Solidarity and Power in Czech and Japanese: A Comparative Analysis

Masako Ueda Fidler, Brown University

Solidarity and power are two components of the semantic model proposed by Brown and Gilman (1960) which are said to play a significant role in human communication. Speech strategies expressing solidarity occur between speech participants of equal status, whereas strategies expressing power are found between participants of different statuses. The interaction between language and solidarity/power has been examined further in American English (Brown and Ford 1961/64, Ervin-Tripp 1972), French and Spanish (Lampert and Tucker 1976), and Italian (Bates and Benigni 1975) especially in the area of pronominal reference.

The present paper will examine the interaction between morphosyntax and power semantics in Czech and Japanese. These historically and culturally distant languages have been chosen for analysis for the following reasons:

    (1) Japanese is considered to be a language that has grammaticalized various degrees of politeness (Maynard 1997);
    (2) Czech is considered to be a language that is sensitive to degrees of formality with its complex pronominal system of reference which historically involved four modes of address (tyk·nĚ, vykanĚ, onk·nĚ and onik·nĚ) (Cmejrkov· 1996, Kraus 1996);
    (3) Both Czech and Japanese are capable of not only lexically but grammatically signalling a a variety of speech registers.

In other words, Czech and Japanese have well-developed formal and lexical means to report speech participant relationships including solidarity and power.

A comparison of these languages on the basis of political speeches and translations of literary texts with input from native informants will demonstrate the following:

    (1) while the so-called polite forms in Japanese are generally regarded as reporting distance between speech participants, in certain genres they can also serve as a means to express solidarity between them;
    (2) while the Common Czech forms are said to occur in private and in-group relationships (Kr“mov·1997), they can be employed to signal differences in status among speech participants, i.e., power.

A comparative approach will also enable us to see how frequently-used concepts such as formal/informal and politeness have different pragmatic contents.