Božena Šinková

ExELTC, Year 1, MA course

Maxims of Politeness The Generosity Maxim, The Approbation Maxim, The Modesty Maxim

INTRODUCTION „Be polite!“ „ Say please and thank you!“ We have all heard these well intented instructions from our parents, grandparents and teachers. Moreover, this is what most people understand under the term „politeness“. In general, people view politeness as a necessary tool to achieve their goals, to get what they want. When we submit our requests in a polite manner we expect to have our wishes granted. However, in linguistics the term politeness does not completely overlap with this concept of politeness viewed by majority of people as etiquette or a set of norms expected to be adhered to within a social interaction. In this paper I would like to briefly introduce politeness from the point of view of linguistics. I will also, in greater detail, discuss the generosity maxim, the approbation maxim and the modesty maxim – the maxims of politeness as defined by Leech. DEFINITIONS OF BASIC CONCEPTS Face/Face Threatening Acts Before proceeding to defining the terms politeness and its maxims, it is important to clarify the notion of face and face threatening acts, as these will be most likely included in the definitons of linguistic politeness no matter how many definitions from various sources we would provide. The term face is in liguistics used to refer to the way how people perceive themselves and how they want others to see them. Yule offers the following definition: „Face means the public selfimage of a person. It refers to that emotional and social sense of self that everyone has and expects everyone else to recognize.“ (Yule, G., 1996, pg. 60) Each person has a positive and

as Leech continues. the term politeness can be understood as „the means employed to show awareness of another person’s face“..a negative face..“ (Yule.J. 2011) Every social interaction between people carries a certain risk that a person’s face. refers to people designated by the third-person pronouns. 1996. pg. the speakers may refer to and show politeness to the third parties.teachit.. basically. 60) Watts. too. in an attempt to distinguish the term politeness as approached by linguists from the concept of polite behaviour generally understood by people refers to it as „linguistic politeness“.uk describes it. the term other. pg. 26 April. or. 2003. Politeness In linguistics. 2003. A person’s positive face is. 1996.. by others. Mills offers the following definition of politeness: „Politeness is the expression of the speakers’ intention to mitigate face threats carried by certain face threatening acts toward another” (Mills. S. pg. Therefore. will be threatened by actions which are refered to as face threatening acts. a need to be allowed to act freely according to person’s own will and not to be forced into doing anything. who may or may not be taking part in the conversation.10) 131) Leech specified the following six maxims of politeness: . either positive or negative. ( (Leech.teachit. and to know that his or her wants are shared by others. R. He called these principles the maxims of politeness. (Yule. the negative face is „ wanting your actions not to be constrained or inhibited by others“. (Watts. whom he calls self and other. 1983. G. G. to be treated as a member of the same group.htm#16. as Yule simply explains it. 6) THE MAXIMS OF POLITENESS The British professor Geoffrey Leech has analyzed and summarized the different ways of how people act and what they say in order to keep their interactions within the boundaries of politeness. 60) A person’s negative face is. even liked. pg. pg. the politeness concerns a relationship between two participants. G. as www. However. According to Leech. „the need to be accepted.

the sub-maxims (a) are considered more important than the sub-maxims (b). V. [(b) Maximise agreement between self and other] SYMPATHY MAXIM (in assertives): (a) Minimize antipathy between self and other. pg.I. VI. we tend to eliminate all the maxims of politeness and just simply shout: “STOP!” at the child. 133) Although Leech’s formulations of the maxims of politeness are very specific and straightforward. [(b) Maximise cost to self] APPROBATION MAXIM (in expressives and assertives): (a) Minimize dispraise of other. IV. [(b) Maximize praise of other] MODESTY MAXIM (in expressives and assertives): (a) Minimize praise of self. (Leech. [b) Maximise benefit to other] GENEROSITY MAXIM (in impositives and commissives): (a) Minimize benefit to self. it needs to be added that it is not necessary to apply these rigorously in all speech interactions as sometimes they could collide with other communication aims. 1983. G.. 132) The principles (a) and (b) are called the sub-maxims. the Approbation Maxim and the Modesty Maxim will be discussed further and in greater detail together with examples. [(b) Maximize sympathy between self and other] II. According to the essay assignment only the Generosity Maxim. e. g. The Generosity Maxim .. because “negative politeness (avoidance of discord) is a more weighty consideration than positive politeness (seeking concord). pg. As Leech suggests. G. III. TACT MAXIM (in impositives and commissives): (a) Minimize cost to other. Applying maxims of politeness and producing a sentence such as: I don’t mean to disturb you but would you mind stopping now? would not serve to the purpose of immediate and urgent warning and uttering such sentence would just take too long for it to be actual. if we see a child running across the street who cannot see a quickly approaching car. 1983.” (Leech. [(b) Maximize dispraise of self] AGREEMENT MAXIM (in assetives): (a) Minimize disagreement between self and other.

the Approbation Maxim also suggests that we should refrain from disrespectful and unpleasant comments about the others. i. The “Minimize dispraise of other” part of definition can also be understood in terms of saying unpleasant comments in a nicer. we could say that the Generosity Maxim concentrates on the speaker. “The cost” can also be understood as any situation in which we put others first. if not impolite.So what exactly does Leech mean by the “(a) Minimize benefit to self. Examples: You can have my book if you like. by saying “That jumper you are wearing looks very interesting. Therefore.” is considered to be very impolite.” we can lessen the threat to the addressee’s positive face without resorting to lies in case we really do not like the jumper. Therefore. I don’t mind doing the gardening for you. [(b) Maximise cost to self]“ definition of the generosity maxim? As the self is the only party appearing in this definition. You go out with your friends and I’ll take care of the children. Maximize praise of other“ implies some kind of exaggeration and highlighting the positive features of other. What does it mean in practice? It means that saying “Wasn’t it a fantastic book I recommended you?” is considered less polite. It maximizes praise of self and it puts self in the centre of attention. The Approbation Maxim Leech semi-seriously suggests that this maxim could be also called “the Flattery Maxim” as its definition: “Minimize dispraise of other. self. a statement “That jumper of yours is hideous. even rude. but is doing the right opposite. softer way. The speaker is being generous by offering to do something for someone else selflessly by stressing the fact that he/she is not expecting to gain anything from this offer (minimizing the benefit) and that all the work (“the cost”) will be performed by him/her. Understandably.e. the Generosity Maxim is not applicable solely in situations when we promise to perform some kind of activity. therefore. and it is violating the Approbation Maxim. it can be said that it is other orientated. . as according to the Approbation Maxim it does not maximize praise of other. More importantly.

While exaggerating the underestimation of self within the second sub-maxim can be commonly observed and it is considered conventional. G. maximize dispraise of self”. However. I’m so clumsy! I broke the vase!” A: Thank you very much. to “minimize praise of self. it is expected that the participants in conversations will follow some basic rules of politeness. e. 136) E. i.” However. The Modesty Maxim As the title of the maxim suggests. breaking the first sub-maxim is considered as boasting. the Modesty Maxim is self orientated. That’s the least I can do. BIBLIOGRAPHY . The examples of the Modesty Maxim in practice are obvious and we encounter them in everyday life: “Oh. Nevertheless. similarly to the Approbation Maxim. (Leech.” There is one interesting aspect of the Modesty Maxim. 1983. g. in every society. over-using the “maximize dispraise of self” aspect of the Modesty Maxim can become tiring and it would reduce the credibility of the speaker.Although applying the Approbation Maxim in conversations is somehow expected. application of the Modesty Maxim will require the author of the utterance. Until looking closer at the problematic of the Maxims of Politeness. the speaker. it should not be over-used. to sound unobtrusive and modest. CONCLUSION Adhering to the Maxims of Politeness during social interactions is not obligatory. every language has a different structure of these principles just as different cultures consider different things to be their politeness standards. That is so kind of you! B: Not at all. Similarly to the Generosity Maxim. “I did her a massive favour. Understandably. Constant and even exaggerated praise of other would soon become tedious and it would sound very unnatural and perhaps insincere.. these principles can easily be adapted into every culture and help to improve the communication between the people. I was not aware that the various expressions we utter numerous times a day can be classified within the Maxims of Politeness. pg.

Politeness. 2003. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-19-437207-3 Internet Resources http://www. 1983.. New York. 1996. G. 2011 . J. 2003.. Longman Group Ltd. 26 0-582-551-10-2 ISBN MILLS.. Pragmatics. R. Gender and Politeness. ISBN 0-521-810-84-1 WATTS. Cambridge.teachit. Principles of Pragmatics. Oxford University Press. G. Oxford.LEECH.. ISBN 978-0-52179406-0 YULE. New York.

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