Статья 'Особенности принципа вежливости в китайской и русской лингвокультурах ' - журнал 'Litera' - NotaBene.ru
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Differences in the Principle of Politeness in Chinese and Russian Linguistic Cultures

Khuan Shaofei

PhD in Philology

Applicant, Department of General and Comparative-Historical Linguistics, Lomonosov Moscow State University

119991, Russia, g. Moscow, ul. Leninskie Gory, 1








Abstract: The principle of politeness is a means of communication widely used in every society by individuals, but this principle has peculiarities in different cultures. The principles of politeness play an important role in the analysis of the speech etiquette of communicants of different cultures. In recent decades, there has been an increasing interest in their study. Despite the increased interest, no research has yet been conducted on the differences in the principles of politeness in Chinese and Russian linguistic cultures. This article examines these differences on the basis of the principle of politeness of J. Lich and the principle of courtesy of Gu Yuego with Chinese specifics. The characteristic features of Chinese national culture and Russian national culture are revealed through comparison. Compared with Chinese, Russians have different attitudes towards modesty; secondly, the Russian social interaction is much simpler than the Chinese one; thirdly, solidarity relations prevail in Russia, whereas power relations prevail in China; fourthly, China and Russia have different attitudes towards the word《老》 [ lǎo] /old Chinese character 《老》[ lǎo] in some cases is a symbol of wisdom, and when addressing the elderly using the word《老》[ lǎo], respect is shown to the addressee, whereas in Russia this addressing is considered as a manifestation of harshness and rudeness; fifth, Russians pay more attention to personal life than the Chinese. Thus, some principles of politeness applied in China may be considered very impolite for Russians and vice versa.


the principle of cooperation, the principle of politeness, maxims of politeness, cross-cultural communication, modesty, maxim of tact, using relevant references, maxim of good manners, solidarity relations, power relations

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

In recent decades, there has been a significant interest of scientists in the study of the principle of politeness, speech etiquette. Speaking about the principle of politeness, it is necessary to mention the principle of cooperation of G.P. Grice. In 1967, the American linguist and philosopher G.P. Grice made a presentation at Harvard University entitled "Logic and speech communication" [1, 217-237]. The principle of cooperation in the theory of speech implicature, proposed by G.P. Grice, explains how people observe the maxim of the amount of information, the maxim of the quality of information, the maxim of relevance, the maxim of manners in the process of speech communication to achieve cooperation and promote successful communication. The principle of cooperation by G.P. Grice marked the beginning of the study of various theories of verbal communicative activity. G.P. Grice understands the principle of cooperation as a kind of contract and postulate[1] believes that compliance with these maxims can become an effective means of influencing the interlocutor and controlling his behavior. However, G.P. Grice did not explain why sometimes people deliberately violate the principle of cooperation, often omit and even intentionally keep silent about something. Thinking over and researching this issue, linguists have found that in the process of communication, people should not only observe the principle of cooperation, but also be polite and protect each other when talking. Based on this, the principle of politeness itself appeared.

In 1983, on the basis of the principle of cooperation of G.P. Grice, the British scientist J. Leach put forward the concept of the principle of politeness, which is a collection of a number of maxims. In 1983, J. Leach proposed the concept of the principle of politeness in the book "Principles of Pragmatics" as a correction of Grice's principle of cooperation. Since the principle of politeness has a higher normative effect than the principle of cooperation, it can maintain social stability and friendly interpersonal relationships. In addition, the principle of cooperation can only limit what we say and helps us to understand the illocutionary meaning of the interlocutor in communication (what the utterance is for), but it cannot explain why people use such a large number of indirect speech actions [3, 80]. J. Leach gives the following example, to illustrate that the "principle of politeness" is a necessary complement to the "principle of cooperation".

Example 1:

A: We will all miss Bill and Agatha, won’t we?

B: Well, we will all miss Bill. [3, 80]

In Example 1, B does not fully answer question A, clearly violating the maxim of the amount of information (to state no more and no less information than is required in this situation). What does the illocution B depend on? Obviously, illocution B depends not only on the principle of cooperation, B could well say the following: "... but not Agatha", which fully corresponds to the principle of cooperation. But that would be rude to Agatha. Thus, B violates the principle of cooperation in order to follow the principle of politeness.

The principle of politeness of J. Lich as a special strategy of speech behavior is implemented in the process of speech with the help of various postulates. J. Lich identifies the following maxims, or postulates, of the principle of politeness [3, 257]:

The maxim of tact is "minimize inconvenience for the addressee and maximize benefits for the addressee." This is the maxim of the boundaries of the personal sphere. Potentially dangerous topics should not be touched upon: private life, individual preferences, a woman's age, salary level, marital status, occupation, evaluation of other people, etc. It should be noted that the maxim of tact allows for the possibility of cross-cultural variability, since different tactics are acceptable in different cultures.

Maxim of generosity – "reduce your own benefit, increase the benefit of the listener."

The maxim of approval is "reduce the condemnation of the listener, praise more", this is the maxim of positivity in evaluating others.

The maxim of modesty is "praise yourself less, blame yourself more."

The maxim of consent – "avoid disagreements between you and your interlocutors, strive for unity and harmony."

The maxim of sympathy is "reduce the antipathy between you and the interlocutor, increase the sympathy." This is the maxim of benevolence, which creates a positive background for a promising substantive conversation.

Undoubtedly, the principle of politeness of J. Lich plays a very important role in the study of the category of politeness.  However, the principle of politeness of J. Lich is based on Western culture, but different maxims are acceptable in different countries. For example, for the inhabitants of the Mediterranean, the most important maxim is politeness, for Europeans - tact, for Asians - modesty. Thus, the principle of J. Leach is not suitable for Chinese culture.

Based on 6 Maxim J. Lich, the Chinese scientist Gu Yuego put forward the principle of politeness with typical Chinese specifics. According to Gu Yuego [4, 10-17], his principle of politeness contains five maxims: 

(the maxim of humiliating oneself to demonstrate respect for the interlocutor) When the speaker talks about himself, he specifically belittles himself, and when the speaker addresses the interlocutor, he intentionally demonstrates respect for him.

2?“” Maxim use of relevant hits?Turning to the other side, you need to choose the appropriate appeals depending on the social status and age of the addressee.

(3)“” (the maxim of good manners). Words and actions in front of others must comply with social ethical norms.

(4)“?”,"”,?The maxim of striving for unity and harmony.When two parties in communication disagree, they should strive for harmony and try to satisfy the desires of the other party.

(5)“"" ( (maxim of integrity, speech and behavior) From the point of view of behavioral motives, it is necessary to minimize the costs that others make and maximize the benefits for others; from the point of view of speech, you should try to exaggerate the benefits that others give you; try to talk less about your merits [4, 10-17].

Comparison of differences in the principle of politeness in Chinese and Russian linguistic cultures

The principle of politeness is a means of communication widely used by every society and individual, but the connotation of politeness given by different cultures is also different. In cross-cultural communication, people should be fully aware that there are many differences in the principles of Chinese and Western politeness in order to minimize pragmatic differences and to achieve the final communicative effect and goal. Let's look at the differences in politeness between China and Russia.

1. The maxim of humiliating oneself to demonstrate respect for the interlocutor

The maxim of humiliating oneself to demonstrate respect for the interlocutor of Gu Yuego has similarities with the maxim of modesty of J. Lich. However, there are still obvious differences in the responses of Chinese and Westerners in cases where people receive compliments from others. Consider two examples?

Example 2:

(Two Chinese women meet in the park)

-(You look great today!)

-,(No, really. You're prettier than me)

Example 3?

(Two Russian girls meet in the park)

- You look great today!

- thanks.

In China, the answer in Example 2 is a common occurrence, because in China, under the influence of Confucianism, the Chinese people advocate modesty. The Chinese value modesty very highly. They believe that modesty is politeness. This can be reflected in the dictionary of modern Chinese. "The dictionary of modern Chinese language" defines politeness as "" (courtesy of interpersonal communication as an expression of modesty, respect and a certain level of decency in speech and action) [5, 798]. Thus, only by demonstrating modest behavior can one conform to the values of Chinese culture. Despite the fact that other people usually praise themselves, the Chinese prefer to show their modesty. Gu Yuego notes that the maxim of humiliating oneself to demonstrate respect for the interlocutor is the most typical Chinese maxim of politeness. The Chinese express their self-deprecation by denying the compliments of others to themselves [4, 10-17]. It is important to note that Russians sometimes also react negatively to praise or compliment and may say: "Well, what are you (you)!", "This is only a compliment!", etc. However, in general, Russians are pleased to receive compliments and praise from others, so they often respond "Thank you!", "Thank you for a compliment!". This is different from the usual Chinese practice of responding negatively in order to demonstrate your modesty. Thus, such forms of self-deprecation are not used as often as in Chinese.

It is worth noting that over time, everything changes and develops, and Chinese speech etiquette is no exception. Moreover, people's values are constantly changing, and according to the author, some of Gu Yuego's polite principles cannot fully correspond to the polite expression of modern Chinese culture. Showing respect for others is still a traditional value for the Chinese nation, however, at the same time, the younger generation will not always continue to belittle themselves. As times are constantly changing, young Chinese have begun to realize that by respecting others, they do not necessarily have to humiliate themselves, and belittling themselves means self-doubt. This kind of behavior is no longer suitable for modern communication rules. Today in China, young people are striving for self-expression and self-promotion. Humiliation is not the same as being humble. Young people are more likely to show proper modesty without excessive self-deprecation, which is a confident and polite expression. So, now in China, when people are complimented or praised, they also directly accept it from the other side and at the same time express their gratitude to the interlocutor. Consequently, sometimes the "maxim of humiliating oneself to demonstrate respect for the interlocutor" is practically inapplicable during the use of compliments.

Thus, we found that some ideas about politeness in the language have undergone changes. Language is like a living organism: it is born, grows and dies. As the level of education increases, as well as the penetration of different cultures of each other, some rules of speech etiquette are replaced by others, what was previously considered indecent becomes generally accepted.

2. The maxim of using relevant appeals

In his principle of politeness, J. The Lich did not put forward the maxim of the appeal. This does not mean that there are no problems with appeals in Western politeness. The system of appeals of Western countries is much simpler than the complex system of appeals of China.

Russian Russian system of forms of address is parallel (in Chinese, the main role is played by showing respect for people, and therefore the attitude of power plays a big role during interaction between people), the Russian system of forms of address is parallel (addressing the interlocutor in Russian is more influenced by solidarity; Russian people value independence and equality between interlocutors in the process of communication). Because of this, the forms of appeals in Russian are much simpler than the form of appeals in Chinese. For example, in Russian, the word "sister" has the meaning "elder and younger sister". In Russia, a younger sister can call an older sister by name. In China, such treatment is considered impolite. In Chinese, sisters are clearly divided into older and younger. If there are two or more older sisters, then by seniority of years they are called as follows: [d? ji?] "the oldest sister", [?r ji?] "the second elder sister", [s?n ji?] "the third elder sister", etc. In China, the older generations have a certain power relative to the younger ones.

3. The maxim of good manners

Due to various factors of the cultural context between China and Russia, there are also differences in the use of the maxim of good manners in China and Russia.

Some words that are not forbidden in Chinese should be tabooed in Russian, and vice versa. For example, the Chinese have great respect for the elderly - respect for the elderly and love for the young are their traditional virtues.. Elderly people occupy a relatively high position in Chinese society and are highly respected, and there is no taboo on [l?o] / old in society. In Western society, on the contrary, due to fierce competition, "old" is equivalent to "bulky" and "useless", so the word "old" is more taboo. Russians also perceive the word "old" in a negative way.

      4.Maxim of tact

Maxim takta J. Lich is the maxim of the boundaries of the personal sphere. Therefore, according to J. Lich, in everyday life, when talking, we need to avoid talking about the personal life of the interlocutor. In Russia, when communicating, people usually do not ask about the age, income and marital status of the interlocutor. Because Russians consider such topics of conversation impolite. In China, such topics are a normal phenomenon. The Chinese believe that such topics express their concern for the interlocutor, as well as reduce the social distance between the two sides.

      Russian Russian linguocultures, comparing the differences in the observance of the principle of politeness in Chinese and Russian linguocultures, we can draw conclusions: firstly, the Chinese and Russians have different attitudes to modesty; secondly, the Russian system of address is much simpler than the Chinese; thirdly, solidarity relations prevail in Russia, and power relations prevail in China; in- thirdly, the Chinese and Russians treat the word [l?o] / old differently, in China the hieroglyph [l?o] in some cases is a symbol of wisdom, and when addressing people of the older generation [l?o] expresses respect for the addressee, and in Russia such an address with the meaning "old" is considered impolite; fourth, Russians pay more attention to their personal life than the Chinese. Thus, some principles of politeness applied in China may be considered very impolite for Russians and vice versa. As T.V. Larina notes, "Difficulties in intercultural communication arise due to the fact that communicants evaluate each other's behavior based on their norms and traditions, as well. Communicating in a foreign language, as a rule, they use this language, being under the influence of their communicative consciousness. As a result, there is linguocultural communicative interference, which can be defined as the interference of factors of native culture, language and national consciousness in the interpretation of foreign cultural communicative behavior and in one's own behavior in intercultural communication" [2, 127-128]. Therefore, in the process of intercultural communication, communication participants need not only to master the language of the country being studied, but also to understand and respect each other's culture - only in this case they can achieve the goal of communication.


[1]  Postulate-Latin postulatum – a demand or agreement accepted without proof.

1. Grice H. P. Logic and Conversation. / H. P. Grace // Novoye v zarubezhnoi linguistiku, 1985.-Vol.16. P. 217-237.
2. Larina T.V. Category of politeness and communication style: Comparison of English and Russian linguocultural traditions.-M.: Handwritten Monuments of Ancient Russia, 2009. P.127-128.
3. Leech G.N.. Principle of Pragmatics [M]. London: Longman,1983.
4. 顾曰国. 礼貌、语用与文化[J]. 外语教学与研究, 1992,28(04):10-17. [Gu Yuego. Politeness, pragmatics and culture.-Shanghai: Foreign Language Teaching and Research, 1992, 28 (04). P.10-17].
5. 现代汉语词典/中国社会科学院语言研究所词典编辑室编-北京:商务印书馆,2016,798页。[Dictionary of Modern Chinese Language/Dictionary Editorial Board, Institute of Language, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences-Beijing: Commercial Press, 2016. P.798]

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The peer-reviewed article "Differences in the principle of politeness in Chinese and Russian linguistic cultures", proposed in a publication in the scientific journal "Litera", undoubtedly examines the actual problem of linguoculturology and conceptology. The relevance of the article is also due to the few studies for the present period in the field of comparing Russian and Chinese linguistic cultures. It should be noted that the relevant Chinese studies have certain gaps and limitations, but they have made a new contribution to the comparison of Russian and Chinese linguistic cultures, and many Chinese linguists have analyzed and expanded the research of Russian linguists, which allowed more scientists to focus on this perspective, develop it and give new strength to linguistic and cultural studies. Using the example of politeness formulas, the reviewed article analyzes the differences and similarities of communication models in different national cultures by analyzing the specific representation of the concept in the dictionaries of the two languages, which allows for a deeper study of the life and understanding of peoples in different national cultures and linguistic worldviews. This work was done professionally, in compliance with the basic canons of scientific research. It should be noted that the author reasonably approached the theoretical basis of the study and presented convincing data, which are illustrated by excerpts of texts in Chinese with the author's translation into Russian. The work seems to us not so much scientific, based on the work of predecessors, as innovative, representing the author's own opinion, which is especially valuable when conducting research. The presented article is made in line with modern scientific approaches. The article is structured, consists of an introduction, in which the author identifies the goals and objectives of this research, and also provides historical information on the development of the scientific problem under consideration, the main part, which includes descriptions of the research results and presentation of conclusions. The article presents a research methodology, the choice of which is quite adequate to the goals and objectives of the work. Such works using various methodologies are relevant and, taking into account the actual material, allow us to replicate the principle of research proposed by the author on other linguistic material. The article outlines the prospect of continuing the research in a more detailed study of the linguistic and cultural differences between China and Russia. On the other hand, the conclusions of the work are superficial and generalized, do not contain the quintessence of the work done, however, this remark is not critical. The bibliography contains 5 items. A greater number of references to authoritative works, such as monographs, doctoral and/or PhD dissertations on related topics, which could strengthen the theoretical component of the work in line with the national scientific school. The article will undoubtedly be useful to a wide range of people, philologists, undergraduates and graduate students of specialized universities. In general, it should be noted that the article was written in a simple, understandable language for the reader, typos, spelling and syntactic errors, inaccuracies were not found. The impression after reading the article is positive, it can be recommended for publication in a scientific journal from the list of the Higher Attestation Commission.
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