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Duranti1997_Greetings - Alessandro Duranti UNIVERSITY OF...

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Alessandro Duranti UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES Universal and Culture-Specific Properties of Greetings The literature on greetings includes several commonly made claims that require an agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a greeting exchange. I propose six criteria for identifying greetings across languages and speech communities. Applying these criteria to a speech community in Western Samoa, I identify four types of greeting exchanges there. These exchanges show, contra claims in the greetings literature, that not all greetings are devoid ofpropositional content and that they need not be "expressive" acts of the type proposed by speech act theory. In greetings, Samoans accomplish various social acts, including searching for new information and sanctioning social behavior. T here is widespread evidence that greetings are an important part of the communicative competence necessary for being a member of any speech community. 1 They are often one of the first verbal routines learned by children and certainly one of the first topics introduced in foreign language classes. They are also of great interest to analysts of social interaction, who see them as establishing the conditions for social encoun- ters. It is not surprising, then, to find out that there is a considerable number of ethological, linguistic, sociological, and ethnographic studies of greet- ings. But despite the attention greetings have received in the social sciences, there is to date no generalizable definition of greetings and therefore no systematic way for deciding what qualifies as "greetings" in a particular speech community. Nonetheless, researchers have felt at ease identifying "greetings" in different languages and providing hypotheses about what greetings "do" for or to people. In this article, I suggest that this has been Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 7(l):63-97. Copyright © 1997, American Anthropological Association.
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64 Journal of Linguistic Anthropology possible due to the widespread belief that greetings are verbal formulas with virtually no propositional content (Searle 1969) or zero referential value (Youssouf et al. 1976). Students of greetings have argued that people are either not believed to "mean" whatever they say during greetings or they are seen as "lying" (see Sacks 1975). In fact, I will argue, these claims are not always tenable. As I will show, not all greetings are completely predictable and devoid of propositional content. Before making such a claim, however, I must establish some independent criteria by which to determine whether a given expression or exchange should qualify as a "greeting." Short of such criteria, critics might always argue that the appar- ent counterexamples are not greetings at all. In what follows I first briefly review the existing literature on greetings in a variety of fields and identify some of the factors that contributed to the common belief that greetings are formulas with no propositional content.
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