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Politeness Strategies in Couples' Communication

Politeness Strategies in Couples' Communication

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Published by F. A. Real H.
A linguistic inquiry into the problematics of couples' communication—as presented in John Gray's "Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus" —through the sociolinguistics' perspective of Brown and Levinson's "Politeness: Some Universals in Language Use"
A linguistic inquiry into the problematics of couples' communication—as presented in John Gray's "Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus" —through the sociolinguistics' perspective of Brown and Levinson's "Politeness: Some Universals in Language Use"

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Published by: F. A. Real H. on Dec 28, 2010
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Cabezas and Real 1Jaime CabezasFelipe RealProfessor María Isabel MizónApplied Linguistics and Communication LET1723-130 June 2008Politeness Strategies in Couples’ Communication
 Introduction
Since Brown and Levinson’s 1978 Politeness: Some Universals in Language Use, thefield of Politeness has been revolutionized. Although the theory of Politeness presented byBrown and Levinson has been often criticized and expanded from their origins in the so-calledGrice-Goffman paradigm (Blumkuta 1987, Edmonson 1981, Fraser and Nolen 1981, Haverkate1987, Owen 1983, Sager 1981
et. al 
. quoted by Held), the model has done a great service inrevealing relevant aspects of communication patterns (Held 131). As a result, we think that thePoliteness strategies—bald-on-record, positive, negative and off-record—presented by Brownand Levinson can be useful in helping couples to improve their interpersonal communication,through the understanding of their face’s needs and how those needs affect their relationships.The corpus of analysis used here used is taken from the couples’ communicational modelspresented by psychologist John Gray in his study Men Are From Mars, Women Are FromVenus .
Classical Theory of Politeness, as developed by Brown and Levinson Face in Brown and Levinson
 One of the most important aspects in conceptualizing Politeness—according to Brownand Levinson—is the concept of 
face
. In their words, ‘face’ is the public self-image that every
 
Cabezas and Real 2member wants to claim for himself, and consists in two related aspects. On the one hand we havethe
negative face
, which is the basic claim to territories, personal preserves, and rights to non-distraction—in other words, freedom of action and freedom from imposition. Meanwhile, on theother hand the
positive face
consists of the self-image or ‘personality’ (crucially including thedesire that this self-image be appreciated and approved of) claimed by interactants. (Brown andLevinson 61)Therefore, “face” is something that is emotionally invested, and that can be lost,maintained, or enhanced, and must be constantly attended to in interaction.
 Couples and face
As it can be seen, face is of the utmost importance for effective communication. In thecase of problematic couples—as presented in Gray’s study—the couples’ integrants express their face needs over and over again, but fail in recognizing the other needs. Furthermore, they fail inachieving any satisfaction of their face as a result of the communicative exchange. When thisoccurs, the communication breakdown produced affects the relationship as a whole, producingfrustration and disappointment in the couples’ components.Examples of this are corpora #2, #4, #5 & #6, when the frustration and disappointmentcan be perceived in the final utterance in each corpus: “Why do I even bother?” (Corpus #2);“What do you mean I don't listen. I can tell you everything you said.” (Corpus #4); “Of course Icare about you. Why do you think I am trying to solve this problem?” (Corpus #5) and “"Howcan you treat me like this? You never talk to me anymore. How am I supposed to know what youare feeling? You don't love me. I feel so rejected by you.” (Corpus #6)
 Face-threatening act (FTA)
The problem is that couples’ members tend to commit face threatening acts (FTA)without consciousness of it, over and over again. In other words, even if they did not intend to,
 
Cabezas and Real 3they end up threatening the face’s necessities of their partner. As a result, they need to usecertain tools to make that threat less intimidating, even if they cannot explain that necessity.Usually, people tend to diminish these threats by being Polite. With this acknowledgment, wecan establish that Politeness is the ability of using certain strategies to minimize the threat toothers’ face. That is why we think that couples’ integrants need to learn how to be Polite, or atleast, develop certain understanding of theory of Politeness in order to make their communication effective and avoid problematic misunderstandings. 
Politeness strategies
The “tools” mentioned before, in order to reduce the FTA, are designated in the theory of Politeness presented by Brown and Levinson as
Politeness strategies
. These are organized infour strategies—grouped in two larger groups—used to address a person while minimizing thelevel of threat. The two larger groups abovementioned are on record—which includes bald-on-record, negative politeness and positive politeness—and off record, also called indirect strategy. 
On record Politeness Bald-on-record 
Bald-on-record strategies are, in a sense, opposed to the definition of Politeness strategiesabovementioned. This, because they do not attempt to minimize the threat to the hearer’s face.These strategies are often utilized in couples’ communication, because the speakers closely knoweach other.  An example of this occurs in corpus #1 when Bonnie says, “I've been stranded inbed and nobody cares!" In this case, Bonnie and John so closely know each other—and for sucha long time, we can deduce—that Bonnie directly ignores John’s face needs in order to expressher positive face needs in the most efficient way. The reason why Bonnie unconsciously uses thisstrategy can be explained in these terms “The prime reason for bald-on-record usage may be

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