Every culture has its own repertoire of characteristic speech acts and speech genres. The idea that different cultures can be studied and compared via their characteristic speech genres has by now become widely accepted, although it is seldom recognized that this statement applies to simple speech acts as much as to complex speech genres. The authors of a recent study (Fracer – Rintell – Walters,1980: 78) say that their research is based on the following assumptions: “Every language makes available to the user the same basic set of speech acts, such as requesting, apologizing,declaring, and promising, with the exception of certain culture-specific ritualized acts such as baptizing, doubling at bridge, and excommunicating”. Underlying this assumption is “the claim that if one language permits an act such as requesting, every other language will. Though there may be certain exceptions as moves from the basic everyday acts such as requesting to the more culture-specific ones such as baptizing, exceptions to this claim have not arisen and do not appear likely, given what we know today about language”
Some examples: English vs. Japanese
There are many languages which have no exact equivalent of the word “warning” and which have, instead, words for models of communication which have no equivalents in English. For example, Japanese has the word “satosu” , which combines some of the components of the English concept codified in the word “warning” with some other components: an assumption that the speaker has authority over the addressee, the intention of protecting the addressee from evil, and good feelings toward the addressee (see Nevile, 1981). In English, the assumption of authority is encoded in verbs such as order and forbid , but it is never combined (lexically) with the intention to protect. This combination of components: “I am your superior; I am responsible for you; I don’t want you to do anything bad; I care for you”, is a characteristic feature of Japanese culture, in which the relationship between a superior and subordinate is likened to that between a parent and a child (see Nakane, 1970, 1972; Lebra 1976; Smith 1983), and this feature is reflected in the meaning of the Japanese verb “satosu”. Using semantic metalanguage based on universal semantic primitives shows that both the similarities and the differences between different speech acts clearly and explicitly.