Important Concepts for the Analysis of Greetings

Greetings as Speech Acts: The notion of greetings as "speech acts" is based on an approach to human communication called "speech act theory" according to which to use language means to "do things" or "perform." If speaking is acting in the world or on the world, informing is only one of the acts we perform by using language. We also make requests, order people around, scold, praise, congratulate, warn, promise, threat, reassure, and greet. There are, in other words, many different types of speech acts and greetings are one type.

Greeting expressions: "Greeting expressions" refer to the specific lexical items or phrases that count as "greetings" in a given speech community, e.g. English hello, hi, how're you doing?, what's up, hey dude, good morning, etc.

Adjacency Pairs: "Adjacency pairs consist of sequences which properply have the following features: (1) two utterance length, (2) adjacent positioning of component utterances, (3) different speakers producing each utterance." (Schegloff and Sacks 1973).

Speaker A produces the first pair part (e.g. question)
Speaker B produces the second pair part (e.g. answer)

The first pair part invites, constrains, and partially determines the meaning and range of possible second pair part. Here are some examples of adjacency pairs that functions as greeting exchanges:

(1) (Kasigau, a Bantu language of southern Kenya, from Milton 1982)

A; wawuka? 'have you woken (well)?' <--- first pair part of greeting adjacency pair
B; nawuka. 'I have woken (well).' <-------- second pair part of greeting adjacency pair

(2) (Italian, beginning of a telephone conversation, from Duranti 1992:661)

G; pronto, 'hello,'
S; Giorgio? 'Giorgio?'

G; ah ciao. 'oh hi.' <--- first pair part of greeting adjacency pair
S; ciao. 'hi.' <----------- second pair part of greeting adjacency pair

Further Readings To find out more about universals of greetings, see A. Duranti (1997) Universal and Culture-specific Properties of Greetings. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 7 (1): 63-97 [Republished in A. Duranti (Ed.) Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader. Blackwell, pp. 208-238. ] or go to publications.