Politeness and face in Caribbean Creoles. Ed. by Susanne Mühleisen and Bettina Migge. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2005. Pp. 293. ISBN 9789027248947. $169 (Hb).
Reviewed by Michael Haugh, Griffith University
The notions of ‘politeness’ and ‘face’ in different languages and cultures have been the subject of a vast amount of research over the past thirty years. However, there has been little research done on politeness phenomena and facework in nonstandard Englishes. The eleven chapters in this edited volume address a significant gap in face and politeness research to date, focusing on these issues in the context of communicative practices in various Caribbean Creole communities.
Bettina Migge and Susanne Mühleisen’s opening chapter, ‘Politeness and face in Caribbean Creoles’, gives an overview of previous anthropological research in the Caribbean context, before framing the collection in terms of Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson’s politeness theory and Erving Goffman’s work on face and self. The remaining chapters are divided into three broad sections.
Part 1, which focuses on facework in the context of performing rudeness, contains four chapters. Peter Snow, in ‘The use of “bad” language as a politeness strategy in a Panamanian Creole community’, investigates the use of ‘obscene’ language to participate in conversation and thereby cooperatively preserve the face of the storyteller. In ‘Ritualized insults and the African diaspora’, Nicolas Faraclas, Lourdes Pérez González, Migdalia Medina, and Wendell Villanueva Reyes compare ritual insulting among Nigerian Pidgin-speaking children with African American practices, as well as with patterns found among young people in Turkey. Esther Figueroa, in ‘Rude sounds: Kiss Teeth and negotiation of the public sphere’, shows how this gesture is involved in the negotiation of moral standing between individuals in public contexts. Finally, Joseph Farquharson, in ‘The sociopragmatics of homophobia in Jamaican (Dancehall) culture’, analyzes how the use of derogatory words and threats in songs is used to perform and maintain heterosexual norms and identity.
Part 2, which attends to face and positive politeness practices in the context of performing speech acts, contains another four chapters. Bettina Migge, in ‘Greeting and social change’, examines changes in greeting routines in the East Maroon community. Jack Sidnell then argues that displays of both uncertainty and expertise are interactionally achieved rather than being driven by face needs in ‘Advice in an Indo-Guyanese village and the interactional organization of uncertainty’. Janina Fenigsen, in ‘Meaningful routines’, next examines ideological contestation of greeting routines for satirical purposes rather than being courteous indications of recognition. Finally, Susanne Mühleisen, in ‘Forms of address in English-lexicon Creoles’, discusses the origins and development of different uses of address forms across English-based Creoles.
Part 3, which discusses the development of face in relation to linguistic and cultural socialization, encompasses two more chapters. In the first chapter, ‘The development of face-saving in young Trinidadian children’, Valerie Youssef examines how the development of attention to face needs can be observed in the conversations of three Trinidadian children. Lastly, Alex Louise Tessonneau examines the teaching of greetings to very young children in ‘Learning respect in Guadeloupe’.
While acknowledging recent work that has attempted to move beyond Parsonian conceptualizations of politeness and face, this collection makes a contribution that is oriented more toward broadening our understanding of these phenomena in social contexts that have been relatively unexplored to date, rather than on theorizing about face or politeness per se. Nevertheless, interesting theoretical insights and implications for face and politeness theory can be gleaned from various chapters in this volume.