SYDNEY – People around the world usually don’t say “thank you” in response to the fulfillment of simple requests, suggesting an unspoken willingness to cooperate, according to a study made public by an Australian university on Wednesday.
The research is based on the analysis of around 1,000 examples from informal, everyday conversations between friends, family members and neighbors in eight languages, the University of Sydney said.
“Some might interpret this as a crisis of rudeness, that we are polite in public but have no manners in our own homes. But that is the wrong interpretation. Instead, it demonstrates that humans have an unspoken understanding we will cooperate with each other,” said Nick Enfield, a professor of linguistics at the university, who led the research.
The eight languages of the source material include Cha’palaa (Ecuador), UK English, Italian, Lao, Murrinh-patha (northern Australia), Polish, Russian and Siwu (Ghana).
Researchers found that thanks were given in around one out of 50 occurrences, with the lowest expressions of gratitude recorded in Cha’palaa – who never said “thank you” after their requests were met – and the highest in English and Italian.
The university said those whose first language is English or another Western European language were outliers and not representative of the diversity of the world’s languages and cultures.
“Our findings indicate a widespread assumption that saying ‘thank you’ is not necessary in the everyday contexts of our lives,” said Enfield.
“In our homes and villages – where our interactions would seem to matter most – we find people dispense with these niceties almost entirely.”
The study said that people normally thought of social norms around gratitude in the context of formal interactions, where it seems necessary to say “please,” and “thank you.”
According to Enfield, in day-to-day life it is more natural to ask for help and pay it back in kind, rather than just in words.
The study was published in the Royal Society Open Science journal as part of a research on language and social interactions.
In 2015, Enfield and his team of ethno-linguists won the Ig Nobel Prize, given by the scientific humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, for their study of the expression of doubt “eh.”
The study showed that the expression is expressed by a similar sound in many languages, including Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Dutch, Italian, Laotian, Cha’palaa, Siwu and Murrinh-patha.