Problem of politeness in Pashto language

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The purpose of the study is to investigate the problem of politeness in Pashto Language in comparison with English. Brown & Levinson (1987) claim that their politeness theory is universally valid. This study will examine the validity of politeness theory in Pashto culture. Again there is a stereotype that Pathans (Pashto speakers) are not very polite and even rude. The study will look into the matter whether it is their behaviour or language deficit that labels them as rude in cross-cultural communications. The study will also discover social patterns that determine politeness and the strategies used in Pashto language to show politeness.

Research Questions:

  1. What are the strategies used in Pashto language to show politeness or to save face?
  2. What are the politeness markers in Pashto language?
  3. Whether it is behaviour or language deficit that labels Pashto speakers as rude in cross-cultural communication.
  4. Are there any social patterns in Pashto community that determine politeness?
  5. Whether or not Brown & Levinson's theory of politeness in English (1987) is valid in Pashto context?


The study has the following hypotheses:

  1. Brown & Levinson's theory of politeness (1987) is not valid wholly in Pashto speaking community.
  2. It is language deficit that Pashto speakers are accused of rudeness in cross-cultural communication.

Literature Review:

  1. Politeness theory

A large number of theoretical and empirical books and articles concerning linguistic politeness and/or the notion of face have been published since the enunciation of politeness theory by Brown & Levinson (1978, 1987). It has been the most influential framework of politeness so far, and provides an important basis for the discussion of the notion of politeness and face. Brown and Levinson's theory represents the face-saving view, as it builds on Goffman's (1967) notion of face.

In most of the studies, politeness has been conceptualized especially as strategic conflict-avoidance or as a strategic construction of cooperative social interaction. In the recent decade, some critical overviews and analyses of politeness studies have been presented for example Eelen (2001) and Watts (2003). Fraser (1990) posited four main ways of viewing politeness in the research literature: the 'Social norm' view, the 'Conversational-maxim' view, the 'Face-saving' view and the 'Conversational-contract' view.

         The idea that politeness should be understood as strategic conflict-avoidance can be found in avoiding disruption and maintaining the social equilibrium and friendly relations (Leech 1983: 225, 230)

         Brown & Levinson (1987) claim their politeness theory to be universally valid. They posit a universal Model Person with the ability to rationalize from communicative goals to the optimal means of achieving these goals. This Model Person can be seen as the embodiment of universally valid human social characteristics and principles of social reasoning (Eelen (2001: 5)

  1. Language Deficit Theory

Bernstein is often credited (or blamed) for what is commonly referred to as 'Language Deficit hypothesis' which holds that some people, because they are raised in environments where contact with language is limited, acquire an inferior variety of language, which Bernstein labelled 'restricted code'. Other, more fortunate individuals acquire language in a richer environment, 'an elaborated code' that enables them to communicate more effectively. Those who only acquire the restricted code suffer from a linguistic deficit. (Wardhaugh 1986).



The study will use qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate the problem of politeness in Pashto language in comparison with politeness in English Language.

  1. Qualitative Method:

In qualitative method of the study, the structures and strategies applied in both languages to show politeness or to save face, will be searched out. The politeness markers in both languages will be compared in relation to the respective cultures involved. From this structural comparison the evidence for the politeness problem in Pashto language will be brought into focus. It will further evaluate Brown & Levinson's theory of politeness (1987) in terms of politeness in Pashto language and culture.

  1. Quantitative Method:


In quantitative method the data will be collected from two groups of respondents (40+40=80) i.e. literate and illiterate.

Literate Group (GL=40) in the sense that they can read, speak and write English in addition to their native language (Pashto).

Illiterate Group (GI=40) is the native speakers of Pashto but they don't know English. Each group consists of male and female participants of different age.


  1. Written Test:

From the Literate Group (GL) a written test of translations of formulaic expressions of politeness will be conducted i.e. from English to Pashto and from Pashto to English to find out whether or not the participants, in each case, can find substitutes or equivalent in other language

  1. Audio Recording:

The speech of illiterate group will be recorded in various situations.

  1. Interview:

Interview will be taken from both the groups to provide further support to the data and to specify the problem of politeness.

Implications of the Study:

A lot of problems in cross-cultural communications emerge from different perceptions of politeness in different cultures. The same verbal or non-verbal act being polite in one culture may be perceived as inappropriate, impolite, or even rude in other culture. Such misunderstanding can lead to stereotyping, which in turn harm communication.

This study will provide some empirical evidence to explain that misunderstanding in case of politeness, because when we interact, we interact not with each other but with social framework itself. Context informs our actions, behaviour and understanding.

This study will also provide translation studies with an authentic Socio-cultural, moral and ethical background knowledge of Pashto culture as for as the question of politeness is concerned.

In addition to this, the study will create awareness across the boundaries of Pashto culture regarding its politeness in cross-cultural communication whether it is face-to-face interaction, electronic media, interviews, requests, invitations and imperative etc.


  • Bernstein, B. (1971) Class, Codes and Control: Theoretical Studies towards a Sociology of Language. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Brown, P. & Levinson, S. (1987). Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Eelen, Gino (2001) A Critique of Politeness Theories. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing
  • Fraser, Bruce (1990) Perspectives on Politeness. Journal of Pragmatics 14: 219-236.
  • Goffman, E. (1967). 'On Facework: An Analysis of ritual Elements in Social Interaction' in Jawrski, A., and Coupland, N. (eds.) The Discourse Reader, London.
  • Leech, Geoffrey (1983) Principles of Pragmatics. London: Longman.
  • Wardhah, R. (1986) An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Basil Blackwell Ltd, Oxford, UK.
  • Watts, Richard (2003) Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.