Politeness and Pragmatics in the Context of Cross-Cultural Communication

Topics: Politeness theory, Culture, Politeness Pages: 4 (1153 words) Published: May 3, 2011
Throughout almost all societies, politeness plays an integral role in the effectiveness of social life and interaction within the context of both inter-cultural and cross-cultural communication. Within different cultures the definition of politeness may vary substantially and as a result may be appropriated in ways that are largely misunderstood within the context of other cultures. It is for this reason that scholars such as Brown and Levinson have derived theories on politeness and its use within global society, however the seemingly non-existent universal definition of politeness can also be responsible for the criticisms that these theories receive. When discussing the notion of politeness, the study of cross-cultural pragmatics as represented by Thomas, Tannen and Wierzbicka provide a deeper understanding of the appropriation of politeness and the difficulties that emerge as a result of cross-cultural misunderstanding.

One of the major theories surrounding politeness is that of Brown and Levinson (1978, later revised in 1987). Brown and Levinson’s theory argues that politeness consists of three basic elements of human interaction: the maintenance of personal face, the acts which may threaten the face of either a speaker or hearer and the politeness strategies used within the context of conversation to maintain face. The concept of ‘face’, according to Brown and Levinson, outlines the human desire of avoiding embarrassment or humiliation whilst maintaining a positive representation of themselves. In accordance with the politeness phenomena theory, face exists in both a positive sense and a negative sense. Positive face is defined simply as ‘self-image’ while negative face refers to the freedom from imposition.

The face-threatening act, according to Brown and Levinson, exists in four main categories. Firstly, the act which threatens the hearer’s negative face can include orders, advice, etc. and can ultimately undermine the hearer’s freedom of...
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