Professional Communication as Phatic

Porter, James E. 2017. Professional Communication as Phatic: From Classical Eunoia to Personal Artificial Intelligence. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly 80(2): 174-193.

My purpose in this article is to call attention to the importance of the phatic function (or purpose) in professional communication - a purpose at least as important as informing, persuading, and helping others, and perhaps a necessary foundation for all forms of digital communication and interaction. (Porter 2017: 175)

"Purpose" pretty much hits the mark, as Roman Jakobson himself explains his functionalism in terms of means and ends, so that his "goal" is pretty much equivalent to "purpose". Where it gets troublesome is the earlier Malinowskian conception, in which there is no purpose - it is literally a "purposeless" type of interaction. Hence Jakobson's insistence that cliches and stereotyped formulas are phatic, meaning that they have no communicative purpose. But it is also easy to see where this lack of purpose gets confusing: Jakobson's channel-functions (checking whether the phone-line works, whether the other person is actually listening and can reply, etc.) can stand for that putative purpose. Likewise, in Malinowski there as-if is a purpose, the purpose of achieving a pleasant atmosphere of polite social interaction, but his diminutive view of it stems from this atmosphere itself being purposeless and not, as Durkheim hypothesized, a means for concretizing religious ideas.

Phatic (from the Greek word phanai, "to speak") refers to the rhetorical function of creating effective communication channels, keeping them open, and establishing ongoing and fruitful relationships, all of which are especially important in the age of digital rhetoric, social media, and global intercultural exchange. (Porter 2017: 175)

The trick performed here is re-framing the phatic function as a necessary prelude or prerequisite for the practical function of communicating information. Instead of viewing it in the reflexive mode - as both Malinowski and Jakobson meant it - of establishing contact and that's it, here and in many instances elsewhere by a number of authors who take only a cursory interest in the phatic function, the focus is on the channel, which is of course necessary for any communication to occur, but is not automatically reflexive as such. The problem here really is "effective", by means of which the conventional meta-communicative (sensu Zabor) view creeps back in: the phatic function establishes the possibility for transmitting information. This is directly opposed to Malinowski's statement about it being necessery for there not to be anything to communicate about for it to qualify as phatic. Phatic communion is reflexive - a thing performed for the mere sake of performing it, for enjoying the process itself. Phatic function, sensu Jakobson, likewise is reflexive and maximizes the trope of communication for the sake of communication - the newlyweds utter "Well" back and forth because they have nothing else to say to each other. Their conversation is not "effective" in any sense of the word.

Seeing communication from a phatic perspective means positing different goals for discursive action - goals such as goodwill, trust, cooperation, partnership, harmony - and building a different kind of relationship between rhetor and organization, among rhetors within an organization, and between the organization and its customers/its market/the public. The core of the phatic function is the formation of an ethical relationship between rhetor and audience and that relationship is very much based on ethos, the persuasive appeal having to do with the character and credibility of the rhetor. (Porter 2017: 175)

This is very interesting, if only because it is one of several instances I've noticed of someone attempting to posit an ethical dimension to phaticity. Another one that immediately comes to mind is Anette Holba's (2008) work in the philosophy of leisure and her Buberian view of phatic communication as something that "offers recuperative potential", which is a variation on the atmosphere of polite social interaction, just like the array of "goodwill, trust, cooperation, partnership, harmony", which seems to once again put "effectiveness" into where originally there was none. There's also an ethical point in Makice's (2009) approach to online community design, where phatic interactions allow "community members to understand the current state of others". That comes across as a communal approach to what is here attempted individualistically. But in all this I'm still disappointed that the connection between Malinowski and Herbert Spencer is not considered, because that debate hides a great potential for elaborating on the ethical side of social union. The "ethical relationship" Spencer had in mind and Malinowski negated had to do with the way the presence of others curbs impulsive behaviour, so that an otherwise quite violent person (beats his wife and kids, for example) checks himself when in the company of strangers who wouldn't stand for such behaviour. Durkheim of course added that social gatherings help us solidify these attitudes, in this example come to the realization that domestic violence is something inherently bad. There's a very small step from there to how our current social media platforms play into the modification of attitudes in the broader picture.

In this article, I will identify the sources of phatic theory in linguistics and rhetoric, making the case for seeing the phatic function as a primary purpose of human communication interaction, not a secondary or meaningless one; [...] (Porter 2017: 175)

Phatic theory‽ Just recently I had a plan to write a paper about how there is no phatic theory. By all standards of what constitutes a theory, phaticity lacks even the most crudest characteristics of a theory. There are no hypotheses, nothing to really test and nothing to test it by. In my opinion it is more the case of an illegitimate diffusion, meaning that the concept of phaticity has lofty terminological appeal and hence gets bound up with all kinds of things unrelated to what it was originally about. Even more so, its sources lie in anthropology (Spencer's comparative psychology and Durkheim's sociology of religion) and it entered into linguistics instead of stemming from it. By all accounts, phaticity is extra-linguistic, evidenced by the multitude of parts of speech described as phatic, which really depends on the linguist's personal choice and fancy.

[I will] consider four particular areas where the phatic function has special relevance for professional communicators: (a) email, online small talk, informal chat, and correspondence; (b) virtual teamwork; (c) online user help communities; and (d) design of intelligent agents, or what we might call "phatic bots." (Porter 2017: 175)

On the subject of personal fancy: make "phatic" equivalent to "chatting" and voila chatbots become "phatic bots".

The concept of phatic communication was first articulated by the cultural anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (1923), who saw the phatic function as a feature of primitive languages in the respect that the peoples he studied used language as a mode of action as opposed to using language "to convey meaning" (p. 315). (Porter 2017: 175)

First of all, Malinowski articulated the concept of phatic communion and never used the combination "phatic function" - these points of confusion were shown even by Hartmut Haberland. Secondly, the "feature" makes no sense at all. To quote: "I have chosen the above from a Savage Community, because I wanted to emphasize that such and no other is the nature of primitive speech." (Malinowski 1923: 315) - and to reinforce the interpretation that he was really just prejudiced against the "Savage Community" just consider the following sentence from his doctoral thesis: "The aborigenes are not able to think exactly, and their beliefs do not possess any "exact meaning."" (Malinowski 1913: 213) - in his opinion the phatic function is not a feature of primitive language but phatic communion is the only type of speech primitive people were - in his opinion - capable of.

Subsequent discussions of the phatic function in cultural anthropology and sociolinguistics largely follow Malinowski's lead: The phatic function must be acknowledged, but it is not all that important. At best, the phatic function is secondary, supportive function of language, but it is not a primary purpose. (Porter 2017: 176)

The footnote reads that "The notion of phatic function was adopted by the sociolinguist Roman Jakobson" who was actually the forefather of linguistics and poetics - Porter must have confused him with the sociolinguist Dell Hymes, who also treated the phatic function (after Jakobson's lead). As to the matter at hand, Porter appears to be attempting a return to Malinowski's own view of the primacy of phatic communion: it precedes the "highly developed and specialized uses of speech" "in works of science and philosophy [...] used to control ideas and to make them common property of civilized mankind" (1923: 316). I actually like this view because in this case "primitive" can be reformulated in the sense of Durkheim (1915: 1) as "surpassed by no others in simplicity". In this a connection may be found with modern neurology where the part of the brain that goes about babbling about its worries and egocentric interests - the so-called "default network" or "monkey mind" - is the most simplistic and the effort to make ideas the common property of humankind by way of textual practices the most complex function of language.

But what if the "savages" have it right? Maybe what is primitive here, or at least incomplete, is Malinowski's communication frame, which assumes that the ultimate purpose of discourse is "communicating ideas." Is it? Really? What if friendship is not so "mere"? (Porter 2017: 176)

This is a very false image of Malinowski's communication frame. The ultimate purpose of discourse is communicating ideas. His point is that it is not the only purpose of speech, but merely the most refined one. It may appear incomplete because nearly no-one recognizes Malinowski's negations of other communicative functions, i.e. those outlined by Ogden and Richards in the main body of the book. Besides the referential function, Malinowski also negates emotive - since phatic communion does not establish common sentiments - and conative - since phatic communion may accompany some manual work but is not aimed at directing it. Friendship is wholly extraneous to his formulation. Bonds of personal union may arise out of phatic communion but mostly we engage in it with strangers and acquaintances. With friends we probably have something more substantial to discuss, e.g. common memories, future plans, etc.

To say that the purpose of communication is "communicating ideas," informing, or persuading is to beg the question: What is the purpose of doing that? If an informative or persuasive communication is a means to some end, then, what is the end exactly? Here is where discourse theory meets ethics: To ask the question, "Why are we communicating?" is to posit some end or outcome outside and beyond the communication itself. It is that purpose outside of discourse that Malinowski's form of linguistics neglects. (Porter 2017: 176)

First of all, Malinowski's essay on primitive speech is not a very good representative of his linguistics. As I understand it, his main linguistic contributions were first handed forward to Z. Harris and then published very inconspicuously in the second volume of Coral Gardens, which is - according to one author who wrote about his linguistic theory - why it is not so well known as that one piece about phatic communion. Secondly, Malinowski does not treat communication in the essay on primitive speech so looking for a theory of communication there is pointless. To this relevant question about the ends of communication one may readily turn to his contemporaries. Charles Morris, for example, has a very lucid definition: communication is the establishment of a commonage of signification, which is very close to but more exact than "communicating ideas." In this strict sense the end or outcome outside or beyond communication itself is the sharing of meaning, i.e. making something understood. Phatic communion is distinct from this since making something understood is not the goal in this kind of discourse; spending time together pleasantly talking is.

What is that goal? Aristotle (1976) provided one clear answer to this question in Nichomachean Ethics, where he linked the art of rhetoric to the social good: "Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good" (Nichomachean Ethics 1.1). For Aristotle, the greatest good for rhetoric and politics to aim for was "the good of the polis" (Nicomachean Ethics 1.2) and happiness for all. For Aristotle, the final end - or ultimate cause - of rhetorical action (and for other arts as well, such as politics, music, sculpture) was peace, harmony, well-being, stability, and happiness. (Porter 2017: 176)

I've considered reading Nicomachean Ethics in relation with phatic communion before and even got around to reading some few pages, but this is still on hold. A suitable alternative for this kind of inquiry would be the connection between Malinowski and Spencer, i.e. the stuff outlined by both as the substance of social union: "the desire to accumulate property" (HS) vs (ambition, vanity, passion for power and wealth" (BM). The general headig, under which both Aristotle's good of the polis and these as well as other related topics meet is probably Spencer's "social progress".

We do not necessarily have to agree with Aristotle's particular [---] the common good, the public good, and the good of us all. (Porter 2017: 176)

I suspect that there's more to Aristotle here than meets the eye. Mostly because the archaic terminology in Malinowski's influences (the long-form terms such as "bond of fellowship" and "the sentiment of sympathy" are characteristic of the time as the Estonian author Eduard Vilde, writing at the same time, in the first decade of the 20th century, use these phrases equally liberally) may lead up to ideas that can be traced to Aristotle. With the "philosophy is a footnote to the classics" view in mind, it may very well be that the 19th century philosophers in support of "derived sciences" like sociology, psychology, semiotics, etc. gained their first insights from the likes of Plato and Aristotle. Right now I'm barely making it past the few last centuries, as finding links with Rousseau and Locke is a bit more difficult than expected.

The list of outcomes here is commendable, and pretty much encapsulates my intention to compile a similarly themed list of the final good bestowed upon the participants in phatic communion. The first and foremost being pleasant and polite atmosphere in social intercourse. Followed perhaps by the communizationalists with La Barre's nonverbal, vocial and emotional communication and then the consummationalists with Jakobson's channel operations and the avoidance of prematurely closing the connection. I just figured out that "consummationalists" like Laver and his followers may share a pseudo-phatic base of definition because the incremental increase of meaning described by Dewey as a characteristic of consummation is of a non-speech variety, meaning that there is a possibility of further differentiating between those consummation-points which place their emphasis on a deepening of meaning (creating mutual emotional baggage?) and those which include an "extra-communicational" emphasis, such as Haverkate's original "pseudo-phatic", Elyachar's literally "communal" troubles (installing a water-heater requires chit-chat to find someone who can get it done), as well as Malinowski's own "communion of food".

As a side-note, the same analysis on earlier authorities might prove interesting, because in Spencer, the point of checking impulsiveness of uneducated people for the social good (polite interaction and service) acts upon emotions, and Durkheim's origin of religious ideas from collective effervescence involves an ideational end-goal, the exact one Malinowski was protesting against when formulating phatic communion. It has gone unnoticed that Malinowski's argument against "communicating ideas," as Porter puts it, has to do not so much with the strict transmission of ideas but instead their development in "collective consciousness". Indeed, the primary point of contention between Malinowski and Durkheim is that when people gather and talk, even hold lectures and sermons, or attempt to convince people from atop the soap box, they do not necessarily constitute a collective mind. Malinowski contended that Durkheim's rather naive conception of the influence of social environment. Here's where I could bring Locke to bear on innateness, but Durkheim basically writes that people feel compelled to "see things from a certain angle and feel them in a certain way" and consequently "modifies the ideas which we would ordinarily make of them for ourselves and the sentiments to which we would be inclined if we listened only to our animal nature" so that the social environment alters our sentiments, even puts contrary sentiments "in their place" (Durkheim 1915: 66). It would appear that Durkheim, too, is following the logic in Spencer's passages about the nature of emotions. The interesting thing here perhaps would be to dissect this "compelling" nature of society, the reasons for people checking their impulsive behaviour in society, and the role Durkheim the social constructionist (1915: 347) attributes to language, sciences, arts and moral beliefs in altering human nature, includinc beliefs, traditions, and aspirations (thus questioning the semiotic reality of society).

An ethical theory of rhetoric [---] They are, in a sense, the whole point. (Porter 2017: 177)

This seems to be arguing Malinowski's point (while first giving off the impression of refuting Malinowski). We are dealing with consummationalism - that the end-goal of this primitive form of speech is a sense of communion, a sense of belonging and/or familiarity, group formation, etc. The stereotypical "for the sake of" formulation can be bypassed by paraphrasing Durkheim: [communication], though aimed primarily at other ends, has also been a sort of recreation for [people]. This would of course confuse communion and communication and ignore the religious connotations of communion. Looking up Durkheim's phraseology, I found an interesting thought: the Christian communion is embodied in what goes in through the mouth - e.g. the communion of food, particularly bread as the flesh of the lord - and phatic communion in what comes out of it (words); this would be a play on the old saying that God judges not by what comes out of the mouth but only what goes in (concerning alcoholic drinks and forbidden foods).

The phatic function is of immense importance in rhetoric, though phatic is a term rarely used in rhetoric. (Porter 2017: 177)

This seems natural. If the purpose of rhetoric is to be persuasive then the phatic communion is "anti-persuasive" since the listeners may not even listen all too attentively to what the speakers are talking about, only acting according to the situation, affording the speakers a face of attentive on-listeners. In the pejorative use of "phatic" this sentiment is taken to the extreme: the babbermouth homeless drunkard on the bus is a "phatic" man because people around him don't want him to continue talking (to no-one in particular and thus everyone in general within ear-shot).

Where we see the phatic function in Western rhetoric is the classical Greek concept of eunoia. [---] and pathos (appeal to feeling). (Porter 2017: 177)

The crucial piece, which is apparently missing, is what kind of appeal ethos is - if feeling and reason are taken then it must be action. And in this sense it would fit perfectly with Malinowski's pragmatic orientation to language. Goodwill is indeed at the center focus in phatic communion - particularly in the pleasant social atmosphere, which can be paraphrased as conversational goodwill.

Looking for verification in my downloaded copy of NE, I stumbled upon Christof Rapp's "The emotional dimension of friendship: Notes on Aristotle's account of philia in Rhetoric II 4" (2012), which might be worth a read. It could help to disentangle the otherwise compelling want to associate phaticity with pathos as a communizationalist would - but we've already established that this paper is on the consummationalist line, ideally emphasizing speech as a mode of action (rather than, say, the role of common sentiments).

From Nicomachean Ethics, where eunoia might be translated into "good will": "What sort of goods would one call good in themselves? Is it those that are pursued even when isolated from others, such as intelligence, sight, and certain pleasures and honours? Certainly, if we pursue these also for the sake of something else, yet one would place them among things good in themselves." - Concerning the "for the sake of" stereotype of the phatic function as a reflexive or autonomic function (in Jakobson's meta-functions: a poetic message is about the message, a meta-lingual message about language, and a phatic message is about contact).

The orator who hoped to persuade the audience [---] where the rhetor expressed goodwill toward the addressee. (Porter 2017: 177)

The vulgar word for this is pandering (in Bo Burnham's song it rhymes with "phatically meandering"). The point of creating good-will (or pleasant atmosphere) has already been treated. What's interesting is the end-goal of "building social and political alliances", which links it with recent authors who treat phaticity in diplomatic relations (Lemon's phatic qualia, Ansell's phatic blessings). "Phatic" is a component in politeness theory already. Friendly disposition hooks with conviviality and the whole ordeal about strangeness (and the intrinsic threat of a stranger), magnanimity in the communion of food, showing respect in honorifics (e.g. Marija Liudvika Drazdauskienė), but "complimenting one's audience or interlocutor" is pretty rare, found perhaps in Volotskaja et al. (1962) where the phatic function in nonverbal communication is found in clapping - by extension, this would include other backchannels (like head nods, "mhm"), too. The latter part, making an audience "attentive, docile, and well disposed" veers closer to the interpretation of Jakobson's phatic function focusing on attention and maintaining it (e.g. checking whether the other person on the phone is listening, which is taken to the extreme in Paul Virilio's "phatic image", which grabs the viewer/listener's attention as if by force, e.g. in the manner of E. R. Clay's vice-attention; which, I now realize, is comparable to vice-judgement in being conversant about agenda, thus ideal for the topic of ideology). The good news is that I now prepared NE's Book IX (on Friendship) for reading, the bad news is that it's from George H. Lewes' 1910 version.

Securing goodwill is fundamental to Cicero's conception of ethos and of rhetoric [---] principles for the sake of justice" (R. L. Enos, 2008, p. 131). (Porter 2017: 177)

In Spencer's "The Comparative Psychology of Man" (1876), the sympathetic feelings are followed by "the sentiment of justice", which Malinowski left out. What he didn't leave out is character, which occurs twice in a row: "[...] taciturnity means not only unfriendliness but directly a bad character. This no doubt varies greatly with the national character [...]" (Phatic Communion 4.3-4). I've noticed the importance of "character" elsewhere, too. Durkheim, for example, writes of moral character, which is determined by feeling morally obliged to act in a certain way, such as observing the rites of the tribe and fulfilling his duty not only out of fear but also out of respect (1915: 190). Durkheim also has some qualifications for what constitutes a sacred character and could be useful for examining the process of proselytization.

There are good ways and bad ways to do captatio benevolentiae - some treatments can make [---] the captatio became installed as a canned piece of discourse. (Porter 2017: 177)

This is eerily reminiscent of the stereotyped formulae in Gardiner and Jakobson, and although "canned" is an expression rarely if ever used in this regard, similar descriptions are frequent enough (stereotyped, formulaic, fixed, etc.). The implication is that greetings and other openers are not made up on the spot (tokens) but ingrained in culture and language as stock pieces of linguistic material (types). I have wondered before if this is due to recognizability - something everyone says when meeting is much easier to recognize, even expected, than something idiosyncratic and containing new information. Christiane Nord presents something similar to this "positive buffer" in her study of student text books, where the phatic elements act in a manner very similar to greetings and capturing the audience's attention.

If the speaker is using the phatic function as a rhetorical technique for persuasion, isn't that insincere? Isn't that false flattery? Isn't that manipulating the audiencec? And the answer to these is yes, yes, and yes - if the speaker is using such strategies merely as a rhetorical technique to achieve his or her ends. (Porter 2017: 178)

This lack on sincerity is perhaps at the forefront of "phatic" as a ("pejorative") critical term. It is already present in Malinowski's text where reciprocity is concerned, but it becomes much more concrete in Alan Gardiner's formulation: "The sentences certainly mean something, but from a shifted angle question and answer seem to follow one another like the mechanical utterances of automata. What is said is of little account." (1932: 46) - or in similar words, "Rhetoric [...] can sometimes devolve into mechanical, formulaic strategy" (infra, 177). The opposition concerning sincerity was already articulated in the middle of the previous century in Basic Training in Speech: "It is of course simply a social gesture, performed perfunctorily by some as a concession to convention, and in a lively and friendly manner by others" (Thonssen & Gilkinson 1953: 32). This is where nonverbal and paralingual elements play a role: a perfunctory and a sincere performance of a greeting or any other social gesture can be distinguished by its tone, context, and many other "infracommunicational" (to use Birdwhistell's terminology) elements. In sum, I think this concern with sincerity is something that has followed phaticity at least since Gardiner (which is to say, almost, "from the very earliest").

Would we say that someone who is polite to strangers is insincere? Yes, if we happen to know that the person is usually rude and just happens to be faking it to secure some benefit. But no, not if we know from experience that the person is always that way, if the person is beig polite because they have learned to be polite, because they have learned that is what you are supposed to do, because they have embraced that as their fundamental ethos in interacting with strangers. In such a case we would say, rather, that politeness is who the person is: She or he is a polite person. It is embodied in their character. That is, the virtue lies in the person; it is not merely a technique they are using in their discourse to manipulate audiences. (Porter 2017: 179)

The keyword here is consistency. Personality is judged on the basis of repeated exposure. In this light in may be worthwhile to go over Theophrastus' Characters because some there are whose insincerity or lack of ethical character is outlined by two-facedness. On a broader scale this topic could probably be related to the subject of strangers in longer history, e.g. how urbanization has relinquished community ties (living amongst familiars all your life) in favor of city life with its nearly endless barrage of strange faces. This is once more amplified by the internet: one may have life-long online friends with whom one never meets IRL. Character becomes much more lax, self-presentation takes the forefront.

The rhetorical and ethical fallacy here is to see the phatic function as simply a piece of language that the speaker or writer plugs into a discourse in order to achieve their persuasive or informative goal - for example, "small talk" at the beginning of a business meeting in order for a manager to meet her goals for the meeting. Rather, view the phatic function in a broader, more ethical sense as, first, the formation and maintenance of a positive relationship with those the rhetor interacts with, and, second, as fundamental to the rhetor's rhetorical identity (ethos), as their overall behavior and practice as a rhetor. (Porter 2017: 179)

There is no lack of broadening the phatic function (it can get cosmically broad) but it must be addressed why it is so often felt that broadening its meaning is necessary. Here I think the problem is apparent in the wording: "a piece of language", which hints at a structural reading of Jakobson's structural-functionalism, where a function is attributed a specific domain of language, in which case only greetings and stereotyped formulae meet the qualification for "phatic". On the other hand is a functional reading which is inherently broader because it doesn't tie it down to any particular "piece of language" but recognizes it as a function any piece of language can perform. Indeed, the hierarchy of functions stipulates that any utterance actually performs several functions simultaneously. This interpretation can, of course, get cosmically broad, as Katharina Reiss' (1981) pointed out, every message minimally performs the phatic function if contact is achieved. In contrast to "a piece of language", Reiss posits that the phatic function does not lead to particulars of the text construction, e.g. does not arise from the text form, but from the use to which the text is put (181: 125). This is another way of saying that the phatic function is a pragmatic function of language (which makes me wonder if the other meta-functions do not accord to Morris's three prongs: is the metalingual function not semantic and the poetic function not syntactic?).

As to the meat of the matter, "the formation and maintenance of a positive relationship" is exctly the stuff Charles Zuckerman (2016) opposes with his concept of phatic violence. Even Malinowski recognized that besides bonds of fellowship phatic communion can also give rise to bonds of antipathy. It is not all milk and honey in the realm of small talk: there are also those theophrastine characters among us who abuse the public duty to give an ear to people addressing us, who employ small talk as a means to an end (panhandlers come to mind), or in a crisis situation use it to gauge if we're on their side or their putative enemies to be targeted with brute force. It is perfectly reasonable to read positive implications into phatic communion because the original end-goal was indeed "a pleasant atmosphere of polite, social intercourse", but this says nearly nothing about positive relationship. Effectively, this reading of positive relationality into it is a near-equivalent of the trick performed by many on Jakobson's channel operations, where establisting, prolonging and discontinuing communication are stripped of the terminal phase (of a communication act) and replaced with maintaining, developing, rekindling and so on (of a personal relationship). In my opinion, the ideal goal of phatic communion is not necessarily a positive relationship but a neutral one: that you are not threatening to those around you and get by just enough to be tolerable to each other; we can't go around making new "true" friends without ultimately disappointing many of them (Dunbar's number, though it's apparently possible to circumvent it on social networking sites).

The virtues of courtesy, politeness, friendliness, and the importance of building and maintaining goodwill in one's relations with others are universally valued, it is safe to say - though they may or may not take form as linguistic or rhetorical concepts per se. However, we also need to note that the particular standards, practices, and expectations for the phatic function - that is, the particulars of how the rhetor should develop and exhibit goodwill and build relations - can vary across cultures and contexts. (Porter 2017: 179-180)

Politeness and friendliness are pretty standard, courtesy on the other hand is by definition "excellence of manners or social conduct", much like consideration, and the more archaic comportment (to which one may add the equally archaic custom, which at least in E. R. Clay's book concretized both culture and context). As to the conceptual issue, I think it may very well add to the claim of intuition: since phatic communion is such an intuitive concept, most peoples around the world probably have some beliefs and practices related to everyday social conduct and how to go about it respectfully. Aristotle's book on friendship just happens to be a fixed instance of such teachings, which has probably been taught from older generations to the younger ones as long as the former has found the latter's conduct lacking. I'm slowly on my way towards writing about these concepts in Estonian language and culture.

For instance, in Japanese culture, aizuchi is certainly a phatic principle, referring to discourse and bodily behaviors (e.g., nodding, gruting, eye contact) that one uses in a conversation to signal the listener's presence, interest, and engagement with the speaker: "Aizuchi has a social function: to keep connectedness with others. The stage of connectedness is always characterized by a very high degree of alertness... [and] confirmation of presence" (Radovanovic & Ragnedda, 2012, pp. 11-12). Aizuchi is an important component of Japanese interaction. Without it, an interlocutor will assume that the listener is disengaged or uninterested in the conversation. (Porter 2017: 180)

First of all, there already is a term for phatic principles out there and in moderate use: following Shunsuke Nozawa's (2015) discussion of the "contact" trope, Zuckerman writes of contact tropes or "condensations of semiotic ideologies" according to which "the fact of communicative contact (or its absence) is itself thematized [and] made into a sign of something else" (Zuckerman 2016: 295). Aizuchi and tachiba-role can probably be considered contact tropes in this sense, although the semiotic ideologies they point to should be examined more closely (ideally by a Japanese representative). And secondly, the Serbian (Danica Radovanovic) and the Italian (Massimo Ragnedda) in their paper on "Small talk in the Digital Age" (2012) left out the reference for their source for their discussion of aizuchi, which is by all indications Sotaro Kita and Sachiko Ide's "Nodding, aizuchi, and final particles in Japanese conversation" (2007). It's almost funny how a slip of reference can cause an avalanche of misattributions.

In Confucian rhetoric, glib and aggressive styles of conversation, or "sharp tongues," are to be avoided because what is valued is humility, a facet of ren, or true virtue: "the truly virtuous person [is] cautious and simple with words" (Xu, 2004, p. 123). Thus, a style of chatty, garrulous friendly discourse, perhaps viewed as effective relationship building in one culture (e.g., a U.S. business culture), may be seen as nonsensical, disrespectful idiocy in another. (Porter 2017: 180)

I'm glad that U.S. business culture is specified because this no doubt varies greatly with U.S. subcultures as well as within European national cultures. It even varies across individual personalities and in accordance with a person's mood. Some similar comparisons immediately come to mind, such as the nonverbal observation that Russians smile when they're happy and Americans nearly constantly (verified, in parts, by Isurin, Furman and White's (2015) study of Russian immigrants during a U.S. Census). This would make perfect sense with J. Ruesch and G. Bateson's examination of literature on American culture, upon which the posit that Europeans have a friendship culture (true lifelong friends) and Americans a popularity culture (effervescent utilitarian relationships), which I now realize may mimick Aristotle's distinctions of friendship.

On a deeper level, we can see that the basis for Confucian rhetoric is the fundamental relationship between the self and other, which should be governed by shu, "often translated as 'reciprocity' or as 'putting oneself in the other's place'" (Mao, 2006, p. 102; see also Mao, 1994). In other words, the foundation and starting point for communication is a fundamental awareness and respect for the other. (Porter 2017: 180)

In the lingo of George Herbert Mead and Kenneth Burke (at least in one of his posthumously published manuscript "On Persuasion, Identification, and Dialectical Symmetry") this is participation in the other. In E. R. Clay's The Alternative there is a similar conception of the life and consciousness of others, the sense-perception (in modern cognitive psychology, simulation) of which underlies empathy (in Clay's terminology, homogeneous sympathy). I should probably revisit Burke's manuscript when treating the lack of symmetry (in speakin and listening roles) in Malinowski's essay.

Radovanovic and Ragnedda (2012) see the Facebook "poke" as the purest form of phatic confirmation of presence, signaling simply that "I am here." A "like" button serves a phatic function as well, but also signals confirmation or agreement. (Porter 2017: 181)

I don't think this is a grand distinction. There is "Always the same emphasis on affirmation and consent" (PC 5.3). Following the contact trope, even "poking" someone on Facebook is not a pure act of confirming presence but also signals that this connection or presence is in some way agreeable or desired.

In business communication research, phatic communication is more likely to be labeled as "small talk" and to be seen as perhaps important and helpful for effective communication, but as peripheral or subordinate to serious, on-task talk. Even researchers who take the phatic function seriously view it mainly as serving (often preliminary to) some other, more important business function (e.g., Pullin, 2010). The phatic certainly includes forms of salutations and polite greeting - and politeness generally - but, according to Laver (1975), is broader than that. It might also include efforts to break down barriers related to age, social status, workplace hierarchy, gender, degree of familiarity, power differentials (real and perceived), and so on. (Porter 2017: 183)

REFERENCE: Pullin, Patricia 2010. Small talk, rapport, and international communicative competence: Lessons to learn from BELF. Journal of Business Communication 47(455-476). DOI: 10.1177/0021943610377307

I'm not sure how seriously Pullin (2010) takes the phatic function since she attributes phatic communication (no phatic communion) to Malinowski, which is a frequent confusion I now realize may have to do with Laver's re-printing of the Phatic Communion section in Communication in Face to Face Interaction (1972), which was titled "Phatic Communication". So the fault ultimately rests on John Laver.

The interesting parts in Puller's definition of phaticity is the take on "women's work", which is referred to a book about gender (Fletcher 1999), which may have taken its bearing from the likes of A. R. Hochschild's "Emotion Work, Feeling Rules, and Social Structure" (1979). Puller posits that "Small talk has often been regarded as peripheral or even a distraction in the workplace. Curiously, she says that "in linguistics, a general lack of interest in small talk has often been attributed to its categorization by Malinowski" (Puller 2010: 458), which takes a critical stance as implicitly hypothesizes that there would be more research on small talk if Malinowski had not written his essay. It is curious because almost all of the research I have surveyed ignore the critical aspects of Malinowski's essay and take his coinage without a qualm, perhaps quibbling only for its scarce treatment in some field or other. Most, also, do something with the base term, coining further terminological inventions (cf. "phatic bots" here). So, that's odd and gives off the distinct impression of being critical for the sake of being critical without actually considering the field - there are plenty of denigrating views of phaticity but I've only spotted a very tiny handful of comments, and mostly from female researchers in marginalized areas (Russia and Middle-East) where phaticity is attributed to women (sexist) or old people (ageist) in a generalizing manner (e.g. Olga Jur'evna's "Revisiting some linguistic gender markers of woman's speech in English chat communication and blogs and mechanisms of women self-presentation in the English computer-mediated communication" (2014) says in the abstract: Female communication is phatic.").

Puller also commits the "phatic theory" sin of defining it by negation: "[Malinowski] implied that small talk was devoid of information" (ibid, 458). The trouble is, information theory followed Malinowski's essay by some two and a half decades. Porter's "communicating ideas" is commendable in this sense because it's straight from Malinowski's essay, and bringing Aristotle to bear on pure sociabilities is the right way to go about it because Malinowski's phraseology does include serving any purpose of communicating ideas (wandering thought: Jakobson's writings on the ends and means topic that explain his particular brand of linguistic functional structuralism could be a worthwhile venture to corroborate on Malinowski's "social function").

Building trust is a key component of the phatic function - and building trust is often cited as a key factor in intercultural and cross-cultural communication and particularly for intercultural virtual teamwork (Rush Hovde, 2014). For a team to perform effectively and do its work as a team, it helps to have social cohesion. (Porter 2017: 183)

On the face of it, trust is most definitely not a key component of the linguistic phatic function. But it is in the center of anthropological phatic communion, because it can serve as a softened version of the implicit xenophobia in Malinowski's essay. Particularly with regard to the representative anecdote, "When a number of people sit together at a village fire" (PC 1.2), which is in direct contrast with numerous pronouncements in Malinowski's doctoral thesis where he reports the datum in literature that "Under no circumstances is a strange native allowed to approach the fire of a married man" and how there were rules that "show clearly that each hut, each fire-place, was reserved for one family" (1913a: 164). On the one hand a derived image of people casually sitting around a fireplace but without a specification of whether it is a festive occasion like it would be in a modern Western culture or a fireplace near a literal family encampment. Such information would have profound implications for the later remarks about fear of the stranger.

Trust is most definitely a component of phatic function per se, i.e. Roman Jakobson's interpretation, which does not address the psychological connection between the addresser and addressee beyond the words "psychological connection". Jakobson was not a psychologist, and where his interests met psychology had to do with aphasia and child language development. Only in a German paper does he mention the Naturvölker, whose speech is reportedly on par with a child or a neuropathological patient. As a proponent of the linguistic study of poetry (let's not forget that the paper in which the definition of the phatic function appeared carried the title "Linguistics and Poetics") and the psychological connection between the addresser and addressee is rather vague in his writings, having to do with the author, and the intended receiver, of a poem.

Now that I think about it, Jakobson's meagre few writings on the phatic function, even the ones only tangentially related to the topic, deal with trust in only two rather indirect ways. One has to do with the communication radius: the intended receiver of a message can be a specific person as well as no-one in particular, addressed To Whom It May Concern, an ancient letter salutation used when the letter has no contact person and is thus open to be read by everyone. Such is the case, for example, of published poems, which may have originally been addressed to a specific person but is now on record as a literary work. Jakobson's own writing on the matter, written in explanation to "Linguistics and Poetics", deals with the communicative life-cycle of E. A. Poe's "The Raven", and paints a very technical image of the transmission of a linguistic message through various meta-channels (on-hearing, reading).

The other piece of trivial, unformed nonsense about Jakobson's phatic function is the tangential connection with the contours of a relationship and particularly its discontinuation. Somewhat poetically, seeing as love and death are the two major leitmotifs of poetry in general, Jakobson combines these in the death of a romantic relationship, including the image of a poet (like Pushkin) gloating about the fantastic joy of running away from your wife-to-be on the wedding altar, and the poetics of permanent loss of contact in "Language in Operation" (the companion-piece about The Raven), where the life-cycle of the poem includes both intra- and extra-textual contiguous frames, reaching down to the previous owner of the talking bird who must have taught it the word "Nevermore" with which the bird tormented its new owner over the death of his beloved wife. With this added context, I believe, the exchange of "Well"'s between the newlyweds in Dorothy Parker's short story carries an additional emphasis with the problem of achieving trust in a new relationship and the confusing phase of insecurity where the discontinuation of communication, the trust in the relationship, is most vulnerable.

In their research, Jarvenpaa et al. (2004) did not explicitly reference phatic communication, but that is what they are talking about when they emphasize the importance, first, of team members maintaining contact with others on the team. The first component of trust is simply signaling to the coworker that he or she is there, present, and attentive - and of course in a virtual environment the person's body isn't physically there, so the employee signals here presence via email, chat spaces, notes on a shared document, video presence, and so on. This is important early in the team-building process, but maintaining presence is also important throughout a project. (Porter 2017: 184)

REFERENCE: Jarvenpaa, Sirkka L.; Thomas R. Shaw and D. Sandy Staples 2004. Toward contextualized theories of trust: The role of trust in global virtual teams. Information Systems Research 15(3): 250-267. DOI: 10.1287/isre.1040.0028

The abstract is definitely intriguing: "there has been little theorizing to explain how trust evokes sentiments". Whether or not the personal bonds created in polite social exchanges are powerful enough to evoke common sentiments is at the exact core of the Malinowski's criticism of Durkheim, who did not make it clear enough how feelings and ideas are supposed to meld into collective consciousness through public speech. The relevant bit here is probably this: "In face-to-face situations, Meyerson et al. (1996) emphasize that members must observe behavioral evidence - others acting in a trusting manner - to maintain their trust in the team. Communication behavior within the team assures a member of the others' existence - proof that someone else is out there" (Jarvenpaa, Shaw, and Staples 2004: 254).

"Existence" is extreme but understandable for 1998, when the paper was received by the journal. By now the term in vogue is copresence, focused on the "ambient" nature of being constantly in potential connection with people far exceeding Dunbar's number and can be more assured in the existence (continued communication and information sharing) of an unimaginable multitude. These "IT-enabled relationships" are so ubiquitous nowadays that Malinowski's criticism of Durkheim, Simmel, and Wundt on the grounds of accepting the concept of "collective consciousness" should be placed under scrutiny with regard to our new forms of "communicating ideas", which appear to exceed "a man speaking to a crowd [and] entering into communion with it [with] a grandiloquence that would be ridiculous in ordinary circumstances" (Durkheim 1915: 210). James Porter, actually, is the ideal person to take a look at the connection between Malinowski's "demon of terminological invention" and Durkheim's "demon of oratorical inspiration" (ibid, 210).

Trust is especially important in context operating with what Jarvenpaa et al. (2004) called "weak structure" (i.e., teams that havevery little shared social history, are not tied to a common physical location, that are ad hoc and temporary, etc.). (Porter 2017: 184)

Might as well just read Mark Granovetter's "The Strength of Weak Ties" (1973).

These findings about phatic presence, connectedness, and social cohesion have been reinfurced in other research, including Pavel Zemliansky's (2012) study of intercultural virtual teamwork (based on a classroom involving students from the United States and Ukraine):
Teams which managed to establish more systematic and regular patterns of collaboration and information exchange produced better documents [...] levels of frustration in those teams were lower because their members had developed multiple and redundant communication channels (email, Facebook, class wiki, and so on), which gave them the ability to restart communication quickly. (p. 282)
The participants in the study reported "unanimously that social interactions and 'small talk' were very important" to their teamwork. (Porter 2017: 184)

"Phatic presence" would literally be the presence of speech, which makes very little sense (outside, for example, from the fact of communicating perspective). Here, phaticity amounts to redundant communication channels. In the long run I should probably re-read Vincent Miller and Julia Elyachar with an eye to this network perspective, which has a heavy leaning on the consummation factor of sustaining the communication network connecting a group of people.

Researchers may not always use the word phatic in describing the focus of their studies, but, in effect, that is what they are describing. For instance, in his research on international teamwork Jakob Lauring (2011) called for "informal interaction practices" that aim at building trust. And he emphasized the importance of "micro dynamics of human interaction," or the informal exchanges that build relationships in the first place. Such "micro-level strategic actions," or phatic interactions, have a significant effect on the quality and effectiveness of intercultural exchange. (Porter 2017: 185)

This is a frequent case. One of the earliest entries in this regard is Leon Festinger's "Informal Social Communication" (1950). There are probably many strands of research that are effectively about phatic communion but do not use the, perhaps justly off-putting, anthrpological term. One that immediately comes to mind is the study of rumours and gossip in the 1970s. As to the micro dynamics, this could lead down to - possibly due to the emphasis on power in Lauring's paper - to Nancy Henley's (1977) work, at the very least.

The job of content curation is a task traditionally associated with library science and includes maintaining, organizing, tagging, and editing content created by others. (Porter 2017: 185)

This is about the third of fourth such instance where library or collection tasks parallel the channel operations of Jakobson's phatic function. This probably merits more consideration in the future, particularly in the field of crown organization of knowledge. In summary, good paper.


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