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Unformatted text preview: or being away from one's home, on someone else's territory, or on
a potentially dangerous path. To answer such a greeting may imply that
one commits oneself not only to the truthfulness of one's assertion but also
to the appropriateness of one's actions. It is not by accident, then, that in
some cases speakers might try to be as evasive as possible. Samoans, for
instance, often reply to the "where are you going?" greeting question with
the vague 'to do an errand' (fai le fe'au). Even when they give what appear
to be more specific statements such as "I'm going to buy something," "I'm
going to wait for the bus," and "I'm going to Apia," speakers are still
holding on to their right to release only a minimum amount of information—with bragging being an obvious exception ("I'm going down to the
store to buy a five pound can of corn beef for Alesana!"). Just as in the
Malagasy situation discussed by Elinor Ochs Keenan (1976), the tendency
in these encounters is to violate Grice's (1975) cooperative principle and not
to be too informative.
The violation of this principle, however, does not have the same implications discussed by Sacks (1975) regarding the American passing-by greeting Universal and Culture-Specific Properties of Greetings 85 "How are you?". In the American case, the common assumption is that the
party who asks the question as a greeting is not really interested in an
accurate or truthful answer. It is this lack of interest that justifies what Sacks
sees as a social justification for "lying." People are expected to provide a
positive assessment (fine, good, okay) regardless of how they are actually
doing or feeling at the moment. In the Samoan case, instead, questioners
would like to know as much as possible about the other's whereabouts, and
the vagueness in the answer is an attempt by the responding party to resist
the information-seeking force of the greeting. Furthermore, the consequences of one's answer are also different. Whereas in the American English
greeting substitute "How are you?", as argued by Sacks, a lie is a preferred
answer regardless of its truth value, in the case of the Samoan ''Where are
you going?" greeting, vagueness is conventionally accepted, but violation
of truth is potentially problematic if later detected.
That the Samoan "Where are you going" greeting is, at least in part, about
rights and duties, expectations, and possible violations is shown by the fact
that, when questioned by someone with higher authority, Samoan speakers
might be expected to give more specific answers. Likewise, they might
display their uneasiness about a situation in which they have been placed,
uneasiness about the very fact of being visible and hence vulnerable to
public questioning by someone with authority. This is indeed the case in
(15) below. In this example, the inspection committee encounters a group
of young men on the road. One of the members of the committee, the orator
Tola'i, recognizes a young man from his extended family and addresses
(15) [Inspection] A 1 Tala'i: fea (a)li('i) a alu iai le kou—kengi 'i uka? B 2 Young man: se vange afionga ali'i ma kulafale makou ke a aku 'i uka Where (sir) are you going inland with your pals?
With your permission, honorable chiefs and orato...
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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