Referential and non-referential (im)politeness

The trainer’s speech in a new employee orientation in a Japanese company


  • Haruko Minegishi Cook University of Hawai'i at Manoa



(im)politeness, honorifics, referential and non-referential indices


Honorifics are non-referential indices that are generally understood as polite linguistic forms. Why do speakers use honorifics when they express a face-attacking referential message? Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory (1987) explains that the use of honorifics is a negative politeness strategy that mitigates an FTA (face-threatening act). However, the reason why honorifics co-occur with a face-attack probably involves more than mitigating an FTA. This article deals with a case of institutional impoliteness by examining a Japanese company’s new employee orientation discourse. This is a context in which impoliteness is ideologically legitimised and often deployed. At the same time, the goal of the orientation is to train new employees to behave in an extremely polite manner. By qualitatively analysing the speech of the trainer of a new employee orientation, this article concludes that the trainer’s use of honorifics while attacking the positive face of the new employees is a way of resolving the conflicting demands of a Japanese company. This article contributes to (im)politeness research in that it points to the importance of distinguishing referential and non-referential (im)politeness.

Author Biography

Haruko Minegishi Cook, University of Hawai'i at Manoa

Haruko Minegishi Cook is a professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Her research interests include Japanese linguistics, language socialisation, discourse analysis, and pragmatics. Her research explores how participants of social interactions utilise linguistic forms as a resource to construct a social world. Her major publications are a monograph entitled Socializing Identities through Speech Styles: Learners of Japanese as a Foreign Language, and co-edited volumes, Japanese at Work: Politeness, Power, and Personae in Japanese Workplace Discourse and Handbook of Language Socialization in Japan (in press). She has also published a number of articles in major journals and edited volumes.


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How to Cite

Cook, H. M. (2021). Referential and non-referential (im)politeness: The trainer’s speech in a new employee orientation in a Japanese company. East Asian Pragmatics, 6(1), 109–134.