situations.