Politeness is an attitude or behavior expected from everyone. It doesn't seem much, but studies and theories suggest the connection of language and politeness to proper socialization. They also show how people utilize it to convey what they mean to other people. There are even linguistic strategies formed from these studies, primarily on the English language, by different institutions such as Cambridge University Press.
- Approaches to Politeness in Speech
- What Are Politeness Strategies?
- Main Types of a Politeness Strategy
- Importance of Politeness
- Politeness Theory and Academic Writing
- Use Politeness Strategies in Your Daily Life
Approaches to Politeness in Speech
There are two main pragmatic approaches to polite speech acts, the Gricean Maxims and his cooperation principle and the Brown and Levinson's face-threatening acts.
Grice's Cooperative Principle
Grice's four conversational maxims of Quantity, Quality, Relation, and Manner are perceived as general rules that a speaker must follow or adhere to. It works like this - if the speaker utters or says something inappropriate or something that doesn't make sense in the hearer's perspective, the hearer will consider no literal meaning behind what the speaker said.
Although politeness isn't the focus of the Gricean maxims, they all focused on efficient communication, including being polite in a conversation. Some other related topics similar to these maxims are that there's a politeness principle with English conversational maxims or sociolinguistics, and it is based on Geoffrey Leech and George Lakoff.
Brown and Levinson's Face-Threatening Acts
The concept of politeness by these two revolves around the concept of faces and face-threatening acts. They focused on conforming to existing social rules when making a speech that would infringe upon these rules. They based the choice of the strategies on the relationship of the speaker and the hearer and the speaker's intentions.
What Are Politeness Strategies?
A politeness strategy is a strategy utilized in reducing and minimizing "face-threatening acts" that a speaker commits. In addition to that, politeness strategies are made to save the hearer's "face" and the face's wants and needs. The face is the sense of linguistic or language usage and social identity of the speaker. It's how the speaker wants others to perceive them.
There are two main types of faces - positive and negative faces. The positive face indicates or expresses the need for acceptance of one's self-image of themselves, to be appreciated and approved by others. While the negative face is the opposite, it indicates or means the need for independence, freedom of action, and not being imposed on by other people.
Based on that, the face and politeness theory is developed. Two researchers from Stanford University, Brown and Levinson, developed the politeness theory in the 1970s and 1980s. They based and relied on their politeness theory extensively on the face theory, focusing and relating politeness to it.
In this context, when we talk about politeness, it can be assumed that we all have faces. Simultaneously, different types of faces are shown in different face-threatening acts (FTA). It can depend on factors such as social distance, rank, power, and others.
Main Types of a Politeness Strategy
According to Brown and Levinson's theory, there are four main types of politeness strategies that can sum up the politeness behavior of people. They are also generally connected and related to the semantics and syntax of the English language. The usage of these politeness strategies all depends on how the speaker will act in the face of threats.
The four main politeness strategies include positive, negative, bald-on-record, and off-record.
This strategy is often seen in groups of friends or in a situation where people know each other very well or are close friends. The positive politeness strategy aims to minimize the distance between the speaker and other people by expressing and showing friendliness and great interest in minimizing FTA to the hearer. People might interchange or mistook it as an ordinary intimate daily language, but it is not. In a positive politeness behavior, there's a hint of exaggeration.
In simple words, with a positive politeness strategy, the goal is to make the hearer feel good about themselves or their interests and possessions and respect the addressee's positive face.
Examine the following examples:
- Showing common ground with the others or hearers
- Using in-group identity markers
- Offering and promising
- Sympathizing, understanding, and being cooperative in a conversation
- Noticing the hearers and attending to them
- Showing intense interest to the hearers
- Expressing concern to the wants of the hearers
- Avoiding starting disagreements by hedging
Here are some examples of strategies and sample conversation lines:
- Apologizing - "Sorry about dragging you here in New York…"
- Gratitude - "I highly appreciate all the efforts you've made…"
- Counterfactual modal - "Would you or could you…"
According to Brown and Levinson in 1987, negative politeness, on the other hand, is a redressive action addressed to the addresses' negative face. In a negative politeness strategy, the hearer's face is recognized and incorporated in the manner of how the speaker would talk to them.
In simple words, the negative politeness strategy presumes that the speaker is to impose on the hearer, and there's a possibility of awkwardness and embarrassment so the speaker.
Here are some of the strategies that are used to show negative politeness:
- Being deferent to the hearer
- Being pessimistic
- Using generalized expressions rather than mentioning the person directly
Bald on Record
The infamous bald on record strategies are used to straightforwardly address the other person or the hearer to express the speaker's needs. It is a direct way of communicating without neglecting imposition. In a bald on record strategy, the speaker isn't making any effort in minimizing the threats to the hearer's face. However, according to Brown and Levinson, there are different reasons why the bald on record is used for various circumstances since the speaker can also have different reasons or motives for the FTA with maximum efficiency.
With a bald on record strategy, the speaker will most likely embarrass or make the hearer uncomfortable due to addressing them directly or through direct command. One example of a bald on record strategy is using imperative forms in phrases like, "Give me the bottle."
Someone may use the bald on record strategy for various reasons, such as the following:
- Out of desperation or urgency
- Non-occurrence of threat minimization in certain instances
- Offerings or offers
- Having little to no interest in maintaining the face of someone
- Conversations where there seems to be the need for excellent efficiency
- Doing tasks
The last type of politeness strategy is the off-the-record indirect strategy. The main goal of this strategy is indirectness, to reduce or minimize the pressure on the speaker. As explained by Brown and Levinson, the off-the-record or off-record strategy uses indirect language to remove the possibility of the speaker imposing.
In simple words, if a speaker wants to perform or commit an FTA but does not want any responsibility of doing it, they can do the off-record strategy and leave the judgment and interpretation to the addressee.
Some of the strategies indicating off-record politeness include:
- Speaking vaguely
- Being ironic or using metaphors
- Not addressing the hearer directly
- Giving hints
- Using contradictions
- Asking rhetorical questions that don't need to be answered
Importance of Politeness
It is common teachings from our parents and at school that impoliteness isn't accepted by anyone or anywhere and should never be committed. Doesn't matter if you're in highly urbanized areas like New York or the countryside. Be it in the English language or any language. It's a general rule to be polite and that there is a purpose and use of politeness.
Use of politeness can:
- Build respect and support with other people
- Improve connections with others
- Enhance and boost self-confidence and self-esteem
- Develop communication skills
Politeness Theory and Academic Writing
Even if the politeness theory and strategies discussed by Brown and Levinson are initially used for speech acts, they've also been applied to written discourse and in writing in general, such as in written English academic papers and other written discourse papers.
Incorporating politeness to writing is perceived as the unique way of how the writers engage and draw in their readers to the topic or discourse they wrote while offering reasons to soften the effects of a face threat. Additionally, the most used strategy for writing is the positive politeness strategy.
Solidarity and Positive Politeness
Writers widely use positive politeness strategies to emphasize solidarity and common grounds or agreements in their topic. An example is when a writer states their claims and suggestions in writing a research paper, incorporating different positive politeness strategies. These strategies allow and help them in gaining the approval of the readers. Some strategies used in this kind of writing include:
- Claiming that the writer has common views, opinions, and perspectives about a particular topic where writers often use modifiers like adjectives to indicate certainty
- Showing that the writer and readers are cooperators
Use Politeness Strategies in Your Daily Life
There are different forms of being polite. A person can commit positive politeness, negative politeness, off-record indirect politeness, and even bald on record politeness. It only depends on their motives, personal attitude, and reasons.
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