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The Persian cultural schema of shekasteh-nafsi: A study of compliment responses in Persian and Anglo-Australian speakers

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This study is as an attempt to explicate the Persian cultural schema of shekasteh-nafsi ‘modesty’. The schema motivates the speakers to downplay their talents, skills, achievements, etc. while praising a similar trait in their interlocutors. The schema also encourages the speakers to reassign the compliment to the giver of the compliment, a family member, a friend, or another associate. This paper explicates the schema in an ethnographic fashion and also makes use of empirical data to further explore how the schema may be represented in Persian speakers’ replies to compliments. A Discourse Completion Test and its translated version in English were used to collect Persian and English data from two groups of Iranian and Australian participants. The Australian group mainly served as a reference group. The results revealed that speakers of Persian largely instantiated the cultural schema of shekasteh-nafsi in their responses to compliments. The data from the Australians did not reflect a similar schema but showed a certain degree of overlap with the Persian responses in downplaying the trait that was the target of the compliment. The study is hoped to increase intercultural understanding, a phenomenon that needs desperate attention and exploration, perhaps more than ever in the history of human interaction.
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Keywords: Persian pragmatics; compliment responses; cultural schema; intercultural communication

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Monash University, Melbourne

Publication date: 2005-01-01

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