The Politeness Principle in the Presidential Inaugural Speech

Topics: President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson Pages: 8 (2816 words) Published: April 1, 2013
American presidential inaugural address is a very important speech with worldwide influence and long-lasting significance. It is delivered by the newly elected president on the inauguration day. The presidential inaugural address is a time for the president to set forth his vision for the country. Many great speeches have been delivered through the years and they attracted the attention of many political scientists, historians and many linguists as well. However the study of presidential inaugural address is mainly from political and stylistic perspective. Only a few were conducted from the pragmatic point of view. The main task of the address is to outline the main policies of the new government and win people’s support. The president tries to show the new government in a favourable light and win the approval of the public. In order to achieve these goals the speakers often resort to language skills among other things. Among these language skills, politeness language can serve these purposes properly and effectively. Therefore the presidents and their speech writing teams often choose politeness principles as they are more likely to succeed with them. Politeness principle

The politeness principle and its maxims belong to major concepts discussed in the field of pragmatics. Pragmatics is often defined as the study of language use and its users. According to Leech pragmatics “can be usefully defined as the study of how utterances have meanings in situations”. Pragmatic theory helps scholars to understand what people want to achieve and how they use language to achieve those goals. This paper will take a closer look at the application of the politeness principle in the presidential inaugural addresses. I will discuss the roles of the participants, the context as well as the communication strategies used to get their message across. The concept of politeness principle is a series of maxims proposed by Geoffrey Leech. He defines politeness as a type of behaviour that allows the participants to engage in a social interaction in a relative harmony. He suggested there are six different maxims: tact, generosity, approbation, modesty, agreement and sympathy. Perhaps the most thorough treatment of politeness was put forward by Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson. Their politeness strategy is one of the most influential ones. The basic notion of their model is face. They considered face as “the public self image that every member of society wants to claim for himself”. They assume that all competent adult members of society are concerned about the image they present to the world. On the other hand they do recognise that other people also have similar concerns about their own images. According to Brown and Levinson, face consists of the related aspects – negative and positive face. The first is represented by the desire not to be imposed whereas the second signifies the need to be appreciated and approved. Even though people maintain one’s face continuously the face threatening acts are inevitable. Such act can damage the face of the addressee or the speaker by acting in opposition to the desires of the communicative partner. In order to avoid dealing with such face threatening acts politeness strategies were developed. According to Brown and Levinson there are four of them: bald on record, positive politeness strategy, negative politeness strategy and off-record indirect strategy. For my paper the most important strategy is positive politeness. It is mostly employed to minimize the distance between participants by expressing friendliness and interest in the hearer. Positive politeness strategy is approach based. It is characterized by the expression of approval and appreciation of the addressee. Presidential inaugural address

The inauguration of the president of the United States takes place every time a new presidential term begins. The element mandated by the Constitution is that the president makes an oath of...
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