Taarof


There is a social principle in Iran called taarof, it is the concept that describes the practice of politeness through linguistic indirectness and insincerity.

In Iran, people deal with the concept of honesty in a different way than most Western cultures in which directness and bluntness are, to a large extent, accepted and even encouraged communicative principles.

In the context of taarof, Iranians are expected to give false praises and insincere promises. Not out of deviousness, but out of the sociocultural expectation to tell people what they want to hear out of politeness, to avoid conflict, or to offer hope when there is none.

Examples of common taarof situations include: people imploring others to go through a door first; hosts insisting that they do not want customers to pay for dinner; dinner partners refusing to let others share in the cost of a meal; hostesses serving food even though their guests claim they are full; and people being invited to dinner when the host does not really want their company.

“Symbolism and vagueness are inherent in our language. […] Taarof is a sign of respect, even if we don’t mean it.” – Nasser Hadian

Speech Acts


‘Actions that are carried out through language are called speech acts, […] six have received particular attention:

  1. Representatives represent a state of affairs: assertions, statements, claims, hypotheses, descriptions, suggestions. Representatives can generally be characterized as true or false.
  2. Commissives commit a speaker to a course of action: promises, pledges, threats, vows.
  3. Directives are intended to get the addressee to carry out an action:  commands, requests, challenges, invitations, entreaties, dares.
  4. Declarations bring about the state of affairs they name: blessings, hirings and firings, baptisms, arrests, marryings, declaring mistrials.
  5. Expressives indicate the speaker’s psychological state of attitude: greetings, apologies, congratulations, condolences, thanksgivings.
  6. Verdictives makes assessments or judgements: ranking, assessing, appraising, condoning. Because some verdictives (such as calling a baseball player “out”) combine the characteristics of declarations and representatives, these are sometimes called representational declarations.’

– Finegan. E. 2008. Language, Its Structure And Use Stamford, CT, United States: Cengage Learning (2012) p. 305

Gricean Maxims


According to the linguist Paul Grice, the cooperative principle is a norm governing all cooperative interactions among humans. The principle consists of four maxims:

  • The maxim of quantity, where one tries to be as informative as one possibly can, and gives as much information as is needed, and no more.
  • The maxim of quality, where one tries to be truthful, and does not give information that is false or that is not supported by evidence.
  • The maxim of relation, where one tries to be relevant, and says things that are pertinent to the discussion.
  • The maxim of manner, when one tries to be as clear, as brief, and as orderly as one can in what one says, and where one avoids obscurity and ambiguity.

“The greater the ambiguity, the greater the pleasure.” ― Milan Kundera