Linguistic Politeness in Javanese

Linguistic Politeness in Javanese

Agus Subiyanto and Astri Adriani Allien

Brown and Levinson’s (1978) discussion on linguistic politeness has been used by some scholars (cf. Adegbija, 1989 , Rhodes, 1989) as a basis of their analysis on politeness strategies in some languages such as in Ogori, Yoruba, and Ojibwa. Two main types of politeness have been proposed by Brown and Levinson, which are, positive and negative politeness. Positive politeness is the one which is used to satisfy the speaker’s needs of approvaland belonging, whereas, negative politeness is the one which has the main goal of minimising of a face-threatening act (Brown and Levinson, 1978:134).
Based on the concept of politeness mentioned above, I am going to discuss positive politeness strategies reflected in the use of high speech levels in Javanese, a regional language in Indonesia spoken mostly by Javanese people. In addition to this, I am going to argue that positive politeness can actually be conventionalised. This will be shown in the discussion below that the use of speech levels in Javanese is governed in the Javanese society. Another politeness strategy I am going to discuss is the use of Krama Inggil and Krama Andap words, which are, words used to show respect to elders or superiors, occurring in all speech levels of Javanese. At the end of the discussion, I will highlight a strategy of negative politeness reflected in the use of ‘indirectness’ and ‘pretence’ in Javanese.

Linguistic /Verbal Politeness

Lakoff (1975) states that politeness is something developed in societies in order to reduce friction in personal interaction. Furthermore, she said that to be polite is saying the socially correct thing. She also mentions that there are many types of behaves that can be called polite, and she indicates that some forms of politeness are linguistic and some are non-linguistic.
Linguistic politeness is defined by Ide (1989) as the language usage associated with smooth communication, which is realised through the speaker’s use of intentional strategies to allow his message to be received favourably by the addresses. Smooth communication is also realised through the speaker’s choice of expressions to conform to the expected and or prescribed norms of speech appropriate to the contextual situation in individual speech communities (Ide, 1989: 225).

Other scholars discussing politeness phenomena are Brown and Levinson (1978). They discuss politeness phenomena from the notion of ‘face’. They claim that there are two aspects of face, which are, positive face and negative face. Furthermore, they state that positive face is the want of every member of a society that his wants be desirable to at least some others, whereas negative face is defined as the want of every competent adult member that his action be unimpeded by others (Brown and Levinson, 1978: 68). Based on this notion of face, Brown and Levinson propose two types of politeness, which are, positive and negative politeness. Positive politeness is the one directed to the addressee’s positive face wants, whereas negative politeness is the one addressed to the addressee’s negative face (1978:134).
In line with the Brown and Levinson’s (1978) discussion of politeness, I would like to discuss how positive politeness is reflected in the use of speech levels in the Javanese society. Another positive politeness strategy which will also be shown below is the use of Krama Inggil and Krama Andap words. I will also show how negative politeness is reflected in the practice of indirectness in the Javanese community. Before discussing these politeness strategies, however, I am going to briefly air the major factors that influence the selection and usage of the speech levels in Javanese.
Basically there are three factors which influence the choice of using a certain speech level in Javanese, which are, age, social status, and formality. In Javanese, to speak to an elder, a younger person is supposed to show politeness, that is, by using a higher level of speech. The use of a higher level of speech is also expected from a person when speaking to the person of a higher social status. The social status is very important for Javanese so that the need for showing politeness to a person of a higher social status is sometimes bigger than that to an elder. This depends on how different the social status is between the speaker and the addressee. Another factor that influences the use of the speech levels is formality. If the situation is formal, the speaker is expected to use a higher level of speech. The formal situation happens for example in traditional or cultural meetings. In this paper, however, I will focuss the discussion on the selection of speech levels based on two factors, which are, age and social status. The use of the speech levels will be discussed in detail below.
Javanese Strategies for Linguistic Politeness
1. The use of Speech Levels
There are basically three speech levels in Javanese. These speech levels indicate the attitude of the speaker toward the addressee. Ngoko is the level of unmarked social attitude. It indicates closeness and informality. Krama is the formal and polite level, and Madya is the semi-formal level.
The use of the three speech levels of the language is very much influenced by various degrees of social distance between speaker and hearer. The degrees of social distance are influenced by the three factors as mentioned in the previous discussion, which are, age, social status and formality. The following are illustrations of how to know whether the speaker and the hearer are close, distant or semi-distant.
Two students of about the same age and economic background are considered as close , therefore, when they communicate to each other, they use the same level of the language, that is, Ngoko.. Semi-distant relation occurs if, for example, the speaker is a high school student, and the addressee is an older brother, a university student. In this situation, the speaker is expected to use Madya when talking to his her older brother. His older brother, on the other hand, will use Ngoko when talking to his younger brother or sister. Another example of semi-distant relation is between two people of about the same age who do not know each other. When these two people communicate to each other, they both are expected to use Madya. Another degree of social distance, that is distant relation, occurs in the conversation, for example, between a student and a teacher. In this distant situation, the student is expected to use Krama, and the teacher will use Ngoko. This distant level of relation also occurs between a child and his or her parent, a child and his/her uncle, and a child and his/her aunts. The distant relation also occurs between two people of about the same high social status but who do not know each other very well (ie. they are not friends). In order to show respect to each other, these two people are expected to use the same high level of speech, that is, Krama.
The use of Krama, Madya or Ngoko is simply a matter of vocabulary substitution. These three speech levels are not different in morphology or syntax (Poedjosoedarno, 1986: 67). The following are examples of Ngoko, Madya and Krama.
(Ngoko) : kowe wis lunga nyang Pak Kerta apa durung ?
you already go to Mr Kerta or not yet (have you gone to see Mr. Kerta ?)
(Madya) : sampeyan sampun kesah wonten Pak Kerta menapa dereng ?
you already go to Mr Kerta or not yet (Have you gone to see Mr. Kerta?)
(Krama) : Panjenengan sampun tindak wonten Pak Kerta punapa dereng ?
you already go to Mr Kerta or not yet (Have you gone to see Mr. Kerta?)

The examples show that the difference between the sentences in Ngoko, Madya and Krama above relates with the difference of the lexicon, not of the syntax or the morphology. The word for ‘you’ for example, will have three different forms , which are ‘kowe’ (ie. in Ngoko, ), ‘sampeyan’ ( in Madya ) and ‘panjenengan’ ( in Krama.). There are some words, however, which have the same form for Madya and Krama such as the word for ‘already’, which has the form sampun in Madya and Krama , and the word for ‘not’ which has the same form (ie. dereng) both for Krama and Madya.
The use of the higher levels of speech, Krama or Madya , instead of Ngoko to show respect to an elder or superiors is socially and culturally governed. Javanese people are socially expected to obey this kind of politeness strategy in order to respect to elders or superiors. A person will be considered impolite or rude if he or she does not show his respect when talking to elders or superiors. Elders or superiors, on the other hand, are expected to show their good attitudes or behaviour because they will become a good figure or example for younger persons that they can imitate. What elders or superiors say should be obeyed by the younger, especially when the relation between the elder and the younger is distant. This is due to the Javanese myth that elders or superiors are always correct. The society think that elders or superiors have got much experience in their life (ie of being elders or superiors) so that they think that what elders or superiors has done is surely more ‘correct’ than what the younger has done. This Javanese myth has put the position of elders or superiors higher than the younger. This is one of reasons why a younger person should show respect to his elders or superiors.

The use of higher speech level as discussed above is one of strategies of showing politeness to elders or superiors. This strategy is used to show positive politeness as this is directed to the positive- face want of elders or superiors, that is, the want of being respected.
3. The use of ‘Indirectness’ Strategy
Apart from the strategies of showing positive politeness as discussed above, Javanese also employs ‘indirectness’ as a strategy of showing negative politeness. This ‘indirectness’ strategy is used to minimise the acts which can threaten face such as orders and requests, advice, offers, expression of hatred, criticism, and disagreement.
In Javanese culture, it is very sensitive to give orders, to give advice, to show one’s dislike upon the addressee, to express criticism or to show disagreement. These acts that can threaten face are even more sensitive if they are done by a younger person toward elders or superiors. According to Javanese cultural norm, a younger person is not expected to give orders, to give advice or to express criticism to elders or superiors. If, however, the younger person has to give advice to an elder, for example, he has to express it in a very polite way, that is, by using ‘indirect language’. In this case, the younger as the speaker is not expected to express explicitly what he wants or what he feels, rather he is expected to say something else in such a way that the addressee can understand what the speaker really wants him to do. This Javanese norm can be illustrated in a cultural script proposed by Wierzbicka (1991 : 101) as follows. I cant’t say to someone : ‘ I want you to do X’ someone could feel something bad because of this I have to say something else In Javanese culture, one must get the rasa (‘feeling’) of what the speaker is saying. The hearer will understand (ie. by using his rasa ‘feeling’ ) what the speaker means in his indirect language. Therefore, it is impolite to say explicitly what the speaker wants or feels because this will be considered not to use his rasa ‘feeling’. The idea of using indirectness is, therefore, to avoid a conflict which may possibly happen between the speaker and the addressee. In the following, I will give an example of how a Javanese person shows indirectness in asking for something. The situation is as follows. Speaker A, who is from a village, is going travelling to Jakarta. He wants to ask his friend who is living in Jakarta if he can stay the night there.
A : Mardi, aku arep lunga nyang Jakarta sesok (Mardi, I am going to Jakarta tomorrow)
M : Terus, kowe nginep nyang endi (Where are you going to stay the night ?)
A : embuh durung ngerti aku ( I don’t know yet)
M : nginep wae nyang nggoku (Just come to stay the night in my house)
A : ora ah nddak ngrepoti (No, I don’t want to bother you)
M : ora, aku ora merasa repot, aku seneng kowe nginep kene ( No, it’s okey, I like you to stay the night here)
A : mengko ngrepoti ? ( I will bother you, won’t I ? )
M : ora ora, wis ta nginep kene (exactly no, just stay the night here)
A : ya wis lah (okey)
The example shows that Speaker A did not explicitly express what he wants. He said that he wants to go to Jakarta and he has not got to know where to stay. As a Javanese, Mardi (ie. the addressee) should use his rasa ‘feeling’ to understand that A actually needs his help, that is, he needs a place to stay. Therefore, Mardi would directly understand that A might want to stay at his place because A knows that Mardi stays in Jakarta. When Mardi was offering his place for A to stay, Speaker A, however, was not expected to accept Mardi’s offer directly because Mardi might only want to show politeness (ie. by offering his place to stay). Speaker A should understand whether or not Mardi was genuinely offering his place for him to stay. As Mardi insisted his offer, A then maight think that Mardi truely offered his place for A. Therefore, A then could accept the offer.
The illustration as shown above shows that indirectness is closely related to another Javanese cultural norm that Geertz called ‘dissimulation’ or ‘pretence’ (wierzbicka, 1991: 100). As shown in the above example that Speaker A, who actually wants to stay in Mardi’s house, pretends as if he does not want to stay there, that is, by not accepting Mardi’s offer directly. Mardi, on the other hand, knows whether A was pretending or not, that is by checking A’s reponse toward Mardi’s offer. Therefore, Mardi repeated his offer several times to know whether A was actually pretending or not. If, for example, A was not pretending, A surely would give strong reasons for not accepting Mardi’s offer.
Javanese people, therefore, will understand that if they offer something for a person and the person says ‘no’, he does not always mean ‘no’ He only wants to be polite by not accepting the first offer. On the other hand, if a Javanese person offers something to someone, sometimes he does not mean to offer it. He merely wants to show that he is polite. Therefore, by repeating the offer, he can show that he really wants to offer something (ie. food, for example ).
From the discussion above we can see that ‘indirectness’ is closely related to ‘pretence’. These cultural norms are used by Javanese as a strategy of showing negative politeness, that is, to minimise the face threat. People who want to communicate to Javanese very well should know these cultural norms so that they will not misunderstand what Javanese people mean in their speech.
Javanese employs higher speech levels, which are, Madya and Krama as a strategy of showing positive politeness. These higher speech levels are used to show respect to elders or superiors as they are the targets of positive politeness. In addition to this, Javanese also employs Krama Inggil and Krama Andap words to show respect to elders or superiors. These Krama Inggil and Krama Andap words occur in all speech levels (ie. Ngoko, Madya and Krama ) of Javanese. This shows that Javanese people are expected to show their respect to elders or superiors in any situations, formal or informal, even though when the elders or superiors are being a refferent or the third person in the conversation .
Javanese use indirectness and pretence as strategies of showing negative politeness. The idea behind these cultural norms relates to the fact that Javanese must get the rasa ‘feeling’ of what people are saying. These indirectness and pretence strategies are used to show negative politeness, that is, to minimise the face- threatening acts.

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