Rapport Management in Thai and Japanese Social Talk During Group Discussions

Ataya Aoki


According to Hofstedes (2003) often quoted survey, Japanese and Thai cultures rank high on the
collectivist scale and both cultures attach the greatest importance to group harmony. Accordingly, we
should see similar characteristics in Japanese and Thai speakers during discussions within their respective
social groups. However, this is not the case. This paper examines social talk during the task-oriented
interaction of Japanese and Thai speakers. The analysis focuses on how the speakers of Japanese and Thai
present themselves and construct rapport in casual group talk. Using the concept of consciousness
deployed in idea units (Chafe 1980, 1994) and some semantic considerations, I identify three major
differences in rapport construction between Japanese and Thai speakers. First, Japanese participants
prefer to build common ground through discussion of communal topics and through dealing with the
comprehensiveness and the orderliness of the situation, whereas Thai participants incline toward
Individual-oriented topics and independent styles of talk. Second, the Japanese show a preference for
using softening devices and conventionalized expressions in group discussion while the Thais tend to use
intensifiers and spontaneous expressions to indicate involvement and create a friendly and fun atmosphere.
Third, the Japanese like to demonstrate the minimization of self and the relevancy between the self and
the collective whereas the Thais value the capitalization of the self and the strengthening of personal
relationships. Japanese and Thai communicative styles can be viewed as reflection of the different way
the two cultures conceptualize the notion of rapport and the self. With regard to the component of rapport
management (Spencer-Oatey 2000), the Japanese place more emphasis on the observation of sociality
rights, while the Thais incline toward the management of face. This suggests that rapport construction in
collectivist cultures may possess totally different characters.

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