On Apologising In The English And Russian Languages


The use of patterns of the type 'sorry' and 'извините' is not always associated with damage (both communicative and material). The study of apology in scientific papers is limited to a detailed examination of the apology (i.e., a request for forgiveness). The article deals with the perlocutionary effect of an apology in English and Russian. The verbal act of apology is standard for behabitives / expressives and its use can be an indication of communicative competence (apologies are often spontaneous, but they are taught). The article gives classifications of apologies and occasions that can lead to the use of this speech act in English and Russian. The speech act of apology is closely related to the category of courtesy, which demonstrates respect for the addressee of speech and in communication can indicate sincerity, formality, or a mask. Typical formulas of apology in English and Russian speech etiquette form a special semantic-stylistic communicative system that reflects the national and cultural peculiarities of the mentality. A variety of apology situations in Russian and English speech etiquette are diverse.

Keywords: Speech actapologypositive facenegative faceprototypical apologyformulaic apology


Speech etiquette is an important element of any national culture of communication. In the native language and culture of each people the image of his thinking, way of life, traditions and customs, national mentality, moral standards, perception and evaluation of the surrounding validity, as well as norms and forms of speech behavior are reflected. This also applies to the specifics of the speech act of apology in English and Russian communicative behavior. Apologies in speech etiquette attract the attention of researchers in a communicative and pragmatic aspect. The situation of apology in speech etiquette is one of the most important for regulation of speech interaction between communicants, therefore studies of etiquette expressions of apology are relevant both for Russian and for English. Study of the main principles of politeness and apology organisation in cross-cultural communication enables to avoid misunderstanding and ambiguity thus providing effective communication. The phenomenon of politeness is universal and at the same time is culture-specific. The main stumbling blocks to effective communication are language, non-verbal communication, preconceptions, anxiety, tendency to a quick evaluation (Kozhukhova & Vlasyan, 2016). Thus crucial role in face-threatening speech act perception plays communicative and pragmatic competence of speakers.

Problem Statement

From a linguistic and pragmatic point of view, an apology as a speech act occurs in a communicative situation consisting, as a rule, of three components: a) the person who caused the damage, which typically acts as a speaker, b) the victim, who is typically the addressee of an apology, c) the damage caused. In different situations and to various degrees, the apology depends on: a) the nature of the situation and b) the time elapsed since the damage was caused to the very excuse (Rathmayr, 2003). The results of studies on the pragmatic apology can hardly be extrapolated to all languages ​​- classifications, frequency, reactions can differ significantly in different communicative cultures. To review the apology in the Russian language, the key works will be the works of R. Rathmayr, describing the main features of the speech act in the Russian communicative culture, as well as the work "On Apologizing in Negative and Positive Politeness Cultures" (Ogiermann, 2009), which is preceded by a quotation by J. Leech: " I have been seriously told that ‘Poles/Russians/etc. are never polite " (Ibid.). In the work the author reveals the notion of politeness in "never polite" cultures, considering the speech act of apology.

Necessity of this remark is discussed by the fact that the pragmatic study of speech behavior is impossible both without a theoretical core, and without what postmodern theories say - courtesy (and the speech act of apology is almost always considered through the prism of the theory of politeness) is not an unambiguous (Litvinova, 2017), static and stable category even within the same language.

Research Questions

The usage of apologies, both implicit and standard explicit, with lexemes pardon, excuse, apologize, sorry , извините, простите, прошупрощения , etc. does not always imply the speaker's guilt. Often the usage of lexemes, traditional for the implementation of the speech act, is used as an attraction of attention - to initiate a request, a question, or appeal. Note that at present there is a sufficient number of works devoted to the description of the speech act in question, strategies for its implementation, comparative studies of apologies in different languages, gender apology studies, the use of apologies in a foreign language environment. However, the description of the perlocutionary effect of the request for forgiveness was not part of the extensive research of linguists. A general, but sufficient review of approaches to the study of apologies is given in (Perelgut, 2016). To identify its essence, researchers turned to its prototypical structure. It is believed that it consists of four components: the abuser (the person who caused the damage), the offense (the damage caused), the offended (the victim who suffered the damage) and the apology itself. These components, with the exception of the speech act, can be either real or virtual, imaginary. So, the offender can not cause any real insult, but be sure that the insult is caused. An "offended" may not notice the offense and, therefore, would not wait for an apology. The offense can range from serious to minor, which determines the form of an apology. The apology may be of a preventive or mitigating nature, preventing possible resentment of a tactless question, objection, and refusal (Borisova & Platonova, 2015). All these terms play a decisive role in choosing the right tool with a sign of the intentionality of the apology. In this regard, it is considered necessary to identify the essential differences and patterns of apologies in the English and Russian communicative cultures.

Purpose of the Study

The study of the speech etiquette of an apology on the basis of the fundamental works on the theory of communicative linguistics and pragmatics in English and Russian, as well as the comprehension of the studied speech behavior in apology situations.

Research Methods

The apology applies to expressive speech acts in J. Searle classification (along with thanks and greetings, wishes, toasts, condolences) and, in another widespread classification by J. Austin, to behabitives (including formulas of social behavior, etiquette phrases, reactions to the behavior of others people – greetings, gratitude, congratulations). Along with face-threatening speech acts, where a person can vary and control the level of ‘threat’, the use of expressions can also contain some danger. Often, the expressions are of a spontaneous nature and, being tereotypical, they can convey the psychological state and attitude of the communicant both to the situation and to the interlocutor. It should be noted, however, that the use of apologies is not an innate, but rather an acquired and learned skill dictated by social norms and possible consequences. From an early age, children are taught to apologize. A person who neglects apologies, in some situations, will be considered impolite, rude, not having sufficient communication skills and not quite suitable, "convenient" for society.

A communicative and pragmatic analysis of situations of using speech acts of apology makes it possible to fully understand the specifics of the speech behavior, along with the method of analytical observation.


Currently, there is a sufficient number of apology classifications, but the most intuitive-accessible approach can be considered the approach of M. Deutschmann, who divided apologies for the following groups:

  • real, or prototypical apologies. In this case, as a rule, a full formula is applied, including the action component, the speaker component, the target component and the motive component;

  • "stereotyped apologies" are used in situations where the offense is either minimal or nonexistent, and in which the apology is routine. Examples of such apologies may be apologies for violations of ethical norms / social norms (social gaffes), such as coughing. Stereotype, or conventional apology - a routine speech act provoked by incidents without serious consequences. The structure of such apologies is significantly reduced. In Russian there are verbal formulas извини(те) / прости(те), and also the spoken formula яизвиняюсь. The reaction to these formulas is also brief, or it does not exist at all. Silence is understood as agreeing with an excuse.

  • Stereotyped apologies with additional functions may sound in situations where the "insult" is insignificant, and the apology serves as a supplement to the repair work to mitigate the request or attract attention (Request cues and attention cues);

  • "threatening" apologies are used in situations where the compensating function of an apology is in question. Examples of such situations include an apology pronounced with sarcasm if the offense is considered trivial, as well as situations in which the apology is used as a challenge, for example: "No, sorry you're out of line, Chris!".

Bergman and Casper, considering the basic apology strategies, note that (prototypical) apologies are often accompanied by: a) intensifiers (I'm terribly sorry); b) taking responsibility for themselves ("I have not graded it yet"); c) an explanation of the reasons ("I was called to a meeting"); d) an attempt to minimize the consequences of the action ("I'm only 10 minutes late"); e) offering compensation or compensation for damage ("I'll pay for the damage"); (e) The promise to change ("It will not happen again"). The speaker 4 times more often uses strategies to minimize the responsibility (i.e., explaining the reasons and justifications) than taking responsibility for himself (Deutschmann, 2003). In the framework of this observation, we show the relationship of minimizing one's own responsibility (for the purpose of preserving the person) with etymology. In English, the word is fixed from the beginning of the 15th century. The meaning "protection, justification " comes from the Latin and Greek words apologia with the meaning " speech in defense ." The original meaning in English " self-justufucation " at the end of the 16th century is transformed into " frank expression of regret for wrongly done ," as the first meaning, this interpretation only gets in Johnson's dictionary in the 18th century. In the definition of " defense, excuse, Apology generally signifies rather excuse than vindication, and tends rather than extenuate the fault, than prove innocence. "

Somewhat different etymological situation is in the Russian language. In the lexeme " извините " the root of " guilt " (“ вина ”) is laid, referring to " I am guilty " or " guilty ". The first mentions - the beginning of the 15th century in the Polotsk letters. Further, following the logic, we pass to the etymology of the word " fault ": It comes from Old Slavic *veina "what deserves punishment". From the above etymological reference it can be seen that the interpretation of an apology in the English language, though unambiguously, has its own historical nuances (protection is a request for forgiveness), while in Russian the interpretation of an apology is fairly transparent in nature and has been such from the earliest use of a token.

The speech act of apology is closely related to the category of courtesy, which demonstrates respect for the addressee of speech and in communication can act as sincerity, formality, a mask. Typical formulas of apology in English and Russian speech etiquette form a special semantic-stylistic communicative system that reflects the national and cultural specifics of the mentality. A variety of apology situations in Russian and English speech etiquette are diverse.


Apologies are standardized in the framework of negative politeness; however, M. Deutschmann's research significantly corrects this assertion: almost half of the research material (48%) can be attributed to positive politeness.

The author identifies the following categories of "offenses" (i.e. states or actions requiring an apology) affecting the listener's positive / negative face. The "offenses" threatening a negative person include:

  • requests (asking for attention, requests to do something, requests to move, etc.);

  • "auditory grievances" (the person did not hear, did not understand, does not believe what was said);

  • violation of social norms (cough, runny nose, flatulence, loud laughter, etc.)

  • Speech flaws (reservations, pauses in speech, deviations from the topic, self-correction, vagueness of speech, etc.).

"Insults" threatening the positive person of the speaker are as follows:

  • Inattention to the interlocutor (interrupting, ignoring the interlocutor, being late, causing inconvenience, involuntary insult, etc.);

  • mistakes and misunderstandings;

  • inconsistency with expectations (rejection of proposals, non-compliance with agreements, personal shortcomings, etc.);

  • Incidents (damage to property, unintended harm, situations such as "collide with a person", "get in the way"):

  • violation of agreements (disagreement and dispute, refusal, insistence, remarks, etc.).

The author derives his classification on the basis of earlier classifications and with an eye to his research material. Analysis of the results of the study shows that the approach to the material, as well as the material itself, can vary the obtained data, which is the norm. Also, of course, the groups singled out by M. Deutschmann can not be equally applicable to all languages, as noted above.


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30 April 2018

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Sociolinguistics, linguistics, semantics, discourse analysis, translation, interpretation

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Kozhukhova, I. (2018). On Apologising In The English And Russian Languages. In & I. V. Denisova (Ed.), Word, Utterance, Text: Cognitive, Pragmatic and Cultural Aspects, vol 39. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 75-79). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2018.04.02.11