Am I My Brother’s Keeper? What the Batak Pragmatics of Favor-Asking, Apology-Making and Reciprocate Strategies Can Teach the World

Authors: Teresita Tajolosa (Palawan State University, The Philippines)
Speakers: Teresita Tajolosa
Strand: Ethnographical Language Work
Session Type: General Session


The Batak language is a critically- endangered Philippine language with barely 500 speakers left (Tajolosa, 2015). Until this day, its speakers have remained, the most economically-underprivileged minority group in Palawan. With the advent of modernization, lack of formal education and threats of migration and intermarriage affecting this language group, the Batak are considered highly vulnerable to changes. The present study is a response to dearth of documented information on the Batak pragmatics. Patterns of favor-asking, apologies and responses to them by hearers, were derived from samples created from individual interviews, focus group discussions and role-plays of informants whose age ranged from 30 to 65 years old. Data collection lasted for eight months with the researcher doing trips on monthly interval, to Kalakwasan, Barangay Tanabag, (north of Puerto Princesa City) where the highest concentration of speakers reside. Individual interviews and FGDS were repeatedly done to validate data. Favor-asking revolved on the three commodities which are very important to the Batak households namely: rice, coffee and betel nut. Linguistic analysis was performed on the data following Goldschmidt (1998) patterns of favor-asking and Cohen et al. (1983) and Ely and Gleason’s (2006) classification and constituents of apology respectively. Findings provide insights in the following aspects: (1) Favor-asking in the Batak context does not consider the “Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” as a right motivation for asking favor and giving  (2) The favor-asking hearers’ use of reciprocate strategies to grant requests, stemmed from the desire to maintain a socially-acceptable face, a departure from Brown and Levinson’s concept of “politeness” which is personally-oriented; (3) Apology making is not considered as a face-threatening act showing the people’s inherent desire to address disharmony;  (4) The consistent use of priming in speakers’ apologies demonstrate a culture-bound nature of apology making, handed down from early generations of speakers; and (5) The speech acts of favor asking and apologizing and hearers’ use of creative reciprocate strategies demonstrate the people’s awareness and practice of a highly culture-based adaptation strategy to conquer hunger and survive the lean season, while maintaining peaceful relationship with the rest of the members in the community.

Keywords: pragmatics, favor-asking, apologizing, reciprocate strategies, adaptation strategies, Batak community, concept of politeness, face-threatening act