Journal of Intercultural Communication, issue 12, August 2006

Margaret Murphy and Mike Levy

Politeness in Intercultural Email Communication: Australian and Korean Perspectives


This paper presents initial results from analysis of data collected on the topic of politeness in intercultural email communication from a large cohort of Australian academic and general staff at an established metropolitan university. We were interested in the language used by these staff members while they conducted their initial email communication with their contacts overseas. The contacts overseas were, for example, fellow professional colleagues, representatives from educational institutions and foreign students. The staff members did not know personally their overseas email partners in the sense that they had not previously met face-to-face. In particular, we were interested in if and how the staff members incorporated politeness indicators in their email language and how they interpreted politeness, or lack thereof, in their incoming emails. The paper also describes and analyses the politeness strategies in intercultural emails used by a smaller cohort of Korean academics at seven universities in Korea. Results show differences in politeness, both in expectations and use, between Australian and Korean academics.

Themes and conceptual developments were identified in the primary data-gathering instrument, the questionnaire, using qualitative data analysis. The software package Leximancer was used for text analysis (Smith 2002). The software analysis confirms and strengthens our own qualitative analysis. Results show aspects such as formality in language and use of correct titles are important politeness considerations in intercultural email communication. These politeness considerations however, vary according to culture and results show many discrepancies on these and other aspects between the Australian and Korean data. Figures showing ranked themes display these results visually.

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