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Reciprocity and epistemicity: On the (proto)social and cross-cultural ‘value’ of information transmission

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/06/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Pragmatics
Number of pages17
Pages (from-to)54-70
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date4/05/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Reciprocity is a (proto)social mechanism that involves (im)politeness as a balance of positive and negative actions among individuals: doing something good to someone is expected to be reciprocated in kind (cf. Culpeper & Tantucci 2021). The same applies for negatively charged behaviour (Ibid.). The present study advances the theory of reciprocity both empirically and theoretically, as it extends the model to contexts of information transmission, i.e. cases where some news is being communicated from one interlocutor to another. What we found is that the way people react to ‘being informed of something’ remarkably involves (im)politeness and is mediated by two maxims of epistemic reciprocity: Engagement E (be interested) maxim and Knowledge exchange Ke maxim (be interesting in return). Our case study is centred on Chinese telephone conversations among family members and shows that the costs and benefits realised by an information giver are matched by the information receiver when a propositional contribution to the current flow of information is produced in return. Conversely, when responses occur via bare backchanneling or absence of informative contribution to the on-going interaction, then reciprocity is not properly maintained, and perceptions of impoliteness are more likely to arise. Despite the context-dependent nature of our data, we will further argue that this finding has cross-cultural significance. Our methods triangulate between Likert-scale judgments, large scale corpus-based analysis and multivariate conditional inference tree modelling (Levshina 2015; Tantucci 2021).