Politeness on Facebook: The case of Greek birthday wishes

Irene Theodoropoulou

Abstract

Facebook forms one of the most widely used online social networks, through which people manage their communication with diverse contacts or ‘friends’, ranging from members of the family and schoolmates to work colleagues and popular cultural idols or other people, whom they admire. Hence, it can be seen as an integral part of people’s digital presence. Against this backdrop, the aim of this paper is to investigate the ways politeness is constructed in a context, in which it is not very typical to find politeness in the Western world: The reception of birthday wishes. The focus is on the (para)linguistic reception of birthday wishes on behalf of 400 native Greek users of Facebook, aged between 25–35 years old, as evidenced in the ways they respond to birthday wishes posted on their walls. By using a combination of interactional sociolinguistics, discourse-centered online ethnography and offline ethnographic interviews, I argue that native speakers of Greek do not just stick to the politic behavior found in other languages, like English, of personally thanking their friends for their birthday wishes; rather, they employ contextualization cues, such as shifts in spelling, emoticons and punctuation markers, in order to construct frames and footings of politeness by actually reciprocating the wishes they received from their friends. The value of this study lies not only in being, to my knowledge, the first description and interpretation of an important cultural phenomenon for Greeks, which is the exchange of birthday wishes, but also it contributes towards understanding politeness in online environments, such as Facebook, which in turn is used for establishment and maintenance of interpersonal relationships, hence it can lead to smooth communication.

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