Intimate Distance, Definition of The Inimate Distance

Intimate Distance, Definition of The Inimate Distance

Part 1 – Types of Distances in Interaction

1-1-Intimate Distance

Before given an explanation to this point, we can start by asking this question : Is intimacy restricted to courting couples, or does it extend to other relationships ?

This is the question that would be considered in terms of Moroccan culture.

Out of 24 male and female high school teacher informants, 18 say that intimacy means friendship. The 6 others relate it only to marital relationship. In this context Hall (1966) says the following “love making wrestling” (p. 116). Friends and relatives can stand one foot distance from each other in their interaction.

One male student from English department informants Said that in general his behaviour tends it be warm and relaxed when interacting with his intimate friends: Not only does he stand close to his friend but also touches him. Two other female student informants mention that they walk hand in hand in the street and that they can lean on each others shoulders while talking. However, it must be pointed out that this behaviour is not considered inappropriate provided that the interacting individuals are from the same sex.

Most of the student informants, though some seem to have different attitudes, admit that they use intimate distance in interaction with their friends if they are both males or both females regardless of the degree of intimacy.

Out of 59 informants (20 pupils and 39 students) only 14 (pupils : 2 male and 4 female, and students : 3 male 5 female) favours the use of a less intimate distance with friends, this tendency of being more formal can be explained by the fact that the speaker or the interlocutor prefers to remain distant from people, no matter how close they are, because he does not feel at ease when he/ she is involved with them.

However, interacting with friends seems to be a case where one can freely talk, and possibly joke without any restraints on his verbal and non verbal channels of communication. This is due to the fact that friends are most of the time of the some age, the some social status, and have the some occupation in life: Two interviews employees say that their work unifies them. They nearly have no privacies. Therefore, they fell no need to keep any distance from each other.

The use of intimate distance can also be noticed in home where impersonality is emphasized among members of the Moroccan family. It is manifested by shared bedrooms between brothers and sisters, and impersonal territory at meal tables. In other words, the interacting individual does not need to be formal or use any other distance but the intimace in interaction with parents, brothers and sisters.

However, 10 female students (from university moulay Ismail Meknes department of English, Frensh and Arabic), claim that they sometimes use a distance showing formality in interaction with their parents. The justification they give to such behaviour is their wish to show respect to their parents precisely at times when the parents are angry.

We can notice that 61% of the student seem to agree that they use a less intimate distance in interaction with their parents. However we do not need to be really formal in our behaviour with our parents, though we tend to behave verbally and non-verbally in a more intimate way with our friends than with parents. A student informant clams that he, for instance, can share some personal affairs with his friends but not with his parents.

It should be mentioned that some female student informants claim that they do not treat their father and mother in the same way. They say that they tend to be more intimate with their mother than with their father. They justify this behaviour by the fact that the father normally represents more power than the mother in the Moroccan family and is respected in interaction by means of a less intimate distance .

To conclude we can say that the use of intimate distance by Moroccans goes beyond Hall’s (1966) study finds the following “this is the distance of love making and wrestling confronting and protecting. Physical contact or the light possibility of physical involvement is upper most in the awareness of both persons” (P.6).

The Moroccan interacting individuals who use intimate distance are not only courting couples. They can be more friends or members of the same family. A student or pupil for instance uses intimate distance in daily interaction with his classmates he considers as friends and the latter reciprocate with out hesitation.

However, in the student-teacher relationship, or pupil teacher’s, the reciprocation drops out . that is to say the teacher can be intimate with his pupils or students if he wishes whereas a student or a pupil never takes the initiative in being intimate with his teacher. The teacher will consider such behaviour, being verbal or non-verbal, inappropriate.

1-2-Casual Distance

It has been mentioned that when a student wants to talk to a teacher he would call for a non-intimate distance. This Intimate Distancedistance would be casual. To put it differently, this distance would neither be very intimate nor too formal.

Casual distance is approximately one half foot whose touch is not involved except in few cases. Such distance is used when interacting with an interlocutor neither close nor distant.

Six student informants from “English department of University My Ismail” claim that they use casual distance when their address is a new acquaintance or a person with whom they should be polite such as the teacher: the majority of the student and pupil informants from “private primary school whose name is “Jail assaid” “admit that they do not behave too friendly with the teacher merely out of respect.

Therefore, they tend to be polite by mans of keeping certain distance when interacting with one of their teachers. Yet, this casual distance is not too formal because though a teacher is considered as a superior as Hudson (1980) says “what does one call a close superior… trough classes and perhaps less formal contacts (P.136)”.

Two of the student informants say that they can not rush behind a teacher in a corridor and grasp him by the arm meaning that they want to talk to him. This will upset the teacher who will consider such behaviour improper.

To avoid being considered rude and impolite two other students say that the appropriate behaviour is to express verbally their will to talk to a teacher without using touch. In fact, it will be ridiculous of a student or a pupil to treat a teacher exactly as he would treat a friend equal to him. A teacher is socially distant, and as Hudson (1980) says the following “physical distance is proportional to social distance.” (P. 137). A pupil or a student should at least use a casual distance, if not a formal one when interacting with one of his teacher. In this way, he will be both formal and respectful.

Concerning teachers, they in general tend to keep some distance in their interaction with students in order to be respected, they at the some time do not want to be too formal in order not to show coldness and unfamiliarity.

Nevertheless, we can distinguish between three different attitudes teacher informants have towards shaking hands with students as a form of greeting expressing informality and friendliness: 10 teachers say they do not like a student to greet them by shaking hands and that they prefer to be greeted verbally, 7 teachers claim that they do not mind shaking hands with their students but in some particular situations, and 4 teachers declare that they usually shake hands with students and regard this form of greeting quite normal.

The percentage of teachers who do not like to shake hands with their students in order to communicate formality predominates. This is due to the fact that there is impersonality in the student-teacher relationship. However, two teacher informants say that they consider their students as friends, they always shake hands with them and tend to encourage such behaviour.

Casual distance can also be noticed among students and pupils when their interlocutor is from the opposite sex. It has been pointed out earlier that intimate distance is preferred in interaction between individuals of the same age, sex, and occupation. Yet, the interlocutor may switch from intimate to casual distance when the other sex is involved.

This is related to the nature of the interacting individuals  and causing its variation as it will be shown.

Another case where casual distance is considered appropriate is when a daughter wants to show respect to her father. Some female student informants, claim that they do not greet their father by kissing them on both cheeks. They say that they prefer the traditional form of greeting kissing the hand, which indicates respect and requires a casual father than an intimate distance.

However, it is worth mentioning that this behaviour is not common in Morocco but restricted to conservative families where the father, the powerful figure in the family, should be respected by keeping some distance in interaction with him.

To sum up the above discussion, we can say that there is no great difference between casual and intimate distances considering the amount of feet separating the interacting. Individuals: about a foot in an intimate distance and a foot and half in a casual distance. Yet, the verbal channel of communication used in a casual distance reflects the two distances from each other.

As a matter of fact, the more formal one wants to be the more distant he stands from his interlocutor. Therefore, the Moroccan interacting individual would call for a distance other than the casual to indicate a higher level of formality.

1-3-Fromal Distance

The main difference between the formal and casual distances is a matter of formality formal distance could be estimated two feet or more where intimacy completely drops out. Moreover, in an interaction requiring this kind of distance, neither touch, nor greeting, nor leave taking could be noticed since the interacting individuals are distant from each other, in such an interaction which usually takes place in a formal setting: an office, the interlocutor may be a stranger or an authority in a specific domain..

The same is true for a pupil who interacts with the headmaster or a student who interacts with the dean. Each of them express formality through a noticeable space he keeps between him and his superior interlocutor.

Impersonality reaches its highest degree in such informal interaction. Four pupil informants admit that their only interaction with the headmaster occurs when they are summoned to his office. They explain that they knock at the headmaster’s office’s door, open it and wait until he asks them to move close. One of these four pupils adds that he never takes the initiative in speech, and that if he speaks he uses a refined language with a carefully chosen vocabulary.

In fact, the verbal means of communication should correspond to the non-verbal means because they are both involved in face-to-face interaction : so it will be inappropriate to use a formal distance and at the sane time speak in a colloquial way.

Two student informants claim that in their interaction with the dean in this context Hudson (1980) says “a distant superior … whom the speaker knows only from a distant” (P.138).

Thy do not behave spontaneously but try hard to control both their linguistic and paralinguistic behaviours in order to have a successful interaction. In other words, they should speak in a very formal way and stand far away from their interlocutor.

Bearing in mind that formal distance indicates respect and formality, we can agree with some teacher informants who say that they use formal distance in interaction with the headmaster.

Though the headmaster-teacher relationship is not as distant as the headmaster-pupil relationship, these informants admit that they prefer to behave formally and therefore use a formal distance on purpose when their interlocutor is one who likes to play the role of a superior. However , 8 teacher informants claim that they see no need to use a formal distance with a headmaster with whom they are familiar.

Formal distance is also used in interaction with strangers we meet for the first time. In such situation, the speaker keeps a formal distant from his stranger interlocutor. A student informant says that it would be unwise to shift from a formal distance to a casual or an intimate distance when interacting with a stranger he does not know.

This distance many gradually become less formal as we get more and more familiar with this stranger. However, student informant says that he never starts an interaction with a stranger in an informal way in order to avoid embarrassment and misunderstanding.

Apart from these few contexts the informants do not mention any other situation where formal distance can be used as a language in interaction. For instance, at home, we can possibly shift from an in intimate to a casual distance but never to a formal distance and any attempt to be formal, when the interlocutor is one of the parents, a brother or a sister we may seem ridiculous.

According to the collected data we may say that the Moroccan interaction the individual uses three distinct distances: intimate distance, casual distance, and formal distance.

The choice of each of these distances is determined by the attitude of the interacting individual to his interlocutor and by the nature of his communication distance as a matter of fact switches from informality and friendliness to formality and impersonality depending on the nature of the interacting individuals; their social status and finally the nature of the interaction itself. These are the factors we intend to analyse in the coming pages.

Proximics: Evidence from Moroccan culture

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Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences
Auteur·trice·s :
Aicha A.
Aicha A.
Université :
Department of English - Option: Linguistics
Année de soutenance :
A Monograph submitted to the English Department in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for B.A Degree - 2004-2007
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