Different cultures, different languages, different speech acts. Polish vs. English

Anna Wierzbicka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

365 Citations (Scopus)


This paper discusses a number of differences between English and Polish in the area of speech acts, and links them with different cultural norms and cultural assumptions. It is shown that English, as compared with Polish, places heavy restrictions on the use of the imperative and makes extensive use of interrogative and conditional forms. Features of English which have been claimed to be due to universal principles of politeness are shown to be language-specific and culture-specific. Moreover, even with respect to English, they are shown to be due to aspects of culture much deeper than mere norms of politeness. Linguistic differences are shown to be associated with cultural differences such as spontaneity, directness, intimacy and affection vs. indirectness, distance, tolerance and anti-dogmaticism. Certain characteristic features of Australian English are discussed and are shown to reflect some aspects of the Australian ethos. Implications for a theory of speech acts and for interethnic communication are discussed. In particular, certain influential theories of speech acts (based largely on English) are shown to be ethnocentric and dangerous in their potential social effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-178
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1985


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