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“How Are You?” is Sometimes More Than a Question

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A native Dutch speaker who spent many years in Japan says he had to learn the hard way that when Americans greeted him with How are you?, they didn’t really want to know how he was. Such casual greetings that don’t require a factual or detailed answer are an example of phatic speech, a term coined by linguist Walter Redfern. It’s speech that’s less about literal meaning and more about social function and politeness.  This is part of a complete episode.

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