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Politeness phenomena are thus one manifestation of the wider concept of etiquette, or appropriate behavior. Grundy (2008) gives an example of how

politeness is being used in the daily life. He mentioned two examples of how

someone and his wife „polite‟ in different ways. This is happened because the

distance between he and his wife on the one hand and between someone and he in the conversation on the other is not the same. This chapter will be discussed about the politeness phenomena and Brown and Levinson‟s theory which determine politeness phenomena such as, the power-distance relationship of interactants and the extent to which a speaker imposes on an addressee. The next discussion is about politeness phenomena in the real world, in which several real world politeness challenges are explored. The last section is the universal character of

politeness, in which the claim that Brown and Levinson‟s schema captures

universal properties of politeness is discussed.

Body of the chapter

  • 1. Politeness phenomena and Brown and Levinson’s theory

In their classic book on politeness, they argue that politeness phenomena extend the notion of indexicality because they show that every utterance is uniquely designed for its context. They also state that politeness phenomena are a paradigm example of pragmatic usage. In being „polite‟, a speaker is attempting to create an implicated context that matches the one assumed by the addressee. In line with this, Aziz (2008) states on his journal that politeness is more widely used to refer to the act of speaking or interpersonal communication in order to avoid embarrassment of someone or both who involved in the communication. Added by Grundy (2008), politeness phenomena are thus one manifestation of the wider concept or etiquette, or appropriate behavior.

  • a. Face Within interaction, however there is a more narrowly specified type of politeness at work. Face means the public self-image of a person. It refers to that emotional and social sense of self that everyone has and expects everyone else to recognize. Politeness can be then defined as the means employed to show awareness of another person‟s face. Showing awareness for another person‟s face when that other seems socially distant is often in terms of respect or deference. Face wants. Within their everyday social interactions, people generally behave as if their expectations concerning their public self-image, or their face wants, will be respected. Alternatively given the possibility that some action might be interpreted as a threat to another‟s face, the speaker can say something to lessen the possible threat. This called as a face saving act. Because it is generally expected that each person will attempt to respect the face wants of others, there are many different ways of performing grace saving acts (Yule: 1996).

  • b. The effect of politeness Polite utterances encode the relationship between the speaker and the addressee, so that politeness affects both of them differently. As a part of the communication, we should know who is the addresser, the addressee and in what circumstances dos the utterances happened. In conclusion, the way we say things to each other has real effect. This is because it encodes not only propositional content but also out understanding of the relationship between the addressee and the addresser. This insight suggests that every instance of communicated language exhibits politeness.

  • c. Redress and redundancy Grundy (2008) on his book that politeness phenomenon frequently go in the opposite direction of presupposition and pragmatic presupposition in particular, which encourage economical communication by allowing shared propositions to be taken for granted without being stated. Grundy also states that the more economical utterances are used when the speaker

knows the addressee well, and the more elaborate when the speaker knows the addressee less well. It means that in this section, we should more likely to use redressive, and hence less economical, linguistic formulas when we place demands on those we address, especially when we do not know them well.

  • d. Power, distance, and imposition Grundy shows the nature of the relationship between the speaker and the addressee. He provides an example like this: someone at the bar enjoying a quiet drink. Two men come in and the one in front says to the barman (1) “a pint of Bass please”, he then consults his friend, who also wants a pint of Bass. The first man then says to the barman, “can you make it two please”. If the first man consulted his friend before ordering, he would of course have said “two pints of Bass please” in the first place. But because his order in two parts and because each part is for the same drink, he acknowledges this little extra imposition with „can you make it….‟, a yes/no question at the locutionary level which it is technically possible to answer „no‟ if you happen to be Mr. logic. In (1) and (2) the social distance and power relationship remains constant since two utterances involve the same two speakers, so the only variable is the degree of imposition of the request. Grundy makes a conclusion that in deciding on the redressive language needed when performing a speech act, we should take into account the degree of imposition of what we seek to accomplish by our utterance and any social distance or power differential between ourselves and those we address.

  • e. Brown and Levinson’s model of politeness strategies Face wants and face-threatening acts Universal in Language Usage: Politeness Phenomena (1978) was built by Brown and Levinson as the most fully elaborated work on linguistic politeness. Then, re-issued with a new introduction and revised bibliography as Politeness: Some Universal in Language Usage (1987).

Added by Tamil as speakers in southern India, Tzeltal speakers in Mexico and speakers of American and British English, they provide a systematic description of cross-linguistic politeness phenomena whisch is used to support an explanatory model capable of accounting for any instance of politeness. Their claim that broadly comparable linguistic strategies are available in each language but that there are local cultural differences in what triggers their use.

Brown and Levinson work with Goffman‟s notion of „face‟, a property

that all human beings have and that‟s broadly comparable to self-esteem. In most encounters, our face is put a t risk, for example: asking someone

for a sheet of paper or asking someone the time. So when we perform such actions, they are typically accompanied with redressive language design to compensate the treat to face and thus to satisfy the face wants of our interlocutor. Brown and Levinson assume a Model Person with two kinds of face,

positive face and negative face. Positive face is a person‟s wish to be well

thought of. Its manifestatios may include the desire to have others admire what we value, the desire to be understood by others, and the desire to be treated as a friend and confidant. Thus a complaint about the quality of

someone‟s work threatens their positive dace. Negative face is our wish to

be imposed on by others and to be allowed to go about our business unimpeded and with our rights to free and self determined action intact.

Positive, negative and off-record politeness

When someone has a face-threatening act to perform, Brown and Levinson‟s Model Person chooses from three superordinate strategies. By on record, Brown and Levinson mean without attempting to hide what we are doing, and by off-record they mean in such a way as a pretend to hide in, for example: “I don‟t know what‟s wrong with my mobile-it doesn‟t seem to be charged”. That example might well be an off-record way of hinting that someone asks other to let them hers.

Grundy provide another example:

Shopper: excuse me you haven‟t got a pound coin have you


: probably <produces coin from pocket>

Shopper: there you are there‟s your two fifties From the example, we can see that the shopper chooses to go on record,

and she decides to appeal to peter‟s negative face, it is indicating that she is impeding peter‟s right to go about daily business uninterrupted. The

negative declarative and the tag encode that she does not necessarily expect me to satisfy her face wants. Grundy states on his book that an important point about Brown and Levinson five strategies is that they are ranked from Do the act on record badly, which has no linguistically encoded redress, through a sequence of escalating to be redressed by any language formula so that the most appropriate politeness strategy is no to do the act. A speaker will only choose a highly ranked strategy where the face threat is felt to be high, since being too polite implies that one is asking a lot of someone and/or

that there‟s a significant poser or social distance differential between those


Positive and negative politeness strategies

Brown and Levinson (1987:102,131) list the positive and negative politeness available to their Model Person, as bellow:

Positive politeness:

Notice/attend to hearer‟s wants. Exaggerate interest/approval. Intensify

interest. Use in-group identity markers. Seek agreement. Avoid disagreement. Presuppose/assert common ground. Joke. Assert knowledge of hearer‟s wants. Offer, promise. Be optimistic. Include speaker and hearer in the activity. Give (or ask for) reasons. Assume/assert reciprocitv.

Give gifts to hearer. Negative politeness:

Be conventionally indirect. Question, hedge. Be pessimistic. Minimize imposition. Give deference. Apologize. Impersonalize. State the imposition as a general rule. Nominalize. Go on record as incurring a debt.

  • f. Folk beliefs and pragmatic insight Much of our everyday thinking about politeness is bedeviled by the fact „politeness‟ is a folk term used in the kind of value-laden way. In Britain „politeness‟ is typically used to describe negative politeness, which is presumed to be a good thing. Like the example below: “Susie‟s butter‟s gone and my cheese has gone as well” was a more polite way of conveying the proposition already conveyed by “someone‟s been nicking stuff out the fridge”. Grundy states on his book that politeness is the term we use to describe the relationship between how something is said to an addressee and that addressee‟s judgment as to how it should be said. This has nothing at all to do with prescriptive approaches to linguistic etiquette.

  • 2. Politeness phenomena in the real world

This section will be discussed about positive and negative politeness are

blended, and then consider speaker-and addressee-oriented face-saving

strategies, before finally exploring a hotel guest who‟d had enough and

resorted to rudeness.

  • a. Service encounters and identify “Will anyone leaving us in York please make sure you take all your personal belongings with you” From the example above, it is usual to address both positive as well as negative face wants even in a service encounter that encodes the fundamentally unequal status of costumer and service provide. The example above used plain and friendly „make sure‟ immediately after an

impersonal „anyone‟, nominalized „anyone leaving‟, power-encoding „us‟, and the redressive „please‟

  • b. Face-saving formulas for the speaker: a long day The situation is in the airport, the speaker in the airport departure lounge at 8:45 a.m waiting for the call to go to the gate. There is a passenger in a wheelchair nearby. In due course, a member of staff appears and asks the passenger appears if he needs assistance getting to the gate. The passenger points out that the member of the staff has already offered him assistance, and rather ungraciously adds



you‟re getting confused

Staff manager : it‟s been a long day


: and it hasn‟t even started yet

If we see anyone in a wheelchair at Newcastle airport, my advice is to leave them to it. Although we usually think of the face of the addressee being threatened, we should also remember that the speakers too can easily lose face.

  • c. Maintaining addressee face when wants aren’t met Guest

: do you have any nice girls in the hotel tonight?

Bellboy : oh no, I‟m afraid not. But you may go across the road.

From the example above, we have already noticed that when we make a request which the person we address cannot satisfy, they tend and minimize our face loss. Sometimes there is an alternative suggestion, as on

this occasion when the bellboy‟s „but‟ encodes his metapragmatic

awareness of making a next-best suggestion.

  • d. A hotel breakfast This example taken form Grundy (2008) Waiter : have you had breakfast here before Peter

: sorry

Waiter : have you had breakfast here before


: I only arrived here yesterday

We can see from the example, rather than responding to the first question

with „no I have not‟, Peter felt it was to challenge the interrogation with

„sorry‟. When the question was repeated, Peter decided to let the waiter infer that obviously had not had breakfast before from „I only arrived here

yesterday‟. It was rude, and it turned out that the waiter had decided not to bother about the fact that Peter did not exist on the waiter‟s list. So Peter

looked even more foolish. On the conclusion, we can draw from this misunderstanding is that politeness phenomena, because of their redressive function, enable civilized exchanges to occur. When politeness is left behind, as here, things can go wrong very quickly. A couple more questions from the waiter and I might have resorted to striding past him and risking fisticuffs.

  • 3. The universal character of politeness Brown and Levinson argue that politeness phenomena are universal. In hierarchical societies with strong class distinctions, the over-classes will see to it that the under-classes employ more negative politeness strategies when addressing their „elders and betters‟ as a way of encoding and thus maintaining the distance between socially stratified groups who acquire face status through birth. More egalitarian societies, on the other hand, will employ positive politeness strategies as a way of encoding and thus confirming a less territorial view of face. On the other hand, Matsumoto (1988) argue that in Japanese the structures associated with negative politeness strategies in Brown and Levinson‟s model do not have a negative politeness function but instead constitute a social register. Much of Matsumoto‟s criticism centers on the way that deference is manifested in Japanese honorifics. She claims that deference can be equated with the speaker‟s respecting an individual‟s right to non imposition. She suggest us to distinguish situations where deference given unexceptionally as an automatic acknowledgement of relative social status

from situations where it is given exceptionally in a particular situation as a redressive strategy. In the first case, the use of honorifics reinforces an existing culture and is not a chosen politeness strategy at all since the speaker attempts to produce a context-reflecting utterance acceptable to the addressee as addressee. In the second, the speaker uses deference to produce a context- creating, utterance acceptable to the addressee in the situation shared by the speaker and himself. Whether Brown and Levinson have proposed a model that is universal is always open to discussion. But what is important about their work is their

observation that politeness is not equally distributed. As they say: “it is not as if there were some basic modicums of politeness owed by each to all”. Rather what is owed depends on the calculation of what is expected in each social and situational context that arises.


A linguistic interaction is necessarily a social interaction. Factors which relate to social distance and closeness are established prior to interaction. They typically involve the relative status of the participants, based on social values ties to such things as age and power. We should take part in a wide range of interactions where the social distance determined by external factor is dominant. However, there are other factors, such as amount of imposition or degree of friendliness, which are often negotiated during in interaction. These internal factors are typically in the process of being worked out within the interaction. Both type of factors, external and internal have an influence not only on what we say but also on how we are interpreted. Recognizing the impact is normally carried out in

terms of politeness. Politeness is the term we use to describe the relationship

between how something is said to an addressee and that addressee‟s judgment as

to how it should be said. This has nothing at all to do with perspective approaches to linguistic etiquette.


Aziz, E.A. 2008. Horison Baru Teori Kesantunan Berbahasa. Guru Besar Linguistik pada Fakultas Pendidikan Bahasa UPI Oktober 2008.

Grundy, Peter. 2008. Doing Pragmatics. Third edition. UK: Hooder education.

Thomas, Jenny. (1975). Meaning in Interaction: An Introduction to Pragmatics. New York: Longman.

Yule, George. 1996. Pragmatics. Hongkong: Oxford University Press.


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