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The British are world leaders in thanks

Christian Lendl Queenwbe

British English speakers may well be world leaders in saying ‘thank you’, an international study suggests.

The sample included eight languages over five continents: English, Italian, Russian and Polish as well as four small-community languages, including Murrinhpatha (Northern Australia), Lao (Laos), Siwu (Ghana) and Cha’palaa (Ecuador).

Overall findings show that the British offer thanks in 14.5 per cent of instances where it is possible to do so, shortly followed by the Italians (13.5 per cent).

The frequency of saying ‘thank you’ after a successful request in any of the other six languages was only 4.5 per cent or below.

Researchers also took into account alternative forms of expressing gratefulness, such as ‘good job’ and ‘sweet’, or non-verbal acknowledgement, such as nodding one’s head. Overall, participants expressed gratitude in some way in 88 per cent of cases.

All the samples, collected through video recording everyday social interactions, provided ‘evidence of a high degree of prosociality across cultures’, the study said.

A peculiar example of gratitude comes from the Australian language Murrinhpatha, where it is common practice to thank someone with ‘that’s right, you’re beautiful’. Cameras were placed in household and community contexts where participants interacted with family members as well as members of their community on a daily basis.

Each language’s footage ranged in length from ten to over ninety hours over a two-year period.

Sequences were analysed by an expert in each language, with a focus on both quantitative and qualitative analysis.

Findings suggest that ‘the maintenance of social reciprocity does not depend on the verbalisation of gratitude’ as gratefulness can be expressed in a variety of ways. American linguistic Lynne Murphy pointed out that Americans say ‘thank you’ twice as much as Britons. At the same time, in their conversational data, the British use ‘sorry’ four times more than Americans.

Dr Murphy, who also teaches at Sussex University, told the EL Gazette: ‘Americans use “excuse me” for more things than Brits do, and “sorry” can be used in the same kinds of context as “thank you” sometimes. So, it’s a word that’s used more in one country than another, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sentiment that’s used at four times the rate.’.

⇒ Universals and cultural diversity in the expression of gratitude, Simeon Floyd et al (various universities). Royal Society Open Science tinyurl.com/ycu7v9yp

Pic courtesy: Christian Lendl