Sign in or
According to Brown, 1980, p 114 politeness is:
“[A] special way of treating people, saying and doing things in such a way as to take into account the other person’s feelings. On the whole, that means that what one says politely will be less straightforward or more complicated than what one would say if one wasn’t taking the other’s feelings into account.”
In addition to that, politeness is a universal linguistic phenomenon; though its rules vary greatly from one culture to another, all languages have some way of encoding greater or lesser degrees of formality to show the appropriate level of respect to the hearer. Unfortunately, and as Brown and Levinson (1983) note, there is no direct way to quantify politeness. On the one hand, identifying all the devices and strategies which constitute politeness in a given culture is not an easy task (particles, intonation, irony, address forms and discourse strategies). The second part of the challenge lies in the fact that it is not possible to find out whether a particular strategy which may sometimes be used for politeness’ sake is in fact being so used in the interaction under investigation.
b- Forms of politeness
One important feature should be made between first-order and second-order politeness (Watts, Ide, and Ehlich, 1992).
First-order politeness refers to politeness as a folk notion: how do members of a community perceive and classify action in terms of politeness? Such assessments and classification manifest themselves in etiquette manuals, the do’s and don’ts in socializing interaction, and comments on what is and what is not polite behavior. So, it corresponds to the various ways in which polite behavior is perceived and talked about by members of socio-cultural groups, in other words, commonsense notions of politeness.
Second-order politeness is a theoretical construct located within a theory of social behavior and language use. The distinction is methodological because it explains the relationship which exists between these folk beliefs which have no explanatory value in themselves and the theory of social behavior which explains these practices. Therefore, the relationship existing between the two forms is that of data to theory.
To the sociolinguists Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson (1987), there are basically two varieties: positive and negative.
Positive politeness is the active expression of warmth, interest and comradery; it is “approach-based” and it can be exemplified by compliments, informality (including slang and the use of first names), joking and it implies a relatively equal footing between speaker and listener.
Negative politeness is “avoidance-based”; it includes indirectness, use of formal titles and apologies. Its use tends to imply a desire to keep a distance between the speaker and the listener, a desire to avoid imposing on anyone. Moreover, they base their theory on the assumption that every speaker has both “positive face” and “negative face”; the former is in brief the desire to be liked; and the latter is the desire to be left alone. Naturally the balance between these two “faces” changes from culture to culture and from era to era and indeed from speaker to speaker. Therefore, politeness can be considered as an activity which serves to enhance, maintain or protect face: Positive politeness consists of acts which are designed to preserve or restore the hearer’s positive face by stressing the speaker’s social closeness to the hearer, for example the use of pronoun forms: we, us and our. Negative politeness consists of acts which are designed to preserve or restore the hearer’s negative face, by expressing the speaker’s reluctance to impose his or her wants on the hearer and/or acknowledging the social distance between the two, for instance, the use of certain expressions like: “I don’t like to bother you, but…”
In more simple terms, if you are given the choice between saying the truth and not hurting someone’s feelings, you will usually opt for the latter as in this example. Bea: What did you think of my presentation? Andy: I thought it was very well researched. Because the research is only one aspect of the presentation, Andy is not really answering the question. He does this in order not to threaten Bea’s face, that is, her social standing and sense of self-worth or self-esteem, instead of saying for instance, “I didn’t like it very much”. So, politeness refers to the way we take other speaker’s face needs into account.
In fact, languages employ different means to avoid threats to face. The use of polite markers such as, “please” and “thank you” (or their equivalents), are universal. In some languages, positive politeness is encoded in the pronoun system. In French, for example, speakers can choose between “tu” and “vous”, according to the degree of familiarity or respect they wish to convey. In English, as in many languages, the use of distancing devices, such as past tense forms and modal verbs helps soften the potential threat to face of requests and commands: I “was wondering” if you were free on Friday. “Could” you turn the lights out when you leave?
c- Gender and politeness
In the prescriptions of linguistic etiquette, women are represented as pure, honorable, even superior in a moral sense, but at the same time weaker and more frivolous than men. They are the ones who are supposed to present the noble form of English: little to no slang, observance of proper titles, eternal politeness. But, they are also the one whose good names are easily tarnished. Lakoff (1972) emphasizes the fact that men and women talk differently and he explains these differences in terms of male dominance in society and women’s inherent politeness.
However, today, women are much freer to speak their minds, express interest in different topics and use slang, but they are still supposed to be inherently better behaved and likelier to guard what they say. Nevertheless, some recent findings have proved that in societies where politeness is seen as a skill or where acquisition of politeness is not an automatic part of language learning but requires additional training, men tend to be understood more polite, and women as impolite or too polite. And in societies, where directness is valued and politeness is seen as a form of deference rather than a skill, women tend to be more polite. Keenan (1974) studied a village in Malagasy where the people (male and female alike) believe that men are more skillful polite speakers. She notes that both men and women share this politeness system which includes the use of positive politeness markers such as “we” and “let’s”, indirect ways of giving orders, avoidance of expressions of anger or criticism, and the use of traditional metaphoric sayings. However, women do not engage in village-to-village negotiations, dispute resolutions and marriage requests. Another reason why they are perceived as less skilled at politeness is because there are two politeness systems in this village (one perceived as traditional – the other as European) and only the traditional polite system is culturally valued. The devalued European system is largely consigned to women, and it is used in the marketplace in transactions associated with bargaining about selling goods.
Latest page update: made by gmary
, Jun 26 2008, 11:01 AM EDT
(about this update
About This Update
Edited by gmary
- complete history)
More Info: links to this page
There are no threads for this page. Be the first to start a new thread.