You are on page 1of 6

2012 International Conference on Education Technology and Management Engineering Lecture Notes in Information Technology, Vols.


Analysis of Politeness Strategy in Convivial Business English Letters Fang Kan
Xuchang University, Henan Xuchang, 461000 China

Keywords: politeness strategies, Politeness Principle, convivial letters Abstract. This thesis takes Leech’s Politeness Principle(PP) as the theoretical framework to reveal how the politeness is achieved in convivial letters. The thesis uses the case analysis as research method to demonstrate how PP guides the use of polite language in convivial letter writings at different levels, namely, at lexical, syntactic and discourse level. Introduction In the convivial letters, the illocutionary goal is compatible with the social goal, or rather, the illocutionary goal and social goal match. Therefore, the convivial letters are aimed to present the favorable information and establish sound business relationship. The convivial letters may include congratulation letters, approval letters, appreciation letters, acceptance letters, offers letters, order letters, etc. (Gilsdorf, 1989) As the convivial letters are polite and courteous in nature and the messages are positive, the more direct it is, the better it is. To make the convivial letters effective, politeness is an important decisive factor determining what language to use and what structure to follow. This thesis intends to adopt Leech’s Politeness Principle (PP) as the theoretical framework to analyze convivial business English letters by case study method. Theoretical Framework—Leech’s Politeness Principle Leech’s PP deals with the relationship between two involvers in communication, namely, self and other. He models after Grice’s CC, and he divides the politeness principle into a number of maxims. 1) Tact Maxim a. Minimize cost to other. b. Maximize benefits to other. 2) Generosity Maxim a. Minimize benefits to self. b. Maximize cost to self. 3) Approbation Maxim a. Minimize dispraise of other. b. Maximize praise of other. 4) Modesty maxim a. Minimize praise of self. b. Maximize dispraise of self. 5) Agreement Maxim a. Minimize disagreement between self and other. b. Maximize agreement between self and other. 6) Sympathy Maxim a. Minimize antipathy between self and other. b. Maximize sympathy between self and other.
978-1-61275-016-3/10/$25.00 ©2012 IERI


Generally speaking. “couldn’t”. “refuse”. According to Leech. the more polite it will be. When the speech act is beneficial to readers. Therefore. Therefore. the positive words such as “pleased”. Besides. etc. According to Tact Maxim in Leech’s PP. (Wienbroer. minimize the disagreement between the reader and the writer. the statuses of the six maxims are unequal. which is a benefit to the readers. Voice is to suggest whether a subject of a sentence acts or whether the subject is acted upon. The agreement Maxim deal with the scales of disagreement. Application of Politeness Principle at sentence level Using Active Voice. Therefore. like “can’t”. In the example above. Tact Maxim and Generosity Maxim go in pair. That well demonstrates that other is more important than self in politeness. and Sympathy Maxim deals with the scale of sympathy. Using positive words. and Approbation Maxim and Modesty Maxim go in pair both of which fall into praise-dispraise scale. (Rodman. “top executive” and “best” are used. which demonstrate that the negative politeness is more important in politeness. it acts in accordance with the agreement maxim as the positive words indicate that the writer confirms and recognizes the reader’s accomplishment. Collaborative and convivial letters usually convey the positive or neutral message. However. minimize the cost to reader. using positive words observe the Leech’s PP. Using positive words and expressions is extremely significant in the conflictive letters which usually convey the unfavorable messages. On the contrary. Active voice indicating the subject as the doer puts the actor at the very outset of the sentence so it makes sentence look more directly and forceful. it is better to use positive words to generate goodwill and avoid impoliteness. the reader’s needs are satisfied. it is preferred to use you-attitude language to obtain a better response and to please readers. the more direct it is. active voice is more frequently found in the collaborative and convivial letters. “deny”. I was very pleased to read the Fortune Magazine report entitled “the Giants of Asia” and find you named among the top executives leading the best companies in Asia’s New Economy. 2000) Positive effects can maximize the benefits to the reader. both of which fall into cost-benefit scale. the passive voice with the object acted upon at the beginning of the sentence undermines the role of the subject. third. 2001) In this way. Application of Politeness Principle in Convivial Letters The thesis will focus on how the six maxims can be used to explain the politeness strategies in convivial business letters. (Sample letter 1) In the congratulation letter. it acts in accordance with generosity maxim as the reader by using a series of positive words is obviously generous to give praises. The use of positive words follows Leech’s PP: first. a series of positive words are used to convey the good news. while passive voice is more frequently found in conflictive and competitive letters. the sub-maxims are less powerful than the maxims. and maximize the sympathy. the writers tend to express the meaning more directly and forcefully with the 404 . Positive words are frequently found in business letters either conveying the negative information or positive information as the words can make the letters sound more polite. “fail”. second. Tact Maxim is more powerful and important. Using You-Attitude Language. it acts in accordance with the tact maxim as it maximizing the benefits to the reader. For minimizing the cost to other and the disagreement. It is obvious that it is impolite to present the unfavorable message with the negative words. in collaborative business letter and convivial business letters.The six maxims explain asymmetries. Application of Politeness Principle at lexical level. the writer should maximize the benefits to the readers to demonstrate that the writer has perceived the issue from the reader’s stand.

(Sample Letter 3) This is an excerpt of a notification letter of the further meanings. The first sentence uses passive voice. I served as a computer consultant at the college’s computer center where I helped train users to work with new systems. Within the body. hence. the simple sentences are usually used in the business letters presenting good news because the more direct the expression is. the more polite it is. Using simple sentences. As the letter is a kind of collaborative letter with the focus on conveying the information.  Propose customer-focused solutions to address areas of weakness. I certainly learned a lot about the unique aspects of aviation operations in your part of the world (not to mention the things you taught me about the backhand on the squash court!). However.  Identify and document strengths weaknesses of the program. On both a professional and a personal level. it is usually difficult to grab the meanings of the complicated sentence. The sentence uses the adverbial clause within the main sentence to underplay what the writer has done in the college’s computer center. Besides. empathic and direct. The following sentences use the active voice. the writer improperly deals with the voice of the first sentence. I really appreciated the time that the two of us were able to spend together for fun and reflection during conference down times. the writer intends to show his or her consideration for the readers’ benefits and agreement as well as empathy. a series of simple sentences with the structure of “S+V” are used. it observes Modesty Maxim. It is usually easy to grab the major idea of a simple sentence in a quite short period of time as the simple sentence is clear. visionary. Simple sentence refers to the sentence with simple structure and fewer voice sentence in which the actor is emphasized. the sentence does not directly express the writer’s appreciation. In this way. (Sample Letter 4) The complicated sentence is included in an application letter. (Sample Letter 2) This is an excerpt of an appreciation letter. the objectives of our review sessions will be to:  Review and assess the overall effectiveness of the program. there is an attribute sentence “the reputation you have earned as an innovator. the more likely that the benefits of the reader can be maximized. the write uses a quite complicated sentence. in which the writer expresses his appreciation for what the reader has done in the conference. which clearly presents the objectives of the review sessions. and the upcoming sentences use active voices. In addition to having taken a broad range of courses. and role model for new generations—is quite remarkable. congratulating the reader’s titled as “the Giants of Asia”.  Develop an approach and action plan for Phase 2 of the project. By using the passive voice. Your accomplishments as chairman of ONYX Corporation—as well as the reputation you have earned as an innovator. On the contrary. use of simple sentence is in line with the Tact Maxim. (Sample Letter 5) In the congratulation letter. visionary. while complicated sentence is usually long with complicated structure such as modifiers and dependent clauses. highly emphasizing the theme of appreciation. As discussed at that meeting. and express the writer’s appreciation for the reader’s performance in the conference. with the active voice. In the example above. It makes the 405 . which violates Leech’s Tact Maxim of maximizing the cost to others. The suggested revision of the first sentence is: Those representing all sides of that extremely sensitive topic really appreciate your skill in chairing the controversial panel on “The Role of Developing Countries in the Future of Aviation Management”. it is better to make sure that the information is clearly and explicitly conveyed. and role model for new generations”. The use of simple sentence observes Agreement Maxim of maximize the agreement. This is a way of minimizing the praise to self. Generally speaking. Your skill in chairing the controversial panel on “The Role of Developing Countries in the Future Of Aviation Management” was very much appreciated by those representing all sides of that extremely sensitive topic. All the sentences are to convey the good news. The more direct and explicit the letter is. explicit. In this sense. the reader can accurately acquire the message.

and intrusive questions. In the letters with negative messages. The deductive approach has its merits: first. in writing business letters with good message or neutral message. According to Leech’s generosity maxim and tact maxim.” (Davison. From Leech’s point of view. it is likely to arouse the favorable response or reaction in the reader. Inductive approach refers to an approach conveying the message in an indirect way. These are quite remarkable. the more direct it is. maximizes the benefits to other and minimizes the antipathy. it is better to use the deductive approach to structure the whole text so that that the letter can be more direct. Tact Maxim is observed. 3) Presenting bad news. “Indirectness seems to be associated most of the time with the bad news. and at last the writer reiterates the major theme of the letter. It is better to split the sentence into several simple sentences to make it polite. it is improper to use the deductive approach as presenting unfavorable messages at the very beginning is likely to upset or irritate the reader. 4) Suggesting alternatives to maintain the business relations and mitigate the negative effect. Deductive approach is often employed when the writer believes that the reader will approve the main theme. 5) Ending the letter with goodwill. In business letters with the good message or the neutral message. Generosity Maxi and Sympathy Maxim. unfavorable opinions. and then the writer presents the details or offers some background information. namely. the more polite it is. you have earned the reputation y as an innovator. Scollon and Scollon (1995) identify two approaches of structuring the business letters. it is better to state the bad news in a polite and courteous way. 406 . By using deductive approach. However. the writer uses such a long and complex sentence that the reader may find it to indirect to obtain the writer’s goodwill. a business letter is usually structured in this way: 1) a buffer coming first. Therefore.expressions quite indirect. Besides. Therefore. In the business letters conveying the bad news such as the conflictive letters and competitive letter. the writer maximizes the benefits to other. inductive approach is often used in the letters with unfavorable message. Therefore. it is preferable to start the letter with some positive or neutral message and present the negative message in the latter part of the letter. second. the reader is likely to accept and agree with the delivered message as the message is beneficial to the reader or at least not threatening to the reader. With deductive approach. 1975:153) Therefore. Deductive approach refers to a way of organizing the text by presenting the major themes at the outset of the texts and presenting the minor information after the major idea. A buffer refers to a device to minimizing the unpleasantness and shock. the writer further explains why the unfavorable message occurs with good reasons. she or he may feel less threatened by the bad news. the writer usually states the main theme or major idea at the very beginning of the letter. 2) Reasons following the buffer. and ultimately achieve the goal of politeness. the buffer refers to temporarily withhold the negative message to mitigate the negative effect of the unfavorable message. With the inductive approach. the writer observes Leech’s PP so that the negative influence on the reader is mitigated to the maximum and that the politeness is achieved. it brings the reader directly to the theme of the letter. As the reader has understood the reasons. However. It is quite rude and impolite to do that. Which approach to choose is closely linked with the nature of message. the writer should maximize the benefits and praise to the reader when the information is positive. According to Davison (1975). With the inductive approach. it observes Tact Maxim. The use of buffer minimizes the cost to other. when the request is beneficial to the reader only. deductive approach and inductive approach. visionary. Indirectness enables one to distance oneself from the unfavorable message and mitigates the intrusion and imposition. The revised edition would be: You have accomplished a lot as the chairman of ONYX Corporation. and role model for new generations. In the part. thus. Application of Politeness Principle at Discourse Level How to organize an English business letter is critically important as it can affects the effectiveness of communication.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. As discussed. who gave me a lot of love in the past twenty years. In the end. 1990. Conclusion The study on the politeness strategies in convivial letters can stimulate the readers to pay close attention to how the politeness strategies are used under the guidance of politeness principle. Therefore. it directly goes to the main information. By maximizing the benefits to the reader. forward-looking statement brings the letter to an end. J. In addition. the writer continues presenting the detailed information such as the time of being available and the impression of the school on the writer. the letter is organized in a direct manner. which may increases the chances of success in communication. R. Sample Letter 6 Dear Mr. that is. I look forward to joining you and your staff. Acknowledgements I would express my gratitude for my mother. F. (28):635-662 [3] Gibson.. XX The letter is a kind of acceptance letter. that is. and Levinson. Practically. 2010. Next. it can also promote the addressee's understanding of why the addresser uses politeness strategies. And I also thank for my father. the writer is likely to draw the reader’s attention and interest in the main idea. I couldn’t accomplish this paper. my grandfather and all the ones I love and who love me. business English writers should use the politeness strategies properly. 407 . the acceptance of the offer of an appointment.000. it is polite to directly convey the message directly. The letter also uses the deductive approach. Journal of Pragmatics. and Hodgets. References [1] Brown. it is a kind of convivial letter. Politeness: Some universals in language usage. [2] Chiappini. Therefore. giving a positive reply to the offer of appointment as a Physical Education Teacher. The message conveyed in the letter is the benefit to the reader as the appointment is likely to produce the pleasant feeling in the reader. P. Inc. I will be teaching a course during the summer term at Sims Valley Private School and will be available to begin my duties at South Town High School on August 26. S. the writer abides by Tact Maxim. the research can direct the writings of business letters. Therefore. Business Communication: Skills and Strategies. Requests and status in business correspondence.1996. “I look forward to joining you and your staff”. W. the use of politeness strategies at different levels can promote the business transaction in a large sense. In this way. “I am pleased to accept your offer of an appointment as a Physical Education Teacher in your school system at an annual salary of $29.In the later sections. As you know. During my visit I was very impressed with your facilities and the teachers in your department. the four types of business letters will be analyzed at the discourse level to reveal how the writer abides by Leech’s PP to make the letter sound polite and courteous. Peterson: I am pleased to accept your offer of an appointment as a Physical Education Teacher in your school system at an annual salary of $29. 1987. New York: Harper & Row Publisher. Without their supports. M.000”. Sincerely. The opportunity to become an active member of your educating team is especially appealing. Harris S. First.

Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press by arrangement with Blackwell Publisher’s Ltd. 2004. Power and Politeness in Action: Disagreements in Oral Communication. Intercultural Communication: A Discourse Approach.3. Shanghai: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. G.from the 9th Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co. 1995.[4] Grice. 2000. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.1973. Theory and Practice. “The Logic of Politeness. R. eds. Syntax and Semantics. [6] Leech. Logic and Conversation. Pragmatics. New York: Academic Press. [8] Londo. [10] Watts et al. Vo1.. Richard J. Minding Your P’s and Q’s”. George. [7] Locher. Miriam A. [5] Lakoff. 1982. Principles of Pragmatics. The Study of Language. 1975..&Scollon S. Politeness in Language: Studies in Its History. 408 . 2nd edition. 1992. [12] Yule.. W. In Papers. New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 1983. Speech Acts. New York: Mouton de Gruyter. George.. 292-305.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. in Peter Cole and Jerry Morgan. [9] Scollon R. Paul. Inc. 1996. [11] Yule. Or. London: Longman. Common Sense in Business Writing.