Pseudophatic Communion

Haverkate, Henk 1988. Politeness strategies in verbal interaction: An analysis of directness and indirectness in speech acts. Semiotica 71(1): 59-71.

Metalinguistic politeness serves two purposes: creating or preserving sociability, and observing the rules of discourse etiquette. In the former case, the primary aim of the speaker is to avoid the type of interactional tension that arises when, in a potential communication situation, no verbal exchange takes place. In order to avoid silence, speakers often have recourse to the kind of verbal behavior which Malinowski called 'phatic communion'. (Haverkate 1988: 59)
This author has a weird understanding of Jakobson's functions. He conflates the phatic function and the metalinguistic function. This is of course not without precedent: both functions have their origins in metacommunication. But metalinguistic communication should be communication about language, not communication about communication. In that sense he conflates language and communication. But in another way, it is also understandable: saying something in order to avoid silence does communicate not only about the communicative contact but also about the linguistic context: there was none, but let's create some.
For present purposes, the following observation by Leech is worth quoting:
We may, indeed, argue for an additional maxim of politeness, the metalinguistic 'Phatic Maxim' which may be provisionally formulated either in its negative form 'Avoid Silence' or in its positive form 'Keep talking'. It is the need to avoid silence, with its implication of opting out of communication, which accounts, at a rather trivial level, for the discussion of stock subjects such as the weather, and less trivially, for the occurrence of uninformative statements such as You've had your hair cut (Leech 1983: 141).
It follows that keeping silence implies the performance of a face-threatening act in that it is associated with lack of consideration or negative feelings toward the interlocutor. Phatic communion, then, is a polite strategy for saving or maintaining face. (Haverkate 1988: 59-60)
So the confusion comes from Leech identifying the "Phatic Maxim" as being "metalinguistic". He's not absolutely wrong, because any and all of Jakobson's functions can indeed be interpreted as metalinguistic - as linguistic functions they are indeed meta-level concepts. Moreover, the latest additions in the linguistic function scheme - poetic, metalinguistic (proper), and phatic - do indeed communicate more about language and language use than about the participants in the exchange (addresser, addressee) or about anything external (referential). But it cannot be taken seriously without too much exposition about linguistic functions. Much like Christiane Nord's innovations, this is idiosyncratic.
The second form of metalinguistic politeness bears upon discourse etiquette - that is, the set of normative rules that govern conversational interaction. Corresponding communicative behavior is reflected by sich maxims as: don't shout, don't show a lack of attention, and don't interrupt. Obviously, the latter maxim underlies the system of turn-taking in conversation; it is verbally expressed by such formulas as 'Pardon me for interrupting, but...', which indicate the speaker's awareness that he/she potentially threatens the hearer's face. (Haverkate 1988: 60)
This is more like the "channel function" that Jakobson actually espouses, though with a distinctive aftertaste of the "regulative function". That is, this concerns the smooth flow of conversation and the turn-taking issue.
The maxim 'don't show a lack of attention' refers to both conversational-internal and conversational-external behavior. In the latter case one may think of the speaker mentioned in note 3, who violates the maxim because he whistles for his dog while his interlocutor is speaking. The rules involved are general rules which do not bear specifically upon conversational structure. In the former case, we are dealing with what Stati (1982: 193) calls 'il codice dell'interscambio verbale', which is centered upon the conversation partners' obligation to reach properly to each other's speech acts, such as reciprocating a greeting, answering a question, and indicating one's reason(s) for not complying with a request. (Haverkate 1988: 60)
This almost sounds like that infamous "language band" whose source I cannot recover. That is, when you are communicating then you have what I would now call "phatic responsibilities" - to keep the channel open because the channel is already open. Without proper fading-out or leave-taking, not reacting properly or not complying is impolite. Reciprocating is a bit more difficult, because greeting in itself does not constitute people as conversation partners - often that is not a conversational opening but a politeness in itself. By not reciprocating you are definitely impolite, but such "conversations" are purely phatic: they validate or affirm acquaintance or being in the situation, but does little beyond that.
A typical example of a macro speech act is a request preceded and/or followed by a presequence and postsequence which respectively serve to motivate the directive core act. It is interesting to add that presequences may also consist partially or entirely of phatic communion. In this caes, perhaps, it is more proper to speak of pseudophatic communion, since the speaker pretends to achieve no other aim than displaying a socially appreciated form of interactional behavior, whereas in actual fact his/her behavior serves to reduce the negative face involved in the ultimate request. (Haverkate 1988: 61)
This is exactly the case with Jerry requesting money from Summer but failing in his presequence by approaching her with the overly phatic "Whatcha doing?" In light of this concept of pseudophatic communion, it would appear that much of Julia Elyachar's "phatic labor" is actually just pseudophatic communion. It can even be said that hers exposition is "pseudo" in this sense also on the metalevel, since she emphasizes that the ultimate request is not at all important. If that were so, then going from house to house to chat up neighbourhood women would not be undertaken. It may have been a secondary, relegated or hidden motivation but still a motivation.


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