This study investigates culture-specific speech acts and discourse principles, concentrating on English and Korean politeness. Features of English that have been claimed to be due to universal politeness rules or principles are seen to be language specific and culture-specific rather than universal. Unlike English, Korean politeness is mainly concerned with interrelationships between the members of the group-centred society, not with non-imposition or optionality. This study examines cases that cannot be explained by universal theories of politeness and investigates the problematic cases with different traditional values, different hierarchical values, and different cultural philosophies reflected in language.
In order to compare the differences in the concepts of politeness in English and Korean, along with the individual data illustrating Korean politeness, this study employs two kinds of experiment. The first experiments show that indirectness does not correlate with politeness in Korean. The perceptions and degrees of politeness in Korean are different from Hebrew and English. The second experiment shows that the concepts embodied in Korean gongsonhada (corresponding to 'polite') are different from those of Japanese teineina and English polite. In particular, friendliness is not a characteristic of Korean politeness. The statistical results show that Korean gongsonhada is oriented to both discernment and volition, while Japanese teineina is oriented to discernment and English polite is oriented to volition.
The present research supports the assumption that politeness phenomena should be explained by language-specific norms of interaction with specific cultural values.