Realization of Positive Politeness Strategies in Language in Terms of the Theory of Brown and Levinson (1987)

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  • Topic: Politeness theory, Shame society, Pragmatics
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  • Published : August 4, 2010
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Realization of Positive Politeness

Strategies in Language

in Terms of The Theory of Brown and Levinson (1987)

Part one :Theoretical Background

What is Politeness?

We live in a world of language. The use of language is an integral part of our being human. We spend times and times of our lives talking-using language. We talk face to face, over the phone or even in our dreams. Our language is the source of our humanity and power. Yet, how should we use it? Hymes says: “how something is said is part of what is said” (Coulthard, 1985:50). Language is used in social interaction. Jesperson (1942) wrote in his ‘philosophy to grammar’ that ‘the essence of language is human activity’- activity from both speaker and listener (Rankema, 1993: 12). Any human activity can be successful if participants adhere to certain rules and principles. One general principle of collective activity is cooperation. Politeness is one principle related to cooperation (Ibid).Yet, what does it mean?

1. Politeness: Definitions

Politeness is a commonsense term with a considerable history going back to at least the 16th century. Though it can be easily interpreted as “the quality of being polite” i.e. ‘showing or having good manner and consideration for others’, yet associated terms as ‘civility’, ‘courtesy’ or ‘good manners’ may point up various associative connections: ‘civilization’, ‘life at court’ and in the city, or the general quality of having ‘life experience’ (Eelen, 2001: l). The notion of politeness, however, has got lots of interpretations and definitions ranging from a general principle of language use concerning all aspects of interaction, to the use of specific linguistic form and formulae (Ibid). Studies on politeness theories may reveal some of its other meanings as will be stated later. Verschueren (1999:45)mentions that "whilst deference is reserved for expression of respect for people of a higher status, 'politeness' has become a term in pragmatics for whatever choices are made in language use in relation to the need to preserve people's face in general, i.e. their public self-image."

Croft (1944:468), on the other hand, believes that politeness is a semantic category associated with illocutionary force, alongside with modality, emphasis and attitude. Grundy (1995:129), however, points out that politeness describes “the extent to which actions, including the way things are said, match others' perception of how they should be performed”.

Cruse (2000:362) defines politeness as “a matter of what is said, not a matter of what is thought or believed”. He further specifies the purpose of politeness in saying:

The purpose of politeness is the maintenance of
harmonious and smooth social relations in the face
of the necessity to convey belittling messages. Of course, the nature of reality, social, psychological and physical constrains the scope for politeness: if our world is to work’, we must respect this reality.

While Watts (1989:19) identifies politeness as linguistic behavior which is perceived to be beyond what is expectable, he (2003:20) refers to 'politic behavior' as:

that behaviour, linguistic and non-linguistic, which the participants construct as being appropriate to the ongoing social interaction. The construction may have been made prior to entering the interaction, but is always negotiable during the interaction, despite the expectations that participants might bring to it.

1.1. Theories of politeness

Politeness has to do with language – specifically language use –and thus it is related to pragmatics. On the other hand it is a social phenomenon which is connected to the social world. Therefore, research on politeness is either from a pragmatic perspective or from sociolinguistic point of view. The book entitled “A critique of politeness theories” of Gino Eelen (2001) mentions nine theories of politeness....
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