Politeness: Some Perspectives from Africa


African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowships




This project examines the use of politeness strategies by Ghanaian language-English bilinguals. It investigates whether bilinguals in Ghana follow Ghanaian language politeness norms or English politeness norms when they speak English or if they create innovative, syncretic norms that result in hybridized politeness expressions. Specifically, the study examines the syntactic and semantic structures that are used in the performance of five polite speech acts: compliments, apologies, thanks, greetings, and refusals by bilingual speakers of English and three major Ghanaian languages (Akan, Ewe, and Ga). The study contributes to our understanding of how the concept of politeness works in a non-Western bilingual context. The study also provides evidence to support the theoretical argument that current theories or models of politeness have a Western or even “Anglo” bias and therefore cannot claim to present a universal theory that can be applied to all languages and all cultures.