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support it. In the rest of this article, I will offer a brief discussion of Samoan
greetings as a way of assessing and refining some of the claims made so far.
In particular, I will be concerned with two main issues: (i) the relationship
between universal features and culture-specific instantiations of such features, and (ii) the distinction between verbal expressions that are greetings
and those that, although they might look like potential candidates, are not
It should be understood that what follows is not an exhaustive study of
Samoan greetings. Such a study would require a project expressively
designed with the goal of collecting all types of greetings used in Samoan
communities;9 in fact, as far as I know, such a comprehensive project has
never been attempted for any speech community. Although the data discussed here are drawn from a range of interactions originally recorded for
other purposes, they do contain a considerable number of exchanges that
qualify as greetings according to the above mentioned criteria. Furthermore, in using Samoan data, I have the advantage of relying on previous
studies of language in context carried out by myself or other researchers.
Four Types of Samoan Greetings
On the basis of the criteria mentioned above, I examined audio- and
videotaped data collected in a Western Samoan community during three
periods for a total of a year and a half of fieldwork.101 identified four types
of exchanges that can qualify as "greetings": (1) talofa greetings; (2) ceremonial greetings; (3) mate greetings; and (4) "where are you going?" greetings.11
The analysis presented here is also based on my own observation of and
participation in hundreds if not thousands of Samoan greeting exchanges.
Before discussing these four types of greetings, I need to mention a few
basic facts about the community where I worked; more detailed information on this community may be found in Duranti 1981 and 1994 and in Ochs
1988. (For a more comprehensive ethnography of Samoan social life, see
Despite modernization and a considerable amount of syncretism in
religious and political practices, members of the Western Samoan community where I carried out research still hang on to traditional Polynesian
values of family relations and mutual dependence. Their society is still
divided between titled individuals (matai) and untitled ones (taulele'a), and
the matai are distinguished according to status (chiefs, orators) and rank
(high chief, lower-ranking chiefs). Having atitleusually comes with rights
over land and its products and the duty to participate in decision-making
processes such as the political meetings called fono (see Duranti 1994).
Status and rank distinctions are pervasive in everyday and ceremonial life
in a Samoan village. The language marks such distinctions in a number of
ways, the most obvious of which is a special lexicon called 'upu fa'aaloalo
'respectful words' used in addressing people of high status and in talking Universal and Culture-Specific Properties of Greetings 73 about them in certain contexts (see Duranti 1992b; Milner 1961; Shore 1982).
Such words are p...
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This note was uploaded on 01/16/2014 for the course ANTHRO 33 taught by Professor Wertheim during the Spring '08 term at UCLA.
- Spring '08
- The Bible