Researching Politeness: From the ‘Classical’ Approach to Discourse Analysis … and Back

  • Published: 09 June 2020
  • Volume 4 , pages 259–272, ( 2020 )

Cite this article

dissertation on politeness

  • Fabienne H. Baider 1 ,
  • Georgeta Cislaru 2 &
  • Chantal Claudel 3  

7203 Accesses

2 Citations

2 Altmetric

Explore all metrics

Avoid common mistakes on your manuscript.

Im/politeness has been subject to societal recommendations for centuries, and to academic studies for decades (Leech 1977 ; Lakoff 1973 ; Brown and Levinson 1978 ), maybe because politeness has been identified “as a key motivation for leaving things unsaid” (Norrick and Illie 2018 : 7). Politeness may be roughly defined as a frame of coded communicative norms embodying social conventionality, and impoliteness as a transgressional behaviour. This now well-established field of research provides researchers with a number of tools that have circulated widely in linguistics and beyond (intercultural studies, language teaching and language acquisition, etc.).

Different approaches to the topic have been identified along traditional divides in the field of pragmatics between on the one hand ‘Anglo-American and European pragmatics’ and on the other hand ‘micro and macro approaches’ (see Haugh and Culpeper 2018 : 213). Im/politeness may be seen as a kind of test-laboratory for numerous pragmatic concepts. The concepts of face (Goffman 1959 ), Grice’s principle of cooperation ( 1975 ), Brown and Levinson’s theory ( 1978 ), or Leech’s principle of politeness and maxims ( 1983 ) Footnote 1 are massively exploited for studying im/politeness. Therefore, several definitions and frameworks of im/politeness analysis compete in the field. An early conceptualization of politeness can be found in Leech’s notion of politeness as conflict avoidance, or Brown and Levinson’s ( 1978 ) formulation of politeness as avoiding or reducing face-threat, while more recent conceptualizations include politeness defined as the ‘interactional management of face needs’ (Grainger 2011 ) or im/politeness seen as social practice (Haugh 2015 ). Im/politeness can also be defined as a linguistic and/or paralinguistic/extralinguistic competence—non-verbal modalities such as prosody, kinesics, gesture and facial expressions (cf. Brown and Winter 2018 : 32–33), accompanying verbal rituals—to manage interpersonal relations. People develop and/or learn to master various strategies allowing them to structure/shape communication and relationships (Watts 2003 ; Locher and Watts 2005 ; Spencer-Oatey 2005 ). Some of these strategies are part of culturally shared norms, some are shaped by more local norms/cultures, within specific communities, in relationship with language genres and registers.

Im/politeness: Linguistics and the Social Turn

Across various theoretical frameworks and alongside developments in pragmatics, the concept of im/politeness and the related methodologies have continuously evolved. Culpeper ( 2011 ) and Grainger ( 2011 ) identified three “waves” in im/politeness research (see also Culpeper and Hardaker 2017 for a review). The first wave is anchored within early pragmatic theories and linguistic pragmatics, focusing on the micro-level of interactions, i.e. the utterances; thus, it works with speech act theory and conversational implicature. Lakoff’s approach ( 1973 , 1977 ) is an example of the first wave, which favours a quantitative dimension in the research. Taking into consideration the social motivations for language use, the second wave integrates the sociocultural dimensions of im/politeness strategies, making use for instance of Bourdieu’s ( 1977 , 1991 ) concepts of ‘symbolic capital’ and especially of the ‘habitus’ defined as “the dispositions [which] generate practices, perceptions and attitudes which are ‘regular’ without being consciously co-ordinated or governed by any ‘rule’” ( 1991 : 12). Fónagy’s ( 1982 ) concept of énoncé lié , defined as a stance-situation module, illustrates this new turn and anticipates contextual views.

Within this second wave, a more discursive approach has emerged since the 2000s, emphasizing these broader societal dimensions and challenging the use of concepts such as “appropriate” behaviour (Mills 2011 ), warning against general conclusions about situated behaviours and focusing on the hearer’s interpretation of the speech acts (as within Relevance theory, Watts 2003 ) since the meaning of speech acts is co-constructed between the participants. In that respect, Jary ( 1998 : 13) observed that “the relevance of polite behaviour to observers should not be taken to entail its relevance to participants”.

This social turn entailed the use of analytical frameworks that have been interpreted as ‘post-modern thinking’ (see Mills 2011 , who challenges this label). Such a shift in research on impoliteness led to the development of new theoretical frameworks (Eelen 2001 ; Kádár and Haugh 2013 : 5; Mills 2011 ), handling contextually situated polite and impolite strategies in order to counteract conversational moves (Culpeper 1996 , 2016 ). These new developments are also at the origin of the merging of the two terms into a single one, that of ‘im/politeness’. Interestingly, while one of the earliest studies devoted to the field focused on the topic of impoliteness within the classical model of analysis (Lachenicht 1980 ), it was politeness that attracted much more interest for quite a while (Culpeper and Hardaker 2017 : 206). It was only in 2008 (Bousfield 2008 ) that impoliteness was analyzed as “strategic, systematic, sophisticated and not uncommon” (ibid) and not as “some kind of politeness failure” (ibid). Impoliteness studies are then grounded both in the classical and the discursive approaches (Locher and Bousfield 2008 ).

These second-wave approaches have opened up towards corpus pragmatics since 2010 (see Romero-Trillo 2013 ; Rühlemann and Aijmer 2015 ), with the evaluation of appropriateness (cf. Fetzer 2007 ) entailing data/corpus observation and contextualization. Based on corpus linguistics methodologies, corpus studies of im/politeness strategies rely on more massive data, discuss the relationship between form and function, assess the pragmatic value in context and foster a renewal of pragmatic categories and data preferences (see, for an example, the study of criticism in academic book reviews by Diani 2015 ).

Im/politeness in Situated Interactions

In line with these developments, and still narrowing the focus, interaction pragmatics borrows approaches and tools from various fields of research such as discourse analysis, conversational analysis (Sacks et al. 1974 ), interactional sociolinguistics (Gumperz and Hymes 1972 ), or micro sociology (Goffman 1959 , 1967 , 1981 ) to put them to the test of authentic data. The objective is to identify the rules for organizing exchanges (Béal and Traverso 2010 ; Kerbrat-Orecchioni 1987 , 2001 : 59). In that regard, two levels of politeness have been acknowledged in im/politeness research (Watts et al. 1992 ; Eelen 2001 ), echoing the divorce between theory and praxis. On the one hand, the so-called Politeness 1 (or first-order Politeness) refers to everyday folk-notions or perceptions of what polite behaviour is: it is defined as behaviours “deemed to be socially and culturally appropriate in any given social activity” (Watts et al. 1992 : 48). On the other hand, the so-called Politeness 2 (or second-order politeness) refers to conceptualizations formulated by researchers, and labelled by Watts ( 2005 : xx) as a ‘theoretical construct’ uncoupled from ‘praxis and being’.

Putting the hearer, as well as the speaker, in the foreground, and considering them as full members of the exchanges places him or her in the position of assessors of im/polite behaviour. Thus, “(im)politeness becomes not only a matter of speakers producing behaviour but also of hearers evaluating that behaviour” (Eelen 2001 : 110). In the field of linguistic pragmatics (Kerbrat-Orecchioni 1984 ), the study of the illocutionary value of speech acts (ordering, advising, encouraging, etc.) is associated with revealing the impact of the parameters of the situation in which they are performed (conditions of production, the relational status of the instances involved, etc.). It can also be extended to the examination of the form in which they are carried out, since an act can be performed directly or indirectly, “under the cover of another language act” (Kerbrat-Orecchioni 2001 : 52). At a more specific level of analysis, research questions on the functioning of speech acts may concern, in particular, the place given in statements to indirection (Blum-Kulka 1987 ), to supportive moves and/or to the internal modifiers they are composed of (Blum-Kulka et al. 1989 : 281–289).

Im/politeness: Conceptual Stakes

Since analytical approaches do not aim at identifying linguistic patterns but at recording the deployment of speech acts in context, second wave approaches have been criticized for their lack of generalization (Terkourafi 2005 : 102). The so-called third wave strives to find a compromise between formal and discursive approaches. Leech ( 2014 ) advocates integrating “pragmalinguistic aspects of (im)politeness alongside sociopragmatic dimensions” (Haugh and Culpeper 2018 : 216). Indeed relational approaches (e.g. Spencer-Oatey 2001 , 2005 ), the frame-based approach to im/politeness (Terkourafi 2001 , 2005 ), and the interactional approach (e.g. Arundale 2010 ; Haugh 2007 ) focus on specific linguistic forms and presuppose stable meanings while taking into account the context and including both speaker and hearer perspectives.

Thus im/politeness involves numerous issues and interfaces, depending on the viewpoint adopted. Ideology, power, face and identity are involved as expected dimensions of the hierarchical and tensional organization of society. Conventionality, norms, rituals and morality are involved as aspects of a regulated and tending-to-homogeneity social organization, but also as tools for the hierarchical organization of society (Baider and Constantinou 2014 ). Variation and exploitation of specific contexts (workplace, legal and healthcare settings, gender, digital communication, etc.) are involved as aspects of the epoch, genre and register sensitivity (Claudel 2015 ). Emotion, prosody and socialization are considered dimensions of the implication of im/politeness in sociality, relationality and identity construction (see Culpeper et al. 2017 ).

Normativity appears to be the driving force underpinning im/politeness (see also Haugh and Chang 2019 ). The impact of normativity on im/politeness is addressed through such issues as conventionality (Terkourafi 2008 ), morality (Kádár 2017 ), or implicit versus explicit knowledge. Kádár ( 2017 ) pointed out that politeness is often “mechanical”, and thus we can consider that it is neutral, not directly intentional. This is due to long-acquired moral norms and may explain the variability in perception and prescription. Obviously enough, it also explains the salience of impoliteness—Kádár ( 2017 ) calls it salience by default—as a transgression of what is expected and appropriate. Impoliteness may also function as a norm-controller, inasmuch as “some relationally destructive ritual actions are necessary to establish or restore the moral order and the normative flow of an interactional event, but on the evaluative level, they might not be clearly impolite” (Kádár 2017 : 9). Between politeness and impoliteness, Kerbrat-Orecchioni ( 1992 ) proposes three other categories: hyper-politeness, non-politeness and “rudeness politeness” ( polirudesse ). Hyperpoliteness is characterized by the massive presence of politeness markers, non-politeness (or apoliteness) by the “normal absence of any politeness marker” such as, for example, when an order is given during military training (Kerbrat-Orecchioni 2014 : 300–301), and rudeness politeness through the use of im/polite behaviour not devoid of brutality (a scornful smile) whose function is “to reinforce the act of speech rather than to dampen it, and to increase its impact rather than to attenuate it” ( 1992 : 224).

To sum up, im/politeness issues engage assessing the appropriateness of the strategies deployed in communicative situations. Expectations are fixed in conjunction with deep-rooted moral norms—taken in a broad, context-sensitive perspective—and with the “common ground” (Stalnaker 2002 ) negotiated between language speakers. This viewpoint naturally leads to cross-cultural and intercultural studies, either corpus-based or experimental.

Cross-Cultural and Intercultural Im/politeness

The concept of common ground is central to Intercultural Pragmatics, but less so to Cross-cultural pragmatics which is concerned with the functioning of speech acts from a contrastive perspective (cf. Blum-Kulka and Olshtain 1984 ; Blum-Kulka et al. 1989 ; Herbert 1989 ; Sifianou 1992 ; Katsiki and Zamouri 2002 ). The same act, generally identified as similar in the two or three languages and cultures compared, is observed in the light of the parameters of the situation in which it is formulated (Watts 2005 ; Ogiermann 2009 ; Bargiela-Chiappini and Kádár 2010 ; Ruiz de Zarobe and Ruiz de Zarobe 2012 ). In that respect, Diani’s study of mitigation devices in English and Italian book reviews ( 2015 ) found that the use of verbs and downtoning adverbs were the commonest hedges. Such studies could be of interest for translators or language learners.

The aim of the contrastive approach is to uncover meeting points and differences between the communities under study and, in so doing, to identify universal rules (cf. Béal 2010 : 32–33). It is also an opportunity to question the transcultural meaning of the speech acts under study, whose conceptual features are often considered as specific to English (Wierzbicka 1991 ). Contrasting research is also interested in routine formulae or, in Coulmas’ own words, “sets of lexical items which are being used for the enactment of routines” ( 1981 : 13). However, Haugh and Kádár ( 2017 : 1) point out that most research involving several languages and politeness has adopted this cross-cultural approach in intracultural settings. Thus, many questions arise: when the corpora come from languages other than the one used to present the research, is there a loss of meaning in the translation of the corpus data or in the interpretations which are made? The issue of data translation is even more crucial when the idioms involved are far apart (cf. Claudel and Felten 2006 ). From a methodological point of view, these corpora raise the tricky question of their collection because of the multiple steps to be taken to obtain the necessary authorization for their recording and/or, when the supports are written (letters, e-mails, etc.), for their processing. These data also raise questions about the level of comparability of the documents or interactions concerned, the descriptive categories to be retained, and the value of the speech acts to be compared. Do these speech acts really have the same meaning in the languages being compared? While the question may seem trivial when the comparison concerns languages and cultures that are close to each other (e.g. Italian and Spanish), it is certainly not self-evident in the case of distant languages and cultures (e.g. Japanese and French or Persian and French) (Claudel 2015 ). This points to the need for reflection on defining the invariant of the comparison, i.e. the tertium comparationis or common platform of comparison (Connor and Moreno 2005 ; Krzeszowski 1990 ; Traverso 2006 : 40–41).

Studies adopting an intercultural pragmatics and politeness approach focus on encounters between interactants with different cultural backgrounds such as L2 learners. When researching the linguistic behaviour of L2 speakers—which is the case when working in Interlanguage pragmatics—generalizations ignore the fact that variations inevitably occur in the way members of the same speech community define and practice im/politeness. On the other hand, in any analysis of (im)politeness the language(s) should consider the influence of the language a person speaks or where they have grown up. If there is not yet an intercultural theory of politeness (Haugh 2010 ; Kecskes 2013 ), this can be explained by the complexity of analyzing and theorizing (im)politeness from an intercultural perspective (Haugh and Kádár 2017 ).

Despite the complexity of the task, researching the pragmatic competence of L2 speakers, and in particular, the learning and teaching of polite behaviour, is a very well established field. However, in the earliest studies in Interlanguage pragmatics, social categories were generally reduced to the nationality or the ethnicity of the participants and considered as stable. The methodologies focus on testing the use of speech acts such as requests, complaints, compliments, refusals, etc. (e.g., Bardovi-Harlig and Salsbury 2004 ; Félix-Brasdefer and Cohen 2012 ; Rose 2005 ). The study of such speech acts can be anchored in classic first-wave politeness theory, focusing on linguistic forms such as those we find in discourse completion tasks. Corpora can then be exploited within quantitative approaches. Researchers may adopt a more discursive and relational approach, i.e. investigating im/politeness as a co-constructed speech event, uncovering the forms of appropriation of the language practices of learners through the study of differences in pragmalinguistic and sociolinguistic behaviours between native and non-native speakers (cf. Thomas 1983 ; Kasper and Blum-Kulka 1993 ; Kasper and Rose 2002 ).

Methodological Issues: Discourse Analysis, Experimental and Historical Pragmatics

The approaches used to capture the forms of realization of im/politeness, whether from a monolingual perspective or a comparative perspective, are closely dependent on the units of analysis selected, which can encompass larger or smaller discourse segments. Researchers in contrastive pragmatics can orient their work towards discourse analysis or contrastive pragmatics as such (Péry-Woodley 1993 : 43). While the first trend stems from work in the ethnology of communication and the analysis of spoken discourse, the second is found in studies of speech acts along the lines of Searle ( 1975 ). These approaches are similar in that they both address the notion of speech act but from different angles. Whereas in contrastive pragmatics the speech act is the input that will describe how the act is performed in discourse situations, from the perspective of discourse analysts, the starting point is discourse, which is conceived as being the basis for the performance of language acts. The latter perspective is now at the heart of approaches claiming to be the ‘second wave’ of politeness research which, without necessarily adopting a comparative perspective, advocates situating itself on the level of discourse (cf. Kádár 2017 : xiii).

In this context, capturing phenomena of social reality, and more specifically of im/politeness, through the study of the functioning of language leads to methodological choices which, in relation to the theoretical background favoured, select linguistic and pragmatic categories of analysis. In contrast to these orientations, discourse can be put under scrutiny. In this case, the functioning of linguistic markers (deixis, enunciation markers, lexical entries, etc.) becomes crucial inasmuch as they frame the speech acts to be analyzed.

The fact that politeness often passes unnoticed (Culpeper 2011 ) and that transgressions like impoliteness are more tangible explains the success of these transgressions in recent years. It also challenges approaches to politeness and their methodological choices. The perception of im/politeness and its underpinnings, such as moral norms (Kádár 2017 ) or cultural conceptualizations (Sharifian 2011 ) became a major concern for pragmatic studies. The development of experimental pragmatics (Sperber and Noveck 2004 ) enhanced methodological opportunities to measure, from the speaker’s point of view, the perception, assessment and affiliation to moral and cultural baselines for various populations. The variability in individual perceptions has also become an issue for the pragmatics of im/politeness, and compels the theoretical conceptualization of linguistic strategies and their historical, social and cultural underpinnings (see also Haugh and Chang 2019 ). Evaluation involves forms of agency exercised in two ways, according to Haugh and Chang ( 2019 ): “(1) making different contextual assumptions about the event in question, and (2) drawing on different rationales to ground their respective classifications.” Methods such as questionnaires or discourse completion tasks (DCT), derived from experimental psychology, raise the questions of:

The non-homogeneity related to variability in the interpretation of the question formulated;

The difference between perception and expectations, between perception and what we may call “cultural recommendations”;

The status of implicit or explicit knowledge exploited for various im/politeness strategies—for instance, some speech acts are spontaneous and unconscious, while others like apologies or requests are most of the time prepared in advance (on this last point see Labben 2016 : 74).

Many studies have underlined the difficulties encountered by research in linguistic pragmatics, and this has led to the development of new methodologies, especially in the last 20 years: experimental pragmatics, corpus or discourse pragmatics, etc. Corpus linguistics can be used, for example, to research address terms or hedges, as illustrated by Diani’s study of mitigation devices within a contrastive perspective. Combining methodologies might be an exciting choice for the study of (im)politeness. However, pragmatic annotation as far as politeness is concerned (Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil et al. 2013 ) is a complex task, since most pragmatic phenomena display a form–function ‘mismatch’ (Rühlemann and Aijmer 2015 : 11). This is the reason why automatic tagging does not give good results, and most often researchers resort to labour-intensive manual tagging (Rühlemann and Aijmer 2015 : 11), as is the case in most of the articles in the present volume. Semi-automatic tagging is a compromise which may bring about results, as Weisser’s ( 2015 ) Speech act annotation system DART suggests. However, most corpus pragmatics research adopts a hybrid approach, integrating qualitative and quantitative methodologies.

As for work on authentic or situated data, it is often the result of research into “discourse in institutional settings” when it involves non-native speakers because of the regularity and predictability of the interactional formats involved, which are largely dictated by the context of the encounter (Kasper 1999 : 73). The study of verbal exchanges between native speakers covers many other contexts, whether in the same community or in several cultural communities. Research on colloquial conversation (Traverso 1996 ) or interactions in commercial settings (Traverso 2006 ; Kerbrat-Orecchioni and Traverso 2008 ) are some examples.

Last but not least, as shown by Culpeper and Demmen ( 2011 ) with the rise of the individual self in nineteenth century Britain, historical evolutions change pragmatic baselines, and help in explaining contemporary im/politeness strategies The upturn of historical pragmatics in the last 10–15 years is indisputable and sustains already established or newly formulated issues (Bax and Kádár 2012 ). The place and the impact of norms and other cultural frames and availability may thus be challenged and recontextualized (Jucker 2012 ). The lack of experimental data in historical pragmatics on the perception and assessment of im/politeness strategies leads to a very fertile “discourse analysis” methodology, articulating the reconstruction of social context and a fine-grained study of linguistic strategies.

This Special Issue

This special issue focuses on the im/politeness and intercultural communication interface and explores several crucial areas such as Historical pragmatics, Forensic discourse, Impoliteness, etc. The authors’ choices of analytical frameworks range from a Frame-based Approach to Experimental Pragmatics, to mention but two. The shared aim is to understand the functioning or value of certain pragmatic or linguistic units in different interactional and situational contexts, taking into account the forms of circulation of discourse and/or phenomena related to what is at stake in the exchanges. Whether from a comparative angle or from monolingual perspectives, the contributors deal with the way im/politeness manifests itself in diachronic and/or synchronic contexts.

Maria Paola Tenchini and Aldo Frigerio’s paper takes a theoretical turn to deal with the value of insult and pejorative terms in reported discourse. The authors draw on the class of words and expressions called pejoratives, which are characterized by their negative connotative component, in order to question the responsibility of the one who reports an offensive term, and consequently the maintenance or semantic loss of these terms in the reported context. Tenchini and Frigerio’s study revisits the theoretical explanations which argue that the pejorative component has to be interpreted as impolite. They investigate in particular whether reporting a slur is labelled as an offensive strategy. The approach is sociolinguistic and makes use of questionnaires to test the speakers’ intuition; the results show contradictions with what some theories would have predicted as far as the offensiveness of the slurs in reported speech is concerned.

Katalin Nagy’s paper is situated in the field of historical pragmatics, one of the most recent branches of pragmatics. This field can shed light on phenomena of present-day languages and in particular, can challenge conclusions based on contemporary data. Nagy’s work examines the evolution of the formula ( no ) plàcia/plagués a Déu ‘may it (not) please God’ in a corpus of medieval Catalan texts belonging to different genres that circulated from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century. The author explores the imperative and subjunctive moods used to give polite (or indirect) directives. The author contextualizes the study by recalling that in medieval times, the vision of the world was dominated by the place accorded to divine powers. This conception explains why, in constructions with the verb ‘plaure’, the position of the beneficiary is attributed to God as it was derived from formulas associated with his will. Identified as belonging to two distinct speech acts—the directive and the expressive—the construction with ‘plaure’ is posed as being either a wish coupled with a request to carry out the desired act or a simple wish. However, the question arises as to how to interpret the act performed in the statements analyzed. To evaluate their illocutionary force, the author notes the importance that should be given to subjectivity and uses grammatical markers (pronouns; verbal mode and tenses) as well as external, encyclopedic knowledge relating to the belief that in the Middle Ages everyone granted God power over their acts. Based on Brown and Levinson’s theory ( 1978 ), the author demonstrates that the speaker urges the addressee to have the willingness to do X. This finding challenges Searle’s ( 1975 : 72) statement that the speaker can only ask the hearer whether H wants or wishes to do X but not order H to want or wish to do so.

From a methodological viewpoint, the contrastive approach combining form-to-function and function-to-form perspectives, and comparing uses of speech act verbs in dialogues vs descriptive parts of the texts open avenues for renewed perspectives in pragmatic analysis.

In her article, Marianna Varga focuses on politeness strategies in a monolingual context, working on the concept of impression management in courtroom discourses. She puts under scrutiny two components of impression management (impression motivation and impression construction) used by judges, defendants and witnesses in ten Hungarian criminal and civil trials, recorded with a dictaphone and completed by written notes from direct observation and strategies of all the participants (judges, defendants, and witnesses). Five types of impression management are investigated in detail: tactical self-descriptions, attitude expressions, attributional statements, social associations, and conformity-compliance. The aim is to report on the “types of language impression management strategies” mobilized according to the profile of the protagonists, based on the assumption that accused persons will produce more of them than witnesses because of the need to reduce their sentences. It is thus shown that, if compared to what witnesses produce, the accused develop more strategies for managing the linguistic impression, particularly through politeness and respect, it is because the stakes are higher for them, so making a good impression can help to reduce their sentence. As for judges, it is above all the preservation of faces that they ensure by using various verbal behaviours (politeness; inclusive ‘we’…), in order to encourage cooperation with witnesses. One of the main strengths of the paper is the complex and very complete approach to the parameters influencing im/politeness and determining its social functioning; indeed, the analysis takes into consideration the characteristics of the Hungarian culture, language, and legal system and demonstrates the crucial importance of the politeness strategies mobilized for a successful courtroom interrogation.

Elena Nuzzo and Diego Cortés Velásquez compare the pragmalinguistic strategies of Italian and Colombian speakers during last-minute cancellations. The aim is to understand, from the point of view of politeness, the meeting points and differences at work in the communities under study, on the hypothesis that in languages and cultures dominated by positive politeness, as is the case in Colombia, it is not as essential to soften the act of last-minute cancellation as it is in communities where negative politeness is exercised. From a methodological point of view, the examination of the responses to the questionnaires submitted to the informants led the authors to adjust what were considered as sub-acts of justification, appeal to empathy, gratitude, etc. alongside internal modifiers (Evaluation, Intensifiers and Terms of Endearment). The statistical analysis they undertook enabled them to reveal the predominance of three sub-acts common to the Italian and Colombian corpus: annulment, explanation and remedial move. Other sub-acts report significant differences between Italians and Colombians, the former preferring the call to empathy, while the latter prefer gratitude. At a more precise level of analysis, the study shows that, although shared by both communities, the explanation takes more vague forms among Colombians than among Italians, the latter tending to clarify the reasons for their last-minute cancellation.

Moreover, the Italian data quantitatively contain more internal modifiers than the Colombian sub-corpus. After analyzing sub-acts by the situation (dinner, party and drink) and the effect of social distance (low, intermediate, high) on the distribution of internal modifiers, the authors conclude that there are standard practices between groups in the choice of sub-acts. However, these are mobilized differently and lead to distinct pragmalinguistic behaviours. The desire to maintain negative face leads Italians to prefer certain acts (apology or expression of regret) and to resort to detailed explanations to justify their last-minute cancellation. At the same time, their Colombian counterparts attach more importance to positive face through, in particular, the use of the act of gratitude. The choice of modifiers also shows differences between the practices. The use of intensifiers ( tanto ; terribilmente ) or modalisers ( purtroppo ) on the Italian side stresses the desire for reparation, whereas on the Colombian side, this approach is rarer.

Evgenia Vassilaki and Stathis Selimis’s article combines corpus linguistics and qualitative analysis to study pragmatic competence in an intercultural context. They focus on the use of the speech act of request in daily interactions and examine the frequency and distribution of supportive moves (SMs) used by 51 children (8- and 11-year-olds) of different linguistic backgrounds learning Greek. The data were elicited via an Oral Production Task, and the focus is on the use of pre- or post-positioned modifiers to mitigate the imposition of the request. Such a sociopragmatic feature has been found in early stages of L2 proficiency. The quantitative and qualitative results highlight sociopragmatic awareness in a more frequent, more appropriate and more native-like fashion than reported in previous research, even though comparisons still have to be carried out with caution. The claim put forward is that one should also take into account L1 pragmatic abilities, and therefore that the development of children’s general socio-cognitive abilities should also be considered in analyzing request performance studies.

The nature of the data exploited in this special issue offers different entry points and serves several purposes. Corpora can be used to collect points of view or judgements regarding certain linguistic-pragmatic behaviours. The results thus obtained through research conducted on corpora collected by DCT (Discourse Completion Test/Task), by online questionnaires or by tasks as illustrated in this volume can constitute a springboard for the development of subsequent studies based on targeted behaviours from real situations of communication.

‘A constraint observed in human communicative behaviour, influencing us to avoid communicative discord or offence, and maintain communicative concord’ (Leech 1983 : 7).

Arundale, R. (2010). Constituting face in conversation: Face, facework and interactional achievement. Journal of Pragmatics, 42 (8), 2078–2105.

Google Scholar  

Baider, F., & Constantinou, M. (2014). La fureur de gagner, la rage de perdre. Étude contrastive de colère, rage et fureur en français et en grec moderne. Études romanes de Brno, 35 (1), 89–104.

Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Salsbury, T. (2004). The organization of turns in the disagreements of L2 learners: A longitudinal perspective. In D. Boxer & A. D. Cohen (Eds.), Studying speaking to inform second language learning (pp. 199–227). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Bargiela-Chiappini, F., & Kádár, D. Z. (Eds.). (2010). Politeness across cultures . Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bax, M., & Kádár, D. Z. (Eds.). (2012). Understanding historical (im)politeness: Relational linguistic practice over time and across cultures . Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Béal, C. (2010). Les interactions quotidiennes en français et en anglais, De l’approche comparative à l’analyse des situations interculturelles . Bern: Peter Lang.

Béal, C., & Traverso, V. (2010). ‘Hello, we’re outrageously punctual’: Front door rituals between friends in Australia and France. Journal of French Language Studies, 20 (1), 17–29.

Blum-Kulka, S. (1987). Indirectness and politeness in requests: Same or different? Journal of Pragmatics, 11, 131–146.

Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. (Eds.). (1989). Cross-cultural pragmatics: Requests and apologies . Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Blum-Kulka, S., & Olshtain, E. (1984). A cross-cultural study of speech act realization patterns (CCSARP). Applied Linguistics, 5 (3), 196–213.

Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice . Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power . Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bousfield, D. (2008). Impoliteness in interaction . Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (1978). Politeness. Some universals in language usage. In E. N. Goody (Ed.), Questions and politeness (pp. 56–310). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, L., & Winter, B. (2018). Multimodal indexicality in Korean: “Doing deference” and “performing intimacy” through nonverbal behavior. Journal of Politeness Research, 15 (1), 25–54.

Claudel, C. (2015). Apologies and thanks in French and Japanese personal emails: a comparison of politeness practices. Russia Journal of Linguistics, Special Issue: Intercultural Communication: Theory and Practice, 23 (4), 127–145.

Claudel, C., & Felten, G. (2006). Rendre compte d’analyses comparatives sur des corpus issus de langues/cultures éloignées. Carnets du Cediscor, 9, 23–37.

Connor, U. M., & Moreno, A. I. (2005). Tertium comparationis: A vital component in contrastive research methodology. In P. Bruthiaux, D. Atkinson, W. G. Eggington, W. Grabe, & V. Ramanathan (Eds.), Directions in applied linguistics: Essays in honor of Robert B. Kaplan (pp. 153–164). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Coulmas, F. (Ed.). (1981). Conversational routine . La Haye, Paris, NY: Mouton.

Culpeper, J. (1996). Towards an anatomy of impoliteness. Journal of Pragmatics, 25, 349–367.

Culpeper, J. (2011). Politeness and impoliteness. In K. Aijmer & G. Andersen (Eds.), Sociopragmatics. Handbooks of pragmatics (Vol. 5, pp. 391–436). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Culpeper, J. (2016). Impoliteness strategies. In A. Capone & J. Mey (Eds.), Interdisciplinary studies in pragmatics (pp. 421–445). Heidelberg, NY, Dordrecht, London: Springer.

Culpeper, J., & Demmen, J. (2011). Nineteenth-century English politeness Negative politeness, conventional indirect requests and the rise of the individual self. Journal of Historical Pragmatics, 12 (1–2), 49–81.

Culpeper, J., & Hardaker, C. (2017). Impoliteness. In J. Culpeper, M. Haugh, & D. Kádár (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of linguistic (im)politeness (pp. 199–226). London: Palgrave.

Culpeper, J., Haugh, M., & Kádár, D. (2017). The Palgrave handbook of linguistic (im)politeness . London: Palgrave.

Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, C., Sudhof, M., Jurafsky, D., Leskovec, J., & Potts, C. (2013). A computational approach to politeness with application to social factors. Proceedings of ACL 2013 . .

Diani, G. (2015). Politeness. In K. Aijmer & C. Rühlemann (Eds.), Corpus pragmatics (pp. 169–195). Cambridge: CUP.

Eelen, G. (2001). A critique of politeness theories . Manchester: St Jerome.

Félix-Brasdefer, J. C., & Cohen, A. D. (2012). Teaching pragmatics in the foreign language classroom: Grammar as a communicative resource. Hispania, 95 (4), 650–669.

Fetzer, A. (2007). Context, contexts and appropriateness. In A. Fetzer (Ed.), Context and appropriateness (pp. 3–27). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Fónagy, I. (1982). Situation et signification . Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life . New York: Anchor Books.

Goffman, E. (1967). Interaction ritual. Essays on face-to-face behavior . Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Goffman, E. (1981). Forms of talk . Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Grainger, K. (2011). ‘First order’ and ‘second order’ politeness: Institutional and intercultural contexts. In Linguistic Politeness Research Group (Ed.), Discursive approaches to politeness (pp. 167–188). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole & J. P. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics, vol. 3. Speech Acts (pp. 41–58). London: Seminar Press.

Gumperz, J., & Hymes, D. (1972). Directions in sociolinguistics: The ethnography of communication . New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Haugh, M. (2007). The discursive challenge to politeness theory: An interactional alternative. Journal of Politeness Research, 3, 295–317. .

Article   Google Scholar  

Haugh, M. (2010). Intercultural (im)politeness and the micro-macro issue. In A. Trosborg (Ed.), Pragmatics across languages and cultures (pp. 139–166). Berlin/New York: De Gruyter Mouton.

Haugh, M. (2015). Im/politeness implicatures . Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Haugh, M., & Chang, W.-L. M. (2019). “The apology seemed (in)sincere”: Variability in perceptions of (im)politeness. Journal of Pragmatics, 142, 207–222. .

Haugh, M., & Culpeper, J. (2018). Integrative pragmatics and (im)politeness theory. In C. Ilie & N. R. Norrick (Eds.), Pragmatics and its interfaces (pp. 213–239). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Haugh, M., & Kádár, D. Z. (2017). Intercultural im/politeness. In J. Culpeper, M. Haugh, & D. Z. Kádár (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of linguistic (im)politeness (pp. 601–632). London: Parlgrave Mcmillan.

Herbert, R. K. (1989). The ethnography of English compliments and compliment responses: A contrastive sketch. In W. Oleksy (Ed.), Contrastive pragmatics (pp. 3–35). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Jary, M. (1998). Relevance theory and the communication of politeness. Journal of Pragmatics, 30, 1–19.

Jucker, A. H. (2012). Positive and negative face as descriptive categories in the history of English. In M. Bax & D. Z. Kádár (Eds.), Understanding historical (im)politeness: Relational linguistic practice over time and across cultures (pp. 175–194). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Kádár, D. (2017). Politeness, impoliteness, and ritual. Maintaining the moral order in interpersonal interaction . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kádár, D., & Haugh, M. (2013). Understanding politeness . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kasper, G. (1999). Data collection in pragmatics research. University of Hawai’i Working Papers in ESL, 18 (1), 71–107.

Kasper, G., & Blum-Kulka, S. (1993). Interlanguage pragmatics: An introduction. In G. Kasper & S. Blum-Kulka (Eds.), Interlanguage pragmatics (pp. 3–17). Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.

Kasper, G., & Rose, K. R. (2002). Pragmatic development in a second language . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Katsiki, S., & Zamouri, S. (2002). La formulation du vœu en français, en grec et en arabe tunisien. In C. Béal, & V. Traverso (Eds.), Marges linguistiques .œu-en-français–en-grec-et-en-arabe .

Kecskes, I. (2013). Intercultural pragmatics . Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kerbrat-Orecchioni, C. (1984). Pour une approche pragmatique du dialogue théâtral. Pratiques: Linguistique, Littérature, Didactique, 41, 46–62.

Kerbrat-Orecchioni, C. (1987). La description des échanges en analyse conversationnelle: l’exemple du compliment. DRLAV—Documentation et Recherche en Linguistique Allemande Contemporain—Vincennes, 36–37, 1–53. .

Kerbrat-Orecchioni, C. (1992). Les interactions verbales . Paris: A. Colin.

Kerbrat-Orecchioni, C. (2001). Les actes de langage dans le discours . Paris: Nathan Université.

Kerbrat-Orecchioni, C. (2014). (Im)politesse et gestion des faces dans deux types de situations communicatives: Petits commerces et débats électoraux. SOPRAG, 2, 293–326.

Kerbrat-Orecchioni, C., & Traverso, V. (Eds.). (2008). Les interactions en site commercial, invariants et variation . Lyon: ENS Editions.

Krzeszowski, T. P. (1990). Contrasting languages: The scope of contrastive linguistics . Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Labben, A. (2016). Reconsidering the development of the discourse completion test in interlanguage pragmatics. Pragmatics, 26 (1), 69–91.

Lachenicht, L. G. (1980). Aggravating language: A study of abusive and insulting language. International Journal of Human Communication, 13 (4), 607–688.

Lakoff, R. (1973). The logic of politeness; or, minding your p’s and q’s. In Papers from the ninth regional meeting of the Chicago linguistic society (pp. 292–305). Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.

Lakoff, R. (1977). What you can do with words: Politeness, pragmatics and performatives. In A. Rogers, B. Wall, & J. P Murphy (Eds.), Proceedings of the Texas conference on performatives, presuppositions and implicatures (pp. 79–105). Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Leech, G. (1977). Language and tact . Trier: University of Trier.

Leech, G. (1983). Principles of pragmatics . Londres: Longman.

Leech, G. (2014). The pragmatics of politeness . Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Locher, M. A., & Bousfield, D. (2008). Introduction: Impoliteness and power in language. In D. Bousfield & M. A. Locher (Eds.), Impoliteness in language: Studies on its interplay with power in theory and practice (pp. 1–13). Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Locher, M., & Watts, R. (2005). Politeness theory and relational work. Journal of Politeness Research, 1 (1), 9–33.

Mills, S. (2011). Discursive approaches to politeness and impoliteness. In Linguistic Politeness Research Group (Ed.), Discursive approaches to politeness (pp. 19–56). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Norrick, N. R., & Ilie, C. (Eds.). (2018). Pragmatics and its interfaces . Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Ogiermann, E. (2009). On apologising in negative and positive politeness cultures . Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Péry-Woodley, M.-P. (1993). Les écrits dans l’apprentissage, Clés pour analyser les productions d’apprenants . Paris: Hachette.

Romero-Trillo, J. (Ed.). (2013). Yearbook of corpus linguistics and pragmatics 2013: New domains and methodologies . Dordrecht: Springer.

Rose, K. (2005). On the effects of instruction in second language pragmatics. System, 33, 385–399.

Rühlemann, C., & Aijmer, K. (2015). Corpus pragmatics: Laying the foundations. In K. Aijmer & C. Rühlemann (Eds.), Corpus pragmatics (pp. 1–27). Cambridge: CUP.

Ruiz de Zarobe, L., & Ruiz de Zarobe, Y. (Eds.). (2012). Speech acts and politeness across languages and cultures . Bern: Peter Lang.

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language, 50, 696–735.

Searle, J. R. (1975). Indirect speech acts. In P. Cole & J. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics 3: Speech acts (pp. 59–82). New York: Academic Press.

Sharifian, F. (2011). Cultural conceptualisations and language: Theoretical framework and applications . Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins. .

Book   Google Scholar  

Sifianou, M. (1992). Politeness phenomena in England and Greece: A cross-cultural perspective . Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Spencer-Oatey, H. (2001). Culturally speaking: Managing rapport through talk across cultures . London/New York: Continuum.

Spencer-Oatey, H. (2005). (Im)politeness, face and perceptions of rapport: Unpackaging their bases and relationships. Journal of Politeness Research, 1 (1), 95–120.

Sperber, D., & Noveck, I. (Eds.). (2004). Experimental pragmatics . Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Stalnaker, R. (2002). Common ground. Linguistics and Philosophy, 25, 701–721.

Terkourafi, M. (2001). Politeness in Cypriot Greek: A frame - based approach (Ph.D. dissertation). Cambridge: University of Cambridge.

Terkourafi, M. (2005). Beyond the micro-level in politeness research. Journal of Politeness Research, 1 (2), 237–262.

Terkourafi, M. (2008). Toward a unified theory of politeness, impoliteness, and rudeness. In D. Bousfield & M. Locher (Eds.), Impoliteness in language. Language, power and social process (pp. 54–89). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Thomas, J. (1983). Cross-cultural pragmatic failure. Applied Linguistics, 4 (2), 91–112.

Traverso, V. (1996). La conversation familière, analyse pragmatique des interactions . Lyon: Presses Universitaires de Lyon.

Traverso, V. (2006). Aspects of polite behaviour in French and Syrian service encounters: A data-based comparative study. Journal of Politeness Research, 2 (1), 105–123.

Watts, R. (2003). Politeness . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Watts, R. (2005). Linguistic politeness research: Quo vadis? In R. J. Watts, S. Ide, & K. Ehlich (Eds.), Politeness in language: Studies in its history, theory and practice (pp. 11–47). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Watts, R. J., Ide, S., & Ehlich, K. (1992). Politeness in language . Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.

Weisser, M. (2015). Speech act annotation. In K. Aijmer & C. Rühlemann (Eds.), Corpus pragmatics . Cambridge: CUP.

Wierzbicka, A. (1991). Cross-cultural pragmatics. The semantics of human interaction . Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Download references

Author information

Authors and affiliations.

University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus

Fabienne H. Baider

Université Sorbonne nouvelle, Paris, France

Georgeta Cislaru

Université Paris Nanterre, Paris, France

Chantal Claudel

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Fabienne H. Baider .

Additional information

Publisher's note.

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Baider, F.H., Cislaru, G. & Claudel, C. Researching Politeness: From the ‘Classical’ Approach to Discourse Analysis … and Back. Corpus Pragmatics 4 , 259–272 (2020).

Download citation

Published : 09 June 2020

Issue Date : September 2020


Share this article

Anyone you share the following link with will be able to read this content:

Sorry, a shareable link is not currently available for this article.

Provided by the Springer Nature SharedIt content-sharing initiative

  • Find a journal
  • Publish with us
  • Track your research
  • Search Menu
  • Browse content in Arts and Humanities
  • Browse content in Archaeology
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology
  • Archaeological Methodology and Techniques
  • Archaeology by Region
  • Archaeology of Religion
  • Archaeology of Trade and Exchange
  • Biblical Archaeology
  • Contemporary and Public Archaeology
  • Environmental Archaeology
  • Historical Archaeology
  • History and Theory of Archaeology
  • Industrial Archaeology
  • Landscape Archaeology
  • Mortuary Archaeology
  • Prehistoric Archaeology
  • Underwater Archaeology
  • Urban Archaeology
  • Zooarchaeology
  • Browse content in Architecture
  • Architectural Structure and Design
  • History of Architecture
  • Residential and Domestic Buildings
  • Theory of Architecture
  • Browse content in Art
  • Art Subjects and Themes
  • History of Art
  • Industrial and Commercial Art
  • Theory of Art
  • Biographical Studies
  • Byzantine Studies
  • Browse content in Classical Studies
  • Classical History
  • Classical Philosophy
  • Classical Mythology
  • Classical Literature
  • Classical Reception
  • Classical Art and Architecture
  • Classical Oratory and Rhetoric
  • Greek and Roman Papyrology
  • Greek and Roman Epigraphy
  • Greek and Roman Law
  • Greek and Roman Archaeology
  • Late Antiquity
  • Religion in the Ancient World
  • Digital Humanities
  • Browse content in History
  • Colonialism and Imperialism
  • Diplomatic History
  • Environmental History
  • Genealogy, Heraldry, Names, and Honours
  • Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing
  • Historical Geography
  • History by Period
  • History of Emotions
  • History of Agriculture
  • History of Education
  • History of Gender and Sexuality
  • Industrial History
  • Intellectual History
  • International History
  • Labour History
  • Legal and Constitutional History
  • Local and Family History
  • Maritime History
  • Military History
  • National Liberation and Post-Colonialism
  • Oral History
  • Political History
  • Public History
  • Regional and National History
  • Revolutions and Rebellions
  • Slavery and Abolition of Slavery
  • Social and Cultural History
  • Theory, Methods, and Historiography
  • Urban History
  • World History
  • Browse content in Language Teaching and Learning
  • Language Learning (Specific Skills)
  • Language Teaching Theory and Methods
  • Browse content in Linguistics
  • Applied Linguistics
  • Cognitive Linguistics
  • Computational Linguistics
  • Forensic Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics
  • History of English
  • Language Evolution
  • Language Reference
  • Language Acquisition
  • Language Variation
  • Language Families
  • Lexicography
  • Linguistic Anthropology
  • Linguistic Theories
  • Linguistic Typology
  • Phonetics and Phonology
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Translation and Interpretation
  • Writing Systems
  • Browse content in Literature
  • Bibliography
  • Children's Literature Studies
  • Literary Studies (Romanticism)
  • Literary Studies (American)
  • Literary Studies (Asian)
  • Literary Studies (European)
  • Literary Studies (Eco-criticism)
  • Literary Studies (Modernism)
  • Literary Studies - World
  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
  • Literary Studies (19th Century)
  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)
  • Literary Studies (African American Literature)
  • Literary Studies (British and Irish)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Literary Studies (Fiction, Novelists, and Prose Writers)
  • Literary Studies (Gender Studies)
  • Literary Studies (Graphic Novels)
  • Literary Studies (History of the Book)
  • Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights)
  • Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)
  • Literary Studies (Postcolonial Literature)
  • Literary Studies (Queer Studies)
  • Literary Studies (Science Fiction)
  • Literary Studies (Travel Literature)
  • Literary Studies (War Literature)
  • Literary Studies (Women's Writing)
  • Literary Theory and Cultural Studies
  • Mythology and Folklore
  • Shakespeare Studies and Criticism
  • Browse content in Media Studies
  • Browse content in Music
  • Applied Music
  • Dance and Music
  • Ethics in Music
  • Ethnomusicology
  • Gender and Sexuality in Music
  • Medicine and Music
  • Music Cultures
  • Music and Media
  • Music and Religion
  • Music and Culture
  • Music Education and Pedagogy
  • Music Theory and Analysis
  • Musical Scores, Lyrics, and Libretti
  • Musical Structures, Styles, and Techniques
  • Musicology and Music History
  • Performance Practice and Studies
  • Race and Ethnicity in Music
  • Sound Studies
  • Browse content in Performing Arts
  • Browse content in Philosophy
  • Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art
  • Epistemology
  • Feminist Philosophy
  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Metaphysics
  • Moral Philosophy
  • Non-Western Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Philosophy of Mind
  • Philosophy of Perception
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Philosophy of Action
  • Philosophy of Law
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic
  • Practical Ethics
  • Social and Political Philosophy
  • Browse content in Religion
  • Biblical Studies
  • Christianity
  • East Asian Religions
  • History of Religion
  • Judaism and Jewish Studies
  • Qumran Studies
  • Religion and Education
  • Religion and Health
  • Religion and Politics
  • Religion and Science
  • Religion and Law
  • Religion and Art, Literature, and Music
  • Religious Studies
  • Browse content in Society and Culture
  • Cookery, Food, and Drink
  • Cultural Studies
  • Customs and Traditions
  • Ethical Issues and Debates
  • Hobbies, Games, Arts and Crafts
  • Lifestyle, Home, and Garden
  • Natural world, Country Life, and Pets
  • Popular Beliefs and Controversial Knowledge
  • Sports and Outdoor Recreation
  • Technology and Society
  • Travel and Holiday
  • Visual Culture
  • Browse content in Law
  • Arbitration
  • Browse content in Company and Commercial Law
  • Commercial Law
  • Company Law
  • Browse content in Comparative Law
  • Systems of Law
  • Competition Law
  • Browse content in Constitutional and Administrative Law
  • Government Powers
  • Judicial Review
  • Local Government Law
  • Military and Defence Law
  • Parliamentary and Legislative Practice
  • Construction Law
  • Contract Law
  • Browse content in Criminal Law
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Criminal Evidence Law
  • Sentencing and Punishment
  • Employment and Labour Law
  • Environment and Energy Law
  • Browse content in Financial Law
  • Banking Law
  • Insolvency Law
  • History of Law
  • Human Rights and Immigration
  • Intellectual Property Law
  • Browse content in International Law
  • Private International Law and Conflict of Laws
  • Public International Law
  • IT and Communications Law
  • Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law
  • Law and Politics
  • Law and Society
  • Browse content in Legal System and Practice
  • Courts and Procedure
  • Legal Skills and Practice
  • Primary Sources of Law
  • Regulation of Legal Profession
  • Medical and Healthcare Law
  • Browse content in Policing
  • Criminal Investigation and Detection
  • Police and Security Services
  • Police Procedure and Law
  • Police Regional Planning
  • Browse content in Property Law
  • Personal Property Law
  • Study and Revision
  • Terrorism and National Security Law
  • Browse content in Trusts Law
  • Wills and Probate or Succession
  • Browse content in Medicine and Health
  • Browse content in Allied Health Professions
  • Arts Therapies
  • Clinical Science
  • Dietetics and Nutrition
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Operating Department Practice
  • Physiotherapy
  • Radiography
  • Speech and Language Therapy
  • Browse content in Anaesthetics
  • General Anaesthesia
  • Neuroanaesthesia
  • Clinical Neuroscience
  • Browse content in Clinical Medicine
  • Acute Medicine
  • Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Clinical Genetics
  • Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics
  • Dermatology
  • Endocrinology and Diabetes
  • Gastroenterology
  • Genito-urinary Medicine
  • Geriatric Medicine
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Medical Toxicology
  • Medical Oncology
  • Pain Medicine
  • Palliative Medicine
  • Rehabilitation Medicine
  • Respiratory Medicine and Pulmonology
  • Rheumatology
  • Sleep Medicine
  • Sports and Exercise Medicine
  • Community Medical Services
  • Critical Care
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Forensic Medicine
  • Haematology
  • History of Medicine
  • Browse content in Medical Skills
  • Clinical Skills
  • Communication Skills
  • Nursing Skills
  • Surgical Skills
  • Browse content in Medical Dentistry
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Paediatric Dentistry
  • Restorative Dentistry and Orthodontics
  • Surgical Dentistry
  • Medical Ethics
  • Medical Statistics and Methodology
  • Browse content in Neurology
  • Clinical Neurophysiology
  • Neuropathology
  • Nursing Studies
  • Browse content in Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Gynaecology
  • Occupational Medicine
  • Ophthalmology
  • Otolaryngology (ENT)
  • Browse content in Paediatrics
  • Neonatology
  • Browse content in Pathology
  • Chemical Pathology
  • Clinical Cytogenetics and Molecular Genetics
  • Histopathology
  • Medical Microbiology and Virology
  • Patient Education and Information
  • Browse content in Pharmacology
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Browse content in Popular Health
  • Caring for Others
  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine
  • Self-help and Personal Development
  • Browse content in Preclinical Medicine
  • Cell Biology
  • Molecular Biology and Genetics
  • Reproduction, Growth and Development
  • Primary Care
  • Professional Development in Medicine
  • Browse content in Psychiatry
  • Addiction Medicine
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Old Age Psychiatry
  • Psychotherapy
  • Browse content in Public Health and Epidemiology
  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health
  • Browse content in Radiology
  • Clinical Radiology
  • Interventional Radiology
  • Nuclear Medicine
  • Radiation Oncology
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Browse content in Surgery
  • Cardiothoracic Surgery
  • Gastro-intestinal and Colorectal Surgery
  • General Surgery
  • Neurosurgery
  • Paediatric Surgery
  • Peri-operative Care
  • Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
  • Surgical Oncology
  • Transplant Surgery
  • Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Vascular Surgery
  • Browse content in Science and Mathematics
  • Browse content in Biological Sciences
  • Aquatic Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Genetics and Genomics
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular and Cell Biology
  • Natural History
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry
  • Research Methods in Life Sciences
  • Structural Biology
  • Systems Biology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences
  • Browse content in Chemistry
  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Computational Chemistry
  • Crystallography
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Industrial Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Materials Chemistry
  • Medicinal Chemistry
  • Mineralogy and Gems
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physical Chemistry
  • Polymer Chemistry
  • Study and Communication Skills in Chemistry
  • Theoretical Chemistry
  • Browse content in Computer Science
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Architecture and Logic Design
  • Game Studies
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Mathematical Theory of Computation
  • Programming Languages
  • Software Engineering
  • Systems Analysis and Design
  • Virtual Reality
  • Browse content in Computing
  • Business Applications
  • Computer Security
  • Computer Games
  • Computer Networking and Communications
  • Digital Lifestyle
  • Graphical and Digital Media Applications
  • Operating Systems
  • Browse content in Earth Sciences and Geography
  • Atmospheric Sciences
  • Environmental Geography
  • Geology and the Lithosphere
  • Maps and Map-making
  • Meteorology and Climatology
  • Oceanography and Hydrology
  • Palaeontology
  • Physical Geography and Topography
  • Regional Geography
  • Soil Science
  • Urban Geography
  • Browse content in Engineering and Technology
  • Agriculture and Farming
  • Biological Engineering
  • Civil Engineering, Surveying, and Building
  • Electronics and Communications Engineering
  • Energy Technology
  • Engineering (General)
  • Environmental Science, Engineering, and Technology
  • History of Engineering and Technology
  • Mechanical Engineering and Materials
  • Technology of Industrial Chemistry
  • Transport Technology and Trades
  • Browse content in Environmental Science
  • Applied Ecology (Environmental Science)
  • Conservation of the Environment (Environmental Science)
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Environmentalist Thought and Ideology (Environmental Science)
  • Management of Land and Natural Resources (Environmental Science)
  • Natural Disasters (Environmental Science)
  • Nuclear Issues (Environmental Science)
  • Pollution and Threats to the Environment (Environmental Science)
  • Social Impact of Environmental Issues (Environmental Science)
  • History of Science and Technology
  • Browse content in Materials Science
  • Ceramics and Glasses
  • Composite Materials
  • Metals, Alloying, and Corrosion
  • Nanotechnology
  • Browse content in Mathematics
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Biomathematics and Statistics
  • History of Mathematics
  • Mathematical Education
  • Mathematical Finance
  • Mathematical Analysis
  • Numerical and Computational Mathematics
  • Probability and Statistics
  • Pure Mathematics
  • Browse content in Neuroscience
  • Cognition and Behavioural Neuroscience
  • Development of the Nervous System
  • Disorders of the Nervous System
  • History of Neuroscience
  • Invertebrate Neurobiology
  • Molecular and Cellular Systems
  • Neuroendocrinology and Autonomic Nervous System
  • Neuroscientific Techniques
  • Sensory and Motor Systems
  • Browse content in Physics
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics
  • Biological and Medical Physics
  • Classical Mechanics
  • Computational Physics
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Electromagnetism, Optics, and Acoustics
  • History of Physics
  • Mathematical and Statistical Physics
  • Measurement Science
  • Nuclear Physics
  • Particles and Fields
  • Plasma Physics
  • Quantum Physics
  • Relativity and Gravitation
  • Semiconductor and Mesoscopic Physics
  • Browse content in Psychology
  • Affective Sciences
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Criminal and Forensic Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Educational Psychology
  • Evolutionary Psychology
  • Health Psychology
  • History and Systems in Psychology
  • Music Psychology
  • Neuropsychology
  • Organizational Psychology
  • Psychological Assessment and Testing
  • Psychology of Human-Technology Interaction
  • Psychology Professional Development and Training
  • Research Methods in Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Browse content in Social Sciences
  • Browse content in Anthropology
  • Anthropology of Religion
  • Human Evolution
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Physical Anthropology
  • Regional Anthropology
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Theory and Practice of Anthropology
  • Browse content in Business and Management
  • Business Ethics
  • Business Strategy
  • Business History
  • Business and Technology
  • Business and Government
  • Business and the Environment
  • Comparative Management
  • Corporate Governance
  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Health Management
  • Human Resource Management
  • Industrial and Employment Relations
  • Industry Studies
  • Information and Communication Technologies
  • International Business
  • Knowledge Management
  • Management and Management Techniques
  • Operations Management
  • Organizational Theory and Behaviour
  • Pensions and Pension Management
  • Public and Nonprofit Management
  • Strategic Management
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Browse content in Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Justice
  • Criminology
  • Forms of Crime
  • International and Comparative Criminology
  • Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
  • Development Studies
  • Browse content in Economics
  • Agricultural, Environmental, and Natural Resource Economics
  • Asian Economics
  • Behavioural Finance
  • Behavioural Economics and Neuroeconomics
  • Econometrics and Mathematical Economics
  • Economic History
  • Economic Systems
  • Economic Methodology
  • Economic Development and Growth
  • Financial Markets
  • Financial Institutions and Services
  • General Economics and Teaching
  • Health, Education, and Welfare
  • History of Economic Thought
  • International Economics
  • Labour and Demographic Economics
  • Law and Economics
  • Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics
  • Microeconomics
  • Public Economics
  • Urban, Rural, and Regional Economics
  • Welfare Economics
  • Browse content in Education
  • Adult Education and Continuous Learning
  • Care and Counselling of Students
  • Early Childhood and Elementary Education
  • Educational Equipment and Technology
  • Educational Strategies and Policy
  • Higher and Further Education
  • Organization and Management of Education
  • Philosophy and Theory of Education
  • Schools Studies
  • Secondary Education
  • Teaching of a Specific Subject
  • Teaching of Specific Groups and Special Educational Needs
  • Teaching Skills and Techniques
  • Browse content in Environment
  • Applied Ecology (Social Science)
  • Climate Change
  • Conservation of the Environment (Social Science)
  • Environmentalist Thought and Ideology (Social Science)
  • Natural Disasters (Environment)
  • Social Impact of Environmental Issues (Social Science)
  • Browse content in Human Geography
  • Cultural Geography
  • Economic Geography
  • Political Geography
  • Browse content in Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Communication Studies
  • Museums, Libraries, and Information Sciences
  • Browse content in Politics
  • African Politics
  • Asian Politics
  • Chinese Politics
  • Comparative Politics
  • Conflict Politics
  • Elections and Electoral Studies
  • Environmental Politics
  • European Union
  • Foreign Policy
  • Gender and Politics
  • Human Rights and Politics
  • Indian Politics
  • International Relations
  • International Organization (Politics)
  • International Political Economy
  • Irish Politics
  • Latin American Politics
  • Middle Eastern Politics
  • Political Behaviour
  • Political Economy
  • Political Institutions
  • Political Methodology
  • Political Communication
  • Political Philosophy
  • Political Sociology
  • Political Theory
  • Politics and Law
  • Public Policy
  • Public Administration
  • Quantitative Political Methodology
  • Regional Political Studies
  • Russian Politics
  • Security Studies
  • State and Local Government
  • UK Politics
  • US Politics
  • Browse content in Regional and Area Studies
  • African Studies
  • Asian Studies
  • East Asian Studies
  • Japanese Studies
  • Latin American Studies
  • Middle Eastern Studies
  • Native American Studies
  • Scottish Studies
  • Browse content in Research and Information
  • Research Methods
  • Browse content in Social Work
  • Addictions and Substance Misuse
  • Adoption and Fostering
  • Care of the Elderly
  • Child and Adolescent Social Work
  • Couple and Family Social Work
  • Developmental and Physical Disabilities Social Work
  • Direct Practice and Clinical Social Work
  • Emergency Services
  • Human Behaviour and the Social Environment
  • International and Global Issues in Social Work
  • Mental and Behavioural Health
  • Social Justice and Human Rights
  • Social Policy and Advocacy
  • Social Work and Crime and Justice
  • Social Work Macro Practice
  • Social Work Practice Settings
  • Social Work Research and Evidence-based Practice
  • Welfare and Benefit Systems
  • Browse content in Sociology
  • Childhood Studies
  • Community Development
  • Comparative and Historical Sociology
  • Economic Sociology
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Gerontology and Ageing
  • Health, Illness, and Medicine
  • Marriage and the Family
  • Migration Studies
  • Occupations, Professions, and Work
  • Organizations
  • Population and Demography
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Social Theory
  • Social Movements and Social Change
  • Social Research and Statistics
  • Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility
  • Sociology of Religion
  • Sociology of Education
  • Sport and Leisure
  • Urban and Rural Studies
  • Browse content in Warfare and Defence
  • Defence Strategy, Planning, and Research
  • Land Forces and Warfare
  • Military Administration
  • Military Life and Institutions
  • Naval Forces and Warfare
  • Other Warfare and Defence Issues
  • Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution
  • Weapons and Equipment

The Oxford Handbook of Experimental Semantics and Pragmatics

  • < Previous chapter
  • Next chapter >

The Oxford Handbook of Experimental Semantics and Pragmatics

30 Politeness

Thomas Holtgraves is Professor of Psychological Science at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. He conducts interdisciplinary research into multiple facets of language and social psychology. He is the editor of the Oxford Handbook of Language and Social Psychology (Oxford University Press, 2014) and author of Language as Social Action: SocialPsychology and Language Use (Erlbaum, 2002).

  • Published: 09 May 2019
  • Cite Icon Cite
  • Permissions Icon Permissions

This chapter reviews the major experimental approaches to politeness and considers the theoretical implications of these approaches for the domains of semantics and pragmatics. After a brief overview of the major theoretical orientations to politeness, a detailed review of empirical research on Brown & Levinson’s (B&L) politeness theory, as well as the issues raised by this research, is provided. Major critiques of the B&L model, and alternative situated and interactional models, are then noted. The implications of politeness for more recent research examining the role of politeness in reasoning and the communication of uncertainty is considered, followed by a review of the cognitive and neural processes involved in the processing of politeness.

Research on politeness has grown steadily over the past several decades and represents a truly multidisciplinary (if not interdisciplinary) field. Linguists, social psychologists, cognitive psychologists, communication scholars, sociolinguists, and others have all made important contributions to this endeavour. Experimental research on politeness, the focus of this chapter, represents a relatively small subset of this work. It has, however, made important contributions, particularly in terms of evaluating theoretical proposals. The purpose of this chapter is to provide a relatively broad overview of experimental research on linguistic politeness, describing both methodological techniques as well as some of the major findings and their theoretical implications. I provide first a brief overview of the major theoretical orientations to politeness. This is followed by a review of early empirical research on Brown & Levinson’s (B&L) politeness theory as well as the issues raised by this research. I then consider more recent research examining (1) the role of politeness in reasoning and the communication of uncertainty, and (2) the cognitive and neural processes involved in the processing of politeness.

30.1 A brief overview of politeness theories

Although there is a long history of scholarly interest in politeness (e.g., see Watts, 2003 ), experimental work on politeness followed the appearance of maxim-based models in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Two of these models, those of R. T. Lakoff ( 1973 , 1979 ) and Leech ( 1983 ), adopted the Gricean ( 1975 ) view of communication, but expanded Grice’s set of conversational maxims to include a set of politeness maxims designed to account for why some linguistic forms were preferred over others. Both theorists proposed a Politeness Principle (PP) that worked in conjunction with Grice’s Cooperative Principle (CP). For Leech, the PP included the maxims of generosity, tact, approbation, modesty, agreement, and sympathy. Lakoff’s ( 1973 ) politeness maxims included: give options, don’t impose, and make the other feel good. Politeness occurs, according to these models, because speakers are constrained by these politeness maxims.

The most popular maxim-based theory, of course, was B&L’s politeness theory. Their theory, published first as a chapter in a volume on Questioning in 1978, and then later as a stand-alone book in 1987, continues to be the standard approach, against which all new theoretical developments are compared. The unique contribution of their theory was the inclusion of face-work as a universal motive for regulating politeness. Borrowing the concept of face from Goffman ( 1967 ), and merging it with Durkheim’s ( 1915 ) positive and negative rites, B&L postulated the existence of two universal human desires: negative face (desire for autonomy) and positive face (desire for approach by others). Humans are assumed to be oriented to both positive and negative face, and politeness is the linguistic (and non-linguistic) means for symbolically attending to these two dimensions. Equally important in their theory was the inclusion of broad social variables (power, distance, and act imposition) designed to influence the perceived weightiness of an act, and hence the politeness with which that act is performed.

Although popular and generative, numerous criticisms of the B&L model resulted in the development of discursive or post-modern approaches that began to gain currency in the 1990s (Watts, 1992 , 2003 ; Eelen, 2001 ; Locher, 2004 ) and today remain a vibrant alternative to the B&L approach. Fundamental to these approaches is the distinction between politeness as a lay or folk concept, termed first-order politeness (politeness 1 ), and politeness as a technical, sociolinguistic variable, or second-order politeness (politeness 2 ). Researchers taking a discursive approach generally argue that there is a fundamental divergence between first- and second-order politeness, and that it is the former rather than the latter that should be the central concern for sociolinguists. On this view, there are no universal motives or mechanisms for politeness; rather, politeness is completely situated. More recently, there have been attempts to articulate a middle ground between an overarching politeness model (à la B&L) and situated discursive views of politeness. These middle-ground or interactional models (Terkourafi, 2005 ; Arundale, 2006 ; Haugh, 2007 ) view politeness less as a strategy and more as expected behaviour, but behaviour that nonetheless is partially a function of more general interactional constraints.

30.2 Tests of Brown & Levinson’s model

Early experimental work on the B&L model focused primarily on two issues: the proposed ordering of politeness strategies and the role played by social variables in determining politeness levels. In terms of the former, B&L proposed the existence of four linguistic super-strategies that constituted a universal continuum of politeness. The ordering was based on the degree of face-threat associated with each of the following strategies; bald-on-record (no face support) was the least polite (and hence most face-threatening), followed in ascending order by positive politeness (emphasize solidarity with hearer), negative politeness (indicate respect for hearer’s autonomy), and off-record (maxim violation with deniability) politeness (the least face-threatening). Experiments designed to test this ordering focused primarily on requests and the general research strategy was to have participants rate tokens of the four super-strategies in terms of politeness and related interpersonal constructs (e.g. liking of the speaker). Partial support for the theory’s predicted ordering of the super-strategies was reported by several researchers (Fraser & Nolan, 1981 ; Hill et al., 1986 ; Blum-Kulka, 1987 ; Bauman, 1988 ; Holtgraves & Yang, 1990 ). More fine-grained politeness orderings were examined as well. Clark & Schunk ( 1980 ; see also Holtgraves & Yang, 1990 ) examined the perceived politeness of a set of negatively polite requests and found perceived politeness to vary as a function of the implied cost (i.e. threat) to the hearer. For example, ‘Could you x?’ was perceived as less costly, and hence more polite, than ‘Would you x?’

This research, however, raised several issues regarding this ordering. First, a consistent exception to the predicted ordering was that negatively polite forms were often ranked higher in politeness than off-record forms (Blum-Kulka, 1987 ; Holtgraves & Yang, 1990 ). Some researchers suggested that off-record forms carry a cost because the recipient must make an effort in order to infer the speaker’s meaning (Leech, 1983 ; Blum-Kulka, 1987 ). Others have argued that off-record forms may give the impression of manipulativeness on the part of the speaker (Lakoff, 1973 ). This issue is part of a larger question regarding the extent to which politeness should be equated with indirectness. If politeness is viewed as any deviation from maximally efficient communication (i.e. not in accord with all Gricean maxims) then there is a rough correspondence between politeness and indirectness. However, indirectness can occur for reasons other than politeness. Pinker and colleagues (Pinker et al., 2008 ; Lee & Pinker, 2010 ), for example, have argued that off-record forms are motivated by attempts to negotiate the nature of the relationship between interactants, and that the use of off-record forms accomplish this by providing speakers with a means of achieving plausible deniability. In this view, then, politeness and indirectness do not reside on the same scale.

A related issue concerns the proposed ordering of negative and positive politeness strategies. B&L, following Durkheim ( 1915 ) and Goffman ( 1967 ), argue that positive politeness (an approach-based strategy) is inherently less polite than negative politeness (an avoidance-based strategy), due to the presumption of closeness inherent in the former. However, some researchers argued that these forms are qualitatively different and hence cannot be ordered on a unidimensional continuum (Scollon & Scollon, 1981 ; Baxter, 1984 ; Tracy, 1990 ; Lim & Bowers, 1991 ). Still, for directives (threats to the hearer’s negative face) the proposed ordering makes sense theoretically (negative politeness grants the hearer greater autonomy than positive politeness) and is supported by empirical research (Holtgraves & Yang, 1990 ). On the other hand, for acts that threaten primarily the hearer’s positive face, research suggests that positive politeness may be perceived as more polite than negative politeness (Lim & Bowers, 1991 ; Holtgraves, 1997 ). It is possible that there may be a specificity principle at work here such that strategies orienting to the specific type of face threatened will be regarded as the most polite strategy. Thus, negatively polite strategies would be more polite for acts threatening the hearer’s negative face, and positively polite strategies would be more polite for acts threatening the hearer’s positive face.

Finally, several researchers have argued that B&L’s set of super-strategies is incomplete due to its overemphasis on politeness at the expense of impoliteness (Craig et al., 1986 ; Culpeper, 2011 ). That is, the least polite strategy in the B&L model is bald-on-record, a strategy which is simply the absence of any face support. No doubt aggressive attacks on others’ face occur and are not handled well within the B&L model.

30.3 Social interactional determinants of politeness

One of the most important features of the B&L model is the specification of links between politeness and the major social dimensions of power and distance. Their theory assumes that increasing hearer power, relationship distance, and act imposition will increase the overall weightiness of the act (i.e. degree of face-threat), and increased weightiness is expected to result in increased politeness. Researchers have used relatively straightforward role-playing scenario techniques to manipulate power, distance, and imposition in order to examine their predicted impact on the perceptions and production of politeness. Fairly consistent support has been reported for act imposition, with increasing imposition associated with increasing levels of politeness, an effect that has been reported for requests (Brown & Gilman, 1989 ; Leichty & Applegate, 1991 ; Holtgraves & Yang, 1992 ), expressions of gratitude (Okamoto & Robinson, 1997 ), recommendations vs. reports (Lambert, 1996 ), and accounts (i.e. explanations for untoward behaviour; McLaughun et al., 1983 ; Gonzales et al., 1990 ), as well as other speech acts (Brown & Gilman, 1989 ; Leichty & Applegate, 1991 ). Null findings have been reported (Baxter, 1984 ) but are rare. The power variable has also received experimental support. In general, greater politeness occurs or is expected as a function of increasing power of the recipient relative to the speaker (and hence decreasing power of the speaker). This effect has been reported with requests (Holtgraves & Yang, 1990 , 1992 ; Leichty & Applegate, 1991 ; Lim & Bowers, 1991 ), including observational studies of actual requests (Blum-Kulka et al., 1985 ), messages conveying bad news (Ambady et al., 1996 ), teasing (Keltner et al., 1998 ), reminders and complaints (Leichty & Applegate, 1991 ), criticisms (Lim & Bowers, 1991 ), accounts (Gonzales, Pederson et al., 1990 ), and questions (Holtgraves, 1986 ). Some of these effects have been replicated cross-culturally (Holtgraves & Yang, 1992 ; Ambady et al., 1996 ).

Finally, the results for the effects of relationship distance on politeness have been mixed. Consistent with the theory, some researchers have reported greater politeness as a function of increasing distance between interlocutors (Wood & Kroger, 1991 ; Holtgraves & Yang, 1992 ); others have reported the exact opposite (Baxter, 1984 ; Brown & Gilman, 1989 ). And some (e.g. Lambert, 1996 ) have reported no relationship between distance and politeness. Distance, of course, is a multifaceted variable and it has been measured and manipulated in a variety of ways. Slugoski & Turnbull ( 1988 ) (see also Brown & Gilman, 1989 ) argued that researchers sometimes confounded distance (i.e. familiarity) and affect (i.e. liking). Higher levels of politeness have been found to be associated with greater interpersonal distance (i.e. interactants are more polite with people with whom they are less familiar) but also with greater liking (people are more polite with those whom they like).

More recently, the relationship between distance and politeness has been investigated in terms of a popular social psychology theory termed Construal Level Theory (CLT; Trope & Liberman, 2003 ; Liberman & Trope, 2008 ). For CLT, something is psychologically distant (temporally, spatially, or socially) when it is not part of one’s direct experience. Psychologically distant stimuli are typically represented at a higher, more abstract level of construal while stimuli that are close are represented at a lower, more concrete level of construal. Stephan et al. ( 2010 ) argued that higher level construal is generally more polite than lower level construal. In eight experiments they found increasing politeness to occur as a function of increasing spatial and temporal distance, and increasing politeness to result in inferences of greater temporal and spatial distance. For example, in terms of temporal distance, participants produced more polite messages directed at someone in the distant future relative to someone in the near future. And conversely, the use of more polite forms led to judgements of greater temporal distance than the use of less polite forms. This represents an important extension of politeness theory because it both demonstrates the bidirectional relationship between distance and politeness, and expands the notion of distance to include spatial and temporal distance.

One issue that has been raised regarding the B&L model is the manner in which power, distance, and imposition interact. The model (implicitly) assumes that their effects are additive. Empirical research suggests otherwise. Many researchers who have examined the simultaneous impact of these variables on politeness have reported interactions between them, including Power by Distance interactions (Blum-Kulka et al., 1985 ; Holtgraves & Yang, 1990 ; Lim & Bowers, 1991 ), Imposition by Distance interactions (Leichty & Applegate, 1991 ; Holtgraves & Yang, 1992 ), and Imposition by Power interactions (Gonzales et al., 1990 ; Holtgraves & Yang, 1992 ). The existence of these interactions simply means that as the effects of one of the interpersonal variables become very large, the effects of the other two variables become much smaller. For example, a person who makes an extremely large request (i.e. high imposition) will tend to be polite regardless of power and distance.

A second issue is whether politeness is influenced by variables other than power, distance, and imposition. Obviously it is. It is important to note, however, that power, distance, and imposition are high-level, abstract variables that should subsume more specific variables. For example, ethnicity, gender, occupational differences, and so on are variables that feed into power and distance, and ultimately, politeness. Even mood states may be incorporated in the model in this way. For example, Forgas ( 1999a , b ) demonstrated that people in sad moods prefer to use greater levels of politeness than people in happy moods, possibly because a person’s mood influences their perceptions of the interpersonal context (power, distance, and imposition). Hence, people in a sad mood may perceive themselves as being relatively low in power, or perceive an act as being relatively more imposing, and it is these perceptions that affect their level of politeness. It may also be possible to use the model to explore individual differences in politeness, an area that has seen relatively little research. Introverts, for example, may perceive relatively greater distance between themselves and others, and hence produce higher levels of politeness. Extraverts, on the other hand, may perceive relatively less distance and hence favour the use of relatively less polite but more approach-based strategies (i.e. positive politeness).

On the other hand, Terkourafi ( 2001 , 2005 ; Vergis & Terkourafi, 2015 ) has argued for a frame-based approach to politeness in which different situational contexts, over time, come to be associated with expected politeness forms (i.e. they become conventionalized). Although these expectancies can be overridden by the context, the default meanings of these terms become part of their lexical meanings and the terms do not intentionally convey (im)politeness. This alternative offers a more granular approach, one in which power, distance, and imposition can play a role in politeness, but not the overarching role theorized by B&L.

A third issue concerns the direction of the relationship between power, distance, and politeness. For B&L, relative power and distance are often viewed as determinants of politeness; that is, speakers’ estimation of these variables determines act weightiness and hence the politeness strategy to be used. However, as many have noted, this is a static view and it is likely that the relationship is bidirectional. Specifically, if the use of a particular linguistic form is affected by power and distance, it follows that the use of a particular linguistic form will be informative for observers (including the hearer) regarding the speaker’s perceived power and distance. For example, because high-status speakers use less polite forms than lower-status interactants, the use of less polite forms should result in perceptions of higher speaker status, other things being equal. In a cross-cultural study using participants from the United States and South Korea, Holtgraves & Yang ( 1990 ) found that less polite request forms were associated with perceptions of greater speaker power. And there is a fairly substantial literature on what is termed powerful (vs. powerless) language. In general, this research suggests that the use of powerful language (essentially less polite language) results in perceptions of relatively greater power, credibility and persuasiveness (Erickson et al., 1978 ; Bradac & Mulac, 1984 ; Gibbons et al., 1991 ; Hosman & Wright, 1987 ; Burrell & Koper, 1998 ; Holtgraves & Lasky, 1999 ; Blankenship & Holtgraves, 2005 ), although there is some evidence that these effects may be moderated by speaker gender (Carli, 1990 ).

The relationship between politeness levels and perceptions of the speaker can be quite complex. For example, when a high-status speaker is extremely polite to a subordinate it will often result in perceived sarcasm (Slugoski & Turnbull, 1988 ). Moreover, this bidirectional relationship allows people to strategically vary their politeness as a means of negotiating and/or altering the interpersonal context; it is, in effect, an important component of impression management (Goffman, 1959 ). So, a higher-power person (e.g. a boss) can move from negative politeness to positive politeness in an attempt to negotiate a closer relationship. Similarly, a person in an established relationship may begin to use less politeness as a means of negotiating higher power in the relationship, and so on. This possibility can obviously result in interpersonal misperceptions or misunderstandings. A speaker may assume his politeness level reflects one dimension (e.g. closeness), but his interlocutor may assume it reflects a different dimension (e.g. power). This negotiated nature of politeness-based person perception awaits further empirical investigation.

30.4 Politeness, reasoning, and the communication of uncertainty

A new line of research has developed over the past decade that examines the role of politeness in reasoning and the communication of uncertainty (Bonnefon et al., 2011 ; Bonnefon, 2014 ; Juanchich et al., Chapter 21 in this volume). This research has demonstrated how politeness can influence the interpretation of probability terms (e.g. possible ), connectives (e.g. or , and ), and quantifiers (e.g. some , all ). Consider first probability terms. Their use can convey varying degrees of uncertainty (e.g. It’s possible you’ll flunk the course ). There are, however, other motivations for their use. Specifically, probability expressions can function as a politeness strategy (e.g. as a hedge on an assertion) and used as a means of managing face. Rather than saying ‘You’ll never finish it in time’—an expression that might threaten the recipient’s face—a speaker can hedge his opinion with ‘It’s possible you won’t finish it in time’.

The existence of multiple motives for the use of probability terms can influence the manner in which they are interpreted. This was demonstrated by Bonnefon & Villejoubert ( 2006 ) who asked participants to imagine that their family doctor told them they would ‘possibly’ develop either deafness or insomnia in the upcoming year. Participants judged the probability of the more severe disease (deafness) to be significantly higher than the probability of the less severe disease (insomnia). This occurred because participants judged the doctor to be using ‘possibly’ as a face-management device significantly more frequently when the condition was deafness than when it was insomnia, and they adjusted their estimates accordingly. In this experiment it was the hearer’s face that was being threatened, although it is possible for the speaker’s face to be threatened as well, with a similar impact on the interpretation of probability terms (Juanchich et al., 2012 ).

This effect has been demonstrated also with certain scalar expressions. Scalar expressions can be ordered on a scale with respect to their strength (e.g. < some , all >) (Levinson, 1983 ) and it has been argued that the use of the weaker, more inclusive, term (e.g. some ) implies that the stronger term (e.g. all ) does not hold (Levinson, 1983 ; Horn, 1984 ). Hence, the scalar implicature for ‘some’ is ‘some but not all’. Bonnefon et al. ( 2009 ) demonstrated that face management can influence the likelihood that a scalar implicature is generated, in much the same manner that it influences the interpretation of probability terms. When a situation is face-threatening, ‘some’ can be used as a hedge to politely indicate ‘all’. Consistent with this reasoning, Bonnefon et al. ( 2009 ) found that estimates of ‘some’ in ‘Some people hated your party’ were higher than estimates of ‘some’ in ‘Some people enjoyed your party’; people were more likely to assume that ‘some’ was being used in the service of face management in the former situation, and they adjusted their interpretations accordingly. More recently, Bonnefon et al. ( 2015 ) demonstrated that this effect varies as a function of the discourse context such that the effect is more pronounced when the scalar term is preceded by a brief silence, a dispreferred marker signalling that bad news is forthcoming (Holtgraves, 2000 ).

Finally, just as scalar expressions can be ordered on a scale according to their strength, so too can connectives (e.g. < or , and >). And just as with scalar expressions, the interpretation of these terms can be influenced by politeness considerations. Feeney & Bonnefon ( 2013 ) manipulated the content connected by ‘or’ such that it was either positive or negative (i.e. face-threatening). They found that exclusive interpretations (i.e. ‘one or the other but not both’) were significantly more likely for positive content than for negative content. There is a potential face management motive for the term when the content is negative, and because of this, people are less likely to generate the exclusive interpretation and instead assume that both interpretations are possible.

This research demonstrates that politeness can influence the interpretation of connectives, probability expressions and scalar terms. Is the production of these terms similarly affected? It appears so. Juanchich & Sirota ( 2013 ) asked participants to choose the probability expression that they would use in order to convey a particular outcome, and they manipulated the speaker’s communicative goal such that they were instructed either to be informative, to avoid blame (i.e. speaker face management), or to avoid upsetting the hearer (i.e. hearer face management). As expected, when the outcome was negative, participants chose expressions that conveyed less certainty under face management instructions (both hearer-face and speaker-face) than under instructions to be informative, an effect that was reversed when the outcome was positive. In a follow-up study, Sirota & Juanchich ( 2015 ) asked participants to choose probability expressions that they would use to convey negative information, and then assessed their communicative motives (rather than manipulating them) for choosing those expressions. Participants frequently (41.6%) indicated face management as their motive, and when they did so, they were more likely to choose an expression that conveyed a lower probability, relative to when they indicated that their motive was to be informative.

More recently, Holtgraves & Perdew ( 2016 ) examined both production and interpretation in the same study. Participants in these experiments were presented with situations that varied in terms of face-threat and were asked how they would communicate potentially threatening information. Both hearer threat (Experiment 1) and speaker threat (Experiment 2) were examined, and participants either chose from a pre-existing set of utterances or responded in an open-ended manner. In both experiments a second set of participants read these utterances and provided judgements as to the degree of uncertainty conveyed by the utterance. In both experiments, messages in the face-threatening condition conveyed greater uncertainty than messages in the non-face-threatening condition, and the probability estimates made by the second set of participants varied as a function of the conveyed uncertainty. This research demonstrates that when examining speakers and hearers together, severe events may be judged less likely (rather than more likely), because speakers tend to hedge the certainty with which they communicate the information.

30.5 Processing politeness

Variations in politeness can have a range of social and cognitive effects. But how, exactly, do these effects occur? Several different lines of research examining the processing of politeness have been pursued. One line of research has examined the extent to which people encode and retain the wording that conveys politeness. This is an important issue because it is relevant for the claim that at least some forms of politeness are expected, normative behaviour and hence non-salient (Watts, 2003 ). A frequent finding in the memory literature is that people typically forget the exact wording of an utterance but retain the gist of what was said (Sachs, 1967 ). One important exception to this is that wording will be remembered well when it has interpersonal implications (Keenan et al., 1977 ; MacWhinney et al., 1982 ). Politeness, of course, has clear interpersonal implications and research suggests that politeness wording is spontaneously encoded and retained. For example, Holtgraves ( 1997 ; see also Slugoski, 1995 ) examined incidental memory for wording that varied in politeness and found that people remembered politeness wording at levels exceeding chance. Interestingly, even when the specific wording was not remembered, people appear to have encoded the overall level of politeness and recalled wordings consistent with that level of politeness. In other words, if participants heard an impolite request, when asked to recall that request they tended to recall an impolite (rather than polite) form, even if they could not remember the exact wording. It was also the case, however, that memory for politeness wording was greater for cases of politeness wording that were inconsistent with the social context. For example, participants in a psychology experiment were more likely to remember impolite forms if the speaker was low (rather than high) in status (a graduate student) and polite forms if the speaker was high (rather than low) in status (a faculty member). Such forms violate expectations and hence are remembered well.

Memory studies have a potential limitation in that their results can be ambiguous in terms of actual on-line processing. More recently, researchers have begun to use on-line techniques in order to examine the processing of politeness in real time. One such approach is to use an eye-tracking methodology. For example, Raizen et al. ( 2015 ) used an eye-tracking procedure to examine the processing of taboo words (i.e. potential violations of positive face). They found that early fixations on taboo words varied as a function of an interaction between the speaker’s identity and the situational appropriateness of a taboo word. Specifically, taboo words in appropriate situations resulted in longer fixations when uttered by someone unlikely to use taboo words (‘saints’) than when uttered by someone expected to use taboo words (‘sinners’).

Other researchers have used electrophysiological techniques to examine politeness processing. For example, Jiang and colleagues (Jiang et al., 2013 , 2015 ) recorded Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) as participants read conversations in which speaker status and pronoun type (respectful vs. disrespectful) were manipulated. Status-inconsistent pronouns (e.g. disrespectful pronouns from a lower-status speaker) resulted in an enhanced N400—interpreted as an indicator of semantic integration effort—compared to status-consistent pronouns, thereby suggesting that brain activity varies as a function of the pragmatic implications. The status-inconsistent pronoun also resulted in a later negativity (500‒800 milliseconds (ms)) but not late positivity (i.e. P600). The authors interpret the failure to observe the latter as indicating support for a contextualized view of politeness (Terkourafi 2001 , 2005 ) rather than an intentionalist view (B&L). These researchers also examined individual differences in reactions to the politeness violation. Male participants, as well as those scoring higher on a measure of fantasy (ability to transpose oneself into the feelings and actions of fictitious others), demonstrated a significantly larger N400 in response to the status-inconsistent pronoun than females and those scoring lower on fantasy.

Hoeks et al. ( 2013 ) examined neurophysiological reactions to impolite utterances that were request refusals. Participants listened to dialogues in which one person asked another for a favour (either a request for an action to be performed or a question) and the other responded with a blunt ‘No’ or a ‘No’ that included an apology and reason for the refusal. These researchers found a significant P600 for the former relative to the latter. However, for the request for action, reactions to the refusal condition started earlier, were more broadly distributed, and of a larger magnitude relative to the question condition. The authors interpret this reaction as reflecting participants’ reorganization of their conversation model as a result of linguistic impoliteness. The possibility that this reorganization may reflect also an updating of representations of the speaker (i.e. that he’s rude) was noted.

Recently, Holtgraves & Kraus ( 2018 ) used electrophysiological techniques to examine the role of politeness in the comprehension of several different scalar expressions. Prior research using electrophysiological techniques to examine scalar expressions has explored their use in logical contexts (e.g. Some people have lungs ) (Noveck & Posada, 2003 ; Nieuwland et al., 2010 ; Hartshorne, Snedeker, Azar, & Kim, 2015 ; Skordos & Barner and Breheny, Chapters 2 and 4 , respectively, in this volume). In contrast, Holtgraves & Kraus examined their use in conversational contexts. They had participants read scenarios followed by a target utterance containing a scalar expression (e.g. some ) in the first half of the utterance, with a second half continuation of the utterance containing either the pragmatic meaning (e.g. not all ) or the semantic meaning (e.g. all ). The semantic meaning resulted in a larger P300 than did the pragmatic meaning, and this difference was greater when the situation was face-threatening relative to when it was not face-threatening. This suggests that in conversational contexts, scalar implicatures are generated when the scalar term is encountered, especially when the situation is face-threatening.

Deficit-based research is also relevant for understanding politeness processing. Consider, for example, recent research on language deficits in Parkinson’s disease (PD). Although PD is primarily associated with debilitating extrapyramidal motor dysfunction, it also affects thinking, reasoning, planning, and language functions, and in terms of the latter there is some evidence of pragmatic impairment in PD (e.g. Lewis et al., 1998 ; McNamara & Durso, 2003 ), including politeness. To investigate the latter, Holtgraves & McNamara ( 2010 ) used a role-playing task and asked participants (those with PD and matched controls) to imagine being in situations in which they were to make a request of another person and to write out exactly what they would say in order to make each request. Overall, the PD participants were less polite than the control participants. More importantly, although increasing imposition was associated with increasing politeness for control participants, this did not occur for PD participants, suggesting a reduced sensitivity to the social context for those with PD. This reduced sensitivity also occurred for speaker power, but only for PD participants who were on higher doses of dopaminergic medication.

What are the potential sources of the politeness impairment in PD? One possibility is that it reflects an overall decline in cognitive capabilities, especially executive cognitive functions (Owen et al., 1992 ; Lange et al., 1992 ; Taylor & Saint-Cyr, 1995 ; Troster & Woods, 2003 ; McNamara et al., 2008 ). Reduced cognitive resources in PD could result in an attentional deficit such that variations in request size are not noticed; because they are not noticed there is no corresponding change in politeness. Consistent with this possibility, researchers have demonstrated a clear connection between executive function deficits in PD and the ability to contribute meaningfully (e.g. being appropriately informative) to conversations (Holtgraves et al., 2013 ). Another possibility is that even when variations in the context are noticed, the cognitive capacities required to produce more polite (and cognitively complex) strategies are hindered in people with PD. In the Holtgraves & McNamara ( 2010 ) research, participants on higher doses of dopaminergic medication did notice variations in recipient status (based on manipulation check items) but they failed to produce more polite strategies for a higher-power recipient.

Researchers also have examined politeness processing deficits associated with damage to the right hemisphere (RHD). Pell ( 2007 ; Experiment 2) examined politeness judgements of RHD and heathy controls in which both prosody and utterance type (direct, indirect, very indirect) were manipulated. Past research has suggested RHD is associated with a prosody processing deficit. However, in this experiment it was the interaction of prosody and language, more specifically the occurrence of linguistic and prosodic discrepancies as a means of conveying sarcasm, that posed difficulties for RHD participants (but not for healthy controls). In addition, the distinctions made by RHD participants based on linguistic cues alone were not as fine as those made by healthy controls, a finding similar to that reported for PD individuals.

30.6 Conclusion

Experimental studies of politeness continue to be a small but relatively critical component of politeness research. After a flurry of experimental activity in the 1980s and 1990s designed to test predictions derived from the B&L model, experimental studies of politeness have expanded into new areas as described in this chapter. Looking forward, I expect there will be a continuing focus on the processing of politeness. The use of electrophysiological techniques in this regard is only beginning and has the potential to provide relevant information regarding the processes involved in comprehending politeness. Experimental studies of the role of politeness in reasoning and the communication of uncertainty should continue as well. Hopefully, the success of this endeavour will prompt researchers to consider other areas for which the analysis of politeness processes may be relevant. There is, for example, no shortage of topics in social psychology (e.g. persuasion, person perception, relationship negotiation, etc.) for which politeness plays an important but as yet unexamined role. Other important areas for future experimental research include the relationship between politeness and indirectness, the manner in which non-verbal politeness interacts with and modifies verbal politeness, individual differences in politeness, and of course cross-cultural similarities and differences in politeness, all areas that could be examined experimentally.

Experimental studies of politeness should continue to remain an important component of politeness research because they allow for the evaluation of theoretical predictions and tests of competing models. For example, the results of early empirical research on the B&L model suggested several ways in which that model needed to be modified, including the ordering of politeness strategies and the interactive effects of social variables. Experimental studies of the processing of politeness have much to offer in this regard. Or consider the claim that politeness is normative and expected and hence typically not noticed (Watts, 2003 ). Experimental memory research suggests that this may not be the case, and that people do encode some representation of a speaker’s level of politeness, even when it is expected (Holtgraves, 1997 ). Or consider the manner in which ERPs to status pronoun violations provide support for a contextualist rather than intentionalist view of politeness (Jiang et al., 2015 ).

The downside of experimental studies of politeness is their potential artificiality and decontextualized nature. Trade-offs are involved, of course, and gains in experimental control are often paid for with a drop in realism. Still, it is possible to make experimental stimuli fairly realistic, by, for example, collecting actual discourse samples to then be used in experimental research. And the development of new methodologies may eventually allow for the examination of real-time situated politeness via the use of electrophysiological techniques as individuals engage in (constrained) natural language use (see, e.g., Hoeks & Bouwer, 2014 ). The gain in precise experimental control, coupled with the back and forth between theory and data, can facilitate advances in our understanding of certain facets of politeness, an understanding that can contribute to and compliment advances made with non-experimental techniques. In short, experimental research on politeness should not be ending anytime soon.


The writing of this chapter was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (BCS-1224553).

  • About Oxford Academic
  • Publish journals with us
  • University press partners
  • What we publish
  • New features  
  • Open access
  • Institutional account management
  • Rights and permissions
  • Get help with access
  • Accessibility
  • Advertising
  • Media enquiries
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford Languages
  • University of Oxford

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide

  • Copyright © 2024 Oxford University Press
  • Cookie settings
  • Cookie policy
  • Privacy policy
  • Legal notice

This Feature Is Available To Subscribers Only

Sign In or Create an Account

This PDF is available to Subscribers Only

For full access to this pdf, sign in to an existing account, or purchase an annual subscription. no longer supports Internet Explorer.

To browse and the wider internet faster and more securely, please take a few seconds to  upgrade your browser .

Enter the email address you signed up with and we'll email you a reset link.

  • We're Hiring!
  • Help Center

paper cover thumbnail

Theories on Politeness by Focusing on Brown and Levinson's Politeness Theory

Profile image of Mi My Nguyen

– In recent years, communicative competence has received special attention in the field of second/foreign language teaching and learning. Hymes (1972, cited in Al-Tayib Umar, 2006) asserts that to achieve communicative goals, second language learners must learn to speak not only accurately but also appropriately. Acquisition and learning politeness strategies as a part of learning L2 pragmatics have attracted a lot of attention in the second language acquisition (Brown & Levinson, 1987). Karatepe (1998, cited in Kılıçkaya, 2010) suggests that even high proficiency EFL learners of English have difficulty in performing some speech acts appropriately. Blum-Kulka and Olshtain (1984) claim that despite having linguistic competence, second and foreign language learners may not always be successful in communicating effectively and even they may make pragmatic mistakes. It is most likely that non-native speakers deviate from native speaker form of speech act realizations (Cohen & Olshtain, 1993). Due to misunderstanding among people from different cultures, people often fail to have successful communications. Although being polite is a universally acceptable concept, the meaning of politeness might vary across culture, gender, and power relations (Guodong & Jing, 2005). For that reason, researchers need to investigate the denotation of politeness in different cultures and try to identify the different patterns and discourse strategies. According to the Kılıçkaya (2010), social, cultural, situational, and personal factors, which shape the eventual linguistic output of the L2 learners, complicate the situation for language learners in selecting and using certain kinds of speech acts.

Related Papers

Proceedings of SOCIOINT 2022- 9th International Conference on Education &amp; Education of Social Sciences

Ekaterina Rossinskaya

dissertation on politeness

Wendy Rawlinson

Hamid Allami

The present study examined the different levels of (im)politeness strategies in expressing request, apology, and refusal speech acts across intermediate and advanced Iranian EFL learners to identify their attitudinal ratings of their produced structures in terms of pragmatic success and (im)politeness mannerism. A discourse completion test including 2 Likert scales on attitudinal appropriateness and an(im)politeness mannerism test for every item was distributed among 110 participants (10 native and 100 nonnative English speakers), engaging them in addressing the speech acts to interlocutors of lower, equal, and higher social statuses with intimate or strange distance. Results indicated that despite having a high command of English, the learners showed deficiencies in the use of (im)politenessstrategies that may call for the inclusion of such strategies in EFL instruction programs.

Journal of Critical Studies in Language and Literature JCSLL

Research on politeness has flourished since Brown and Levinson's (hereafter B&L) classical (1978, 1987) definition of politeness theory, and has extended to current research on impoliteness. However, there is a knowledge gap in the area of Teaching and Learning Politeness (hereafter TLP) in second language acquisition.This paper aims to identify this gap, by tracing the roots of research on TLP since 1975, to explore how past research has impacted current trends, and then focuses on the position and relevance of TLP in the local Australian curriculum, in the area of intercultural competency, benchmarked in reference to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). The synthesis of the literature in this paper will elicit the challenges in TLP and potentially result in a clearer direction in the area of second-language research on politeness.

Proceedings of the International Conference on Education, Language and Society

Rika Audria Ningsih

Iral-international Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching

Patricia Bou-Franch

María de la O Hernandez-Lopez

Teaching and Learning (Im)Politeness

barbara pizziconi

Rasoul Hosseinpur

Human beings are defined as an embodiment of social and cultural understanding which can develop by engaging in various social contexts. Cultural intelligence and cultural identity are, thus, accounted noteworthy in learning particular aspects of language which are culture-specific. The present study intended to investigate the interaction effect of cultural intelligence and cultural identity on Iranian EFL learners’ use of politeness strategies. To that end, the participants were divided into two groups of high and low cultural intelligence and cultural identity. Moreover, regardless of their membership in the two groups, the participants were included in the assessment of the relationship between cultural intelligence and politeness strategies. Fifty-two intermediate language learners whose proficiency level was determined through Oxford Quick Proficiency Test were required to fill out the questionnaires of Cultural Intelligence, L1 Cultural identity and Discourse Completion Tasks...

Research in Applied Linguistics

Nasim Boustani


FEBS Letters

Jon Takemoto

Luis Silveira

Bulletin of the American Physical Society

Shaghayegh Agah

International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems

Oscar Castillo

ASEAN Journal on Hospitality and Tourism

Dr. Nilanjan Ray

The conversation

Michael Arnold

Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis

Mohammed Selamat Madom

Ural Mathematical Journal

lenin xaviour

1:1制作utk学位证书 田纳西大学毕业证电子版学位证书

Zenodo (CERN European Organization for Nuclear Research)

Lasse Pettersson

Education and New Developments 2022 – Volume I

Aphrodite Ktena

SPAFA Journal (Old series 1991-2013)

Alan Potkin

Ars & Humanitas

Rastko Močnik

Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice

Jo-Anne Kelder

Journal of African Business


Asian Journal of Applied Science and Technology

AJAST Journal

Scientific Drilling

Gerald Haug

Frontiers in Psychology

Hannes Wendler

Al-Adab Journal

Asma M O H A M M E D Abbas

  •   We're Hiring!
  •   Help Center
  • Find new research papers in:
  • Health Sciences
  • Earth Sciences
  • Cognitive Science
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Science
  • Academia ©2024


  1. (PDF) Using of the Politeness Principle in Dissertation Writing: Focus

    dissertation on politeness

  2. (PDF) Introduction: Politeness Research In and Across Cultures

    dissertation on politeness

  3. [PDF] Politeness and impoliteness

    dissertation on politeness

  4. (PDF) Politeness and University Student Online Communication

    dissertation on politeness

  5. Politeness Theory Essay Example

    dissertation on politeness

  6. (PDF) Politeness Strategies Found in Classroom Interaction Post

    dissertation on politeness


  1. Politeness and Interaction

  2. Politeness Theory: Ted Lasso

  3. Key Answers paper 2 English TET -2023

  4. Politeness theory speech

  5. The Politeness of English People Christiano Ronaldo Unforgettable Experience in England #shorts

  6. How can I be polite in Germany?


  1. (PDF) The-Pragmatics-of-Politeness

    Politeness is a topic on which people have very different opinions (and "people," in this case, includes linguistic scholars and researchers). ... this dissertation engages in a critical reconsideration of politeness, setting it in the wider intellectual context of modernity and post-modernity. In the first half, it uncovers the assumptions ...

  2. PDF The Use of Politeness Strategies in the Analysis and Discussion ...

    1. With strategies, academic discourse, Analysis Discussion development conducted Introduction. Generally, the introduction extensive most of these through of the politeness theory by Goffman's (1955) 'On and Face Work', sections with its further communication (Pilegaard, Articles' politeness which have 1997). and rather studies ...

  3. Researching Politeness: From the 'Classical' Approach to Discourse

    Im/politeness has been subject to societal recommendations for centuries, and to academic studies for decades (Leech 1977; Lakoff 1973; Brown and Levinson 1978), maybe because politeness has been identified "as a key motivation for leaving things unsaid" (Norrick and Illie 2018: 7).Politeness may be roughly defined as a frame of coded communicative norms embodying social conventionality ...

  4. (PDF) Politeness: Strategies, Principles and Theories:Theoretical

    Politeness: Strategies, Principles and Theories:Theoretical. Perspective. Abstract: The research addresses theories of politeness from different. linguistic viewpoints. It deals with comprehensive ...

  5. Texting in The Presence of Others: the Use of Politeness Strategies in

    University of Kentucky Doctoral Dissertations Graduate School 2011 TEXTING IN THE PRESENCE OF OTHERS: THE USE OF POLITENESS STRATEGIES IN CONVERSATION Jennifer Ann Maginnis University of Kentucky, [email protected] Right click to open a feedback form in a new tab to let us know how this document benefits you. Recommended Citation

  6. PDF A Critical Review of Prominent Theories of Politeness

    4. Brown and Levinson's (1987) theory of politeness. The most prominent work in the context of interlanguage pragmatic research, which was widely used, was the theory of politeness proposed by Brown and Levinson (1978, 1987) (Brunet, Cowie, Donnan, & Douglas-Cowie, 2012, p. 2). The theory mainly focused on how politeness is expressed to ...

  7. (Im)politeness strategies and use of discourse markers

    3. Review of related literature. Earlier studies on politeness have mostly focused on the traditional Brown and Levinson's (Citation 1987) framework to measure politeness using three factors of social distance, relative power, and absolute ranking of impositions as perceived by the interlocutors.Nevertheless, (im)politeness conventions vary from one culture to another leaving one-theory-fits ...


    This dissertation contributes to the theory and research in the fields of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), EIL, Intercultural Communication, Interlanguage Pragmatics and Politeness by providing insights into the pragmatic competence and politeness of L2 English speakers. This work deepens the body of scholarship in these

  9. Politeness in Pragmatics

    2.1. Face and Politeness. Face—a person's public self-image—has been a key topic in politeness research since Brown and Levinson's seminal work.Brown and Levinson borrowed face, and the concept of politeness as an interpretation of face-work, from Erving Goffman's (1967, p.12) work, in which the concept of "facework" refers to "the actions taken by a person to make whatever he ...

  10. (PDF) Exploring Brown and Levinson's Politeness Strategies: An

    Politeness can be done distance or closeness socially. In formal conditions, the speaker must speak more politely to show respect to listeners. Being polite depends on how the speaker uses words or clauses to convey ideas to the listener when someone interacts with other people its divided being 2 part. Its verbal and non-verbal communication.

  11. Exploring Brown and Levinson's Politeness Strategies: An ...

    More specifically, the analysis made use of House and Kasper's (1981) Politeness Linguistic Expressions, Brown and Levinson's (1987) Politeness Strategies, and Leech's (1983) Politeness Maxims.


    This study is an endeavor to shed light on some relevant li nguistic aspects of politeness which reveal. the importance of politeness in social interaction. At a more specific level, this current ...

  13. Politeness

    Abstract. This chapter reviews the major experimental approaches to politeness and considers the theoretical implications of these approaches for the domains of semantics and pragmatics. After a brief overview of the major theoretical orientations to politeness, a detailed review of empirical research on Brown & Levinson's (B&L) politeness ...

  14. PDF Teacher and Students' Politeness Strategies in EFL Classroom ...

    politeness is under pragmatic framework which consists of textual and interpersonal rhetoric. Leech's theory on politeness is included in the interpersonal rhetoric along with cooperative and irony principle. The politeness principle according to Leech (1983) has an aim to build and keep good feelings in the interactions which occur in a ...

  15. Politeness in Intercultural Discourse and Communication

    Defining Politeness. Theoretical Frameworks for Analyzing Politeness in Intercultural Communication. Methods of Researching Intercultural Politeness. Cultural Differences in Politeness Norms. Intercultural Politeness in Interaction. Conclusion. Bibliography

  16. PDF A Study of Politeness Theories on Social Media Forums

    SchoolofComputerScience&Statistics TrinityCollegeDublin,Ireland. ©KrishnaHariramani August14,2019 Page3/65. Abstract. This study investigates the use of popular politeness theories over social media forums like Stack Exchange and Reddit. Various popular politeness theories are hypothesized and tested over social media forums.

  17. PDF Approaches In Linguistic Politeness: A Critical Evaluation

    theory. Politeness has been defined as a linguistic device used fo interaction r based on universal rules. However, the discursive approach depends largely on evaluative strategies by focusing on th' perception, the e participants interpretation of politeness, and on the discoursal aspect of politeness (Eelen, 2001; Mills, 2003; Watts, 2003 ...

  18. PDF University of Roehampton DOCTORAL THESIS Politeness study of requests

    Politeness study of requests and apologies as produced by Saudi Hijazi, EFL learners, and British English university students By Israa Abdulhadi Qari A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Media, Culture, and Language University of Roehampton February 2017

  19. (PDF) Theories on Politeness by Focusing on Brown and Levinson's

    Politeness strategies try to repair or compensate in some way the threat to positive and negative public self-image when performing a specific act. Positive politeness strategies are based on the sharing of the audience‟s wants and show "the writer‟s acceptance of the wants of rival researchers, or of the scientific community as a whole ...

  20. PDF A Pragmatic Analysis of Politeness Strategies Reflected in Nanny Mcphee

    A PRAGMATIC ANALYSIS OF POLITENESS STRATEGIES REFLECTED IN NANNY MCPHEE MOVIE . A Thesis Presented as a Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Attainment of a Sarjana Sastra Degree in English Language and Literature . By: Mifta Hasmi . 06211141022 . ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE STUDY PROGRAM . ENGLISH EDUCATION DEPARTMENT

  21. PDF Exploring Brown and Levinson's Politeness Strategies: An Explanation on

    The purpose of this paper is to want the reader to know why politeness is an essential thing in life relations in verbal and non-verbal communication are needed. Therefore, This paper focuses on exploring politeness strategies put forward by Brown and Levinson (1978) related to verbal and non-verbal communication.

  22. PDF An Analysis of Positive and Negative Politeness Strategies in An

    As qualitative research, this thesis is conducted through several steps. The writer watches the video and its script, marks FTA, finds positive and negative politeness strategies, classifies and selects them based on Brown and Levinson‟s theory of politeness. The writer finds how the notion of politeness is applicable in communication.

  23. PDF A Contrastive Research on Chinese and U.s English Politeness Language

    thesis. I would also like to thank Dr. Yuanyuan Hu for her assistance and guidance in getting my graduate career started on the right foot. ... Politeness is currently a much researched and discussed topic in modern linguistics. Sometimes researchers are focusing on specific politeness aspects, such as how collaborators' ...