State to State apologies constitute an integral part of interstate reconciliation and improving relations. In the article Apologizing to China: Elastic apologies and the meta-discourse of American diplomats, Glinert (2010) studies the influential role of pragmatics in Sino-American apology negotiations. The author illustrates how the challenges occasioned by cultural and language differences, semantic ambiguities, and illocutionary variations impede the overall effectiveness of an apology. In the study, the author utilizes a qualitative research design to obtain insights through interviews from four current and ex-State Department officials anonymized as A, B, C, and D. The researcher sought to understand various aspects of apologies, including their functionality in international diplomacy, their pragmatic characteristics, and the diplomats’ perspectives by revisiting the details of the apologies tendered by America to China.
Among the key finding of the article is that cross-cultural differences exist in what constitutes an apology, its objective, and the pragmatic meaning of words therein. Glinert (2010) notes that expressing regret over the wrongdoing and acceptance of responsibility is an apology’s foundational component. However, the Chinese politeness system emphasizes self-denigration and the sincere expression of remorse. From the American perspective, apologies are viewed as an analytic mechanism for assigning blame and admitting culpability (Glinter, 2010). Conversely, Easterners perceive apologies as general expressions of remorse rather than a means through which responsibility is apportioned. Therefore, apologies are cultural communication tools that reflect the values and norms espoused by a community.
Further, the choice of words in cross-cultural apologies determines the acceptability and the overall effectiveness of the speech act in atoning the committed infringement. Bashir et al. (2018) corroborate Glinter’s (2010) view and emphasize understanding the pragmatic meaning of words, especially where translations are necessary. Therefore, although apologies are deemed reparative, the normative intent may be impeded by the cross-cultural differences in word meanings, especially when translations are applied.
Critical Evaluation of the Article
Speech acts such as apologies do not operate under universal principles, and their application varies across societies and cultures. Glinter (2010), in his exploration of Sino-American apology negotiations, illustrates the functional, pragmatic, and perceptual disparities of what constitutes an apology, their intent, and the communicative effect of the words used. The author supports his arguments by scrutinizing the sociocultural context of the apologizer and the recipient of the apology. Ugla and Abidin (2016) corroborate this view and assert that an apology’s communicative and reparative objectives are significantly eroded where the recipient and the issuer come from different cultures. The advanced arguments are convincing and are reinforced by the explicit reference to specific attributes of the Western and Oriental cultures. The evidence of the assertions is demonstrated by the challenges arising during the cross-cultural Sino-American issuance and reception of apologies after the Belgrade Embassy bombing in 1999 and the Hainan airplane collision in 2001.
Additionally, the author provides comprehensive, thorough, and valid evidence corroborated by other studies. For instance, Shafa et al. (2017) recognize the symbolic nature of interstate apologies and how they manifest and affirm the practices, norms, and values espoused by a particular country or society. This view is reflected in Wenzel et al.’s (2017) publication, which illustrated cross-cultural disparities in apologies rendered by individualistic and collectivist societies. In individualistic cultures, issuing an apology is deemed an admission of responsibility, an expression of self-deficiency, and attracts humiliation. Conversely, apologetic attributes of Oriental and Asian cultures reflect a profound sense of remorse, admission of culpability, and a sincere intent to ameliorate the wrongdoing. From this perspective, the arguments advanced by the author are convincing, and the evidence adduced is comprehensive, valid, and thorough.
The research design addresses the study question by facilitating the comparative assessment of the responses and supporting their integration coherently and logically. According to McGrath et al. (2019) and Busetto et al. (2020), interviews support exploring subjective experiences, motivations, and opinions. For instance, the author sought to obtain the respondents’ insight and thoughts on the functionality of international diplomatic apologies and contribute to their characteristics. This perspective also contributes to the overall appropriateness of the applied methodology since it supports the collection of in-depth information and the subject of inquiry requires considerable probing and complex questioning (DeJonckheere & Vaugh, 2019). The utilized design has various inherent shortcomings, including the author’s inability to independently verify some of the information provided, such as the respondents’ claim of being students of Eastern cultures.
The interview on the Sino-American apologies leaves some fundamental questions answered. Overall, the author comprehensively addresses the pertinent issues surrounding the apologies issued after the Belgrade Embassy bombing in 1999 and the Hainan airplane collision in 2001. However, one outstanding question left unanswered is the effect of unsatisfactory apologies on the relationship between the two countries. Additionally, the author does not indicate whether ineffective between-state apologies have the potential of irreparably damaging intercountry relations. Overall, the findings are presented clearly and logically, limiting the possibility of data being interpreted differently. For instance, Glinter (2010) amplifies the admission, adequacy, and implications of apologies as the outcomes of the sociocultural context within which they are issued and received. The article contributes to the field of communication by underscoring the role of culture in cross-cultural apologies.
The article Apologizing to China: Elastic apologies and the meta-discourse of American diplomats provides insightful evidence on apology speech acts and demonstrates the influential role of sociocultural context in communication. It effectively communicates the cross-cultural challenges occasioned by semantic ambiguities, the constituent components of an apology, and the meaning of used words therein. The study implies that countries should ensure their cross-country communication reflects the sociocultural context of the recipient of their message for practical understanding and restoration of relationships.
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