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Linguistic Politeness Study

Chapter 1


Over the last three decades, politeness has become one of the central discussions in pragmatic and sociolinguistic researches. A large number of theoretical, empirical books and articles about linguistic politeness that have been published, shows that politeness has become one of the most active areas of research in language use.

Although the interest of politeness in both social and linguistic phenomenon significantly increased, many recent studies choose to drawn on conversational data, it was surprised that is only small numbers of scholars focused to study politeness in written text such as scientific written text rather than on conversational data recently.

Even though the main stream of linguistic politeness is generally associated with social behaviour as strategic conflict avoidance, and the major concept of politeness theory is an arrangement of politeness strategies along a continuum from least polite to most polite, also allows them to engage in conflict-free communication, and it usually found in the study of conversational using speaker-hearer model of interactions. Many scholars do not realize that this politeness model also can be extended to other medium not only through verbal communication but also in a written material in terms of the interactions of the or authors and audiences in scientific texts.

Furthermore, the advances of politeness models to some genres of scientific written texts is somehow interesting and in the other hand complex field to study. Greg Myers[1] (1989) in his study found that the model proposed by Brown and Levinson was very useful to explain how he interpret some construction of the norm of scientific culture found in writing, particularly academic writing.

Brown and Levinson (1978/1987) present their study as part of the linguistic project of showing universals in language usage; the striking parallels in politeness devices between three unrelated languages shows that while the expressions of politeness may vary enormously from one culture to another, and the basic hierarchy of politeness strategies is not a culture specific.

Brown and Levinsons (1987: 58) constructed a system in which a model person is endowed with negative and positive face; roughly the want to be unimpeded and the want to be approved of in certain respects. The model person also has a rational faculty for choosing the course of action that will give the highest pay-off with the least loss of face, evaluating three variables; the social distances (D); the relative difference in power between the speaker and hearer (P); the rank of imposition (R). These three basic variables seem still affective to help understanding the interactions of politeness between writers and readers in written text. Brown and Levinsons (BL) theory has been extensively used and also criticised. Although most of the scholars that studied politeness are agree that specific factors like power, social distance or status, influence the adoption of strategies, it is still difficult to provide definite conclusions.

Moreover, by using Myers “room of thinking” above that linked to what Brown and Levinson had proposed in their study, this research tries to focus on the politeness strategies employed by the economists’ authors in academic journals, by concerning that at this time academic journals had reached a fabulous numbers both digital and printing material and also become a major references by scholars all over the world. On the other hand, the scholars that deeply focused to study the academic journals in the pragmatics or discourse analysis area says; politeness it’s still rare.

By viewing that chances the researcher hopes that this study is able to contribute to the existing pool of knowledge on politeness strategies used in academic writing, particularly which in the writing of economic journal articles of two identified economic journals.

1.1 Statements of the Problem

Started in the early 1950’s, Schuler studied about the politeness in Germany and Goffman studied on “face work” in 1955. Nowadays, the study about politeness has become one of the major areas of pragmatics or sociolinguistics. Classical theories of linguistic politeness clarifies such as Lakoff (1973, 1977), Brown and Levinson (1987), Leech (1983) agree that linguistic politeness can be used as a strategic conflict avoidance.

Linguistic politeness not only was applied by many people via verbal communication but also through the medium of written material both in academic or non academic fields, politeness persuasion in journal writing as a genre in academic writing somehow in line with the demands of the academic community that expects scientific language to be objective and formal. Further, the use of politeness persuasion or strategies in journal issues by particular people from different culture background, age and economic basic education is interesting field to discuss.

Based on that statement above the main purposes of this study beyond the limits of this paper, to give an exhaustive overview of politeness-related research are to identify sort of politeness strategies employed by economist authors and analyze the politeness kinds of strategies in economic journal articles both local and international economic journal.

1.2 Objective of the Study

In recent years there has been a steady increase in interest and research into economics discourse by both economists and linguists which has spawned an expanding body of work. The nature of this work in part reflects not only the varied academic backgrounds of the writers, but also the evolutionary development of linguistics in general and its sub-discipline of discourse analysis in particular. This body of work is not only in hope succeeding clarify many of the ways that economists use language to express themselves in polite way, but also can be use to help the public to understand the politeness style of writing from the economist in the scientific text.

Furthermore based on the explanation above, this present study tried focused in identify politeness strategies employed by authors of economic journal communities both local and international economic journals, by proposing the objectives below;

1. To investigate how economists use language to present findings in polite way

2. To investigates the use of politeness strategies in economics text

3. To compare the use of politeness strategies in a local and international economic journals

1.3 Research Question

Brown and Levinson (1987) have developed a theory of politeness to explain the nature of politeness phenomena in language. Through this exploratory study, the researcher will focus on the existence of linguistic politeness in economic articles. For this purpose the researcher study the selected local and international economic journals. The researcher focused on specific areas in these journals that the researcher feels exemplifies the existence of politeness strategies.

Based on the explanation above, the present study aims to answer the following question:

1. What kinds of politeness strategies are employed by authors in local and international economic journal articles?

2. In what ways are local and international journals similar or different in the use of politeness strategies?

1.4 Significance of the study

Politeness has become one of the fields of research to which more attention has been devoted in the last two decades. The connections of politeness studies with other domains, such as sociolinguistics, socio pragmatics, ethnography of communication, second language teaching/acquisition or conversational analysis, have definitely contributed to this growing interest and its exploratory study, the researcher choose to focus on the existence of politeness strategies n economic journals.

Since the early 1980s, the discussion of various controversial issues in the economics discourse community has led to increasing debate among concerned economists about the ways that they communicate with each other, as well as with non-economists.

Royce (1995) in his paper[2] mentions that; Although economics is considered to be a science and its language is often close to scientific language, within evidence the texts are often complemented by graphs. The influence of literary discourse is predominant.

In 1986, Donald McCloskey published The Rhetoric of Economics and republished in 1998. McCloskey considers economic discourse as “a language comprised of tropes; a word or phrase used in a sense not proper to it, tales and other rhetorical devices that are literary and rhetorical or persuasive rather than scientific or natural”.

The specific aim of this research also to show that was an increasing awareness of the nature of economics discourse by both applied linguists and economists, For the purposes above, the research studies one locally and one international economic journal, published by economic associations from Malaysia and USA. This research try not to deeply focus on particular specific area what economist and linguist arguing about, but more on general issues of economic that become content respectively in these journals, that researcher feels exemplifies the existence of politeness strategies.

1.5 Scope and Limitation of The Study

This present study will limit its data from selected journals released by economic associations from local and international to find out politeness strategies employed by the economists in two identified Economic journals, namely, Malaysia Journal of Economic Studies and the Journal of Economic Growth released by Malaysian Economic association and American economic association respectively.

The corpus from those journal were chosen from the five year latest issues, start from 2004 until 2008 whereas this present study start it work. Here the study also limits its scope only on the content of the articles. The areas of Mathematical language, formula as well as footnote in the articles will be not included to analyze in this present study.

1.5 Theoretical Framework

The present section presents the theoretical framework of the present study. Brown and Levinson (1987) have developed a theory of politeness to explain the nature of politeness phenomena in language. According to them, it is possible to define generic types of politeness strategies to explain and predict the adoption of politeness in oral or written discourse.

Since the present study tries to focuses on the analyzing a politeness in written material that is academic journal both from local or international well known economic journals. The writer tries to use a formula that construct by Greg Myers (1989) in his articles “The Pragmatic Of Politeness In Scientific Articles” in line with what Brown and Levinson (1987) proposed in their book “Politeness; Some Universal in language Usage’ as underlying theoretical structure.


Review of Related Literature

2.0. Introduction

The phenomenon of interest in politeness both social and linguistic has been significance increase over the last three decades as evidenced by the numbers of paper have appeared on the subject in international journal and monographs. The present research mostly, still based on Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory (1978, 1987). The recent published literature on Brown and Levinson’s model concerns two main aspects, which are the concept of politeness itself and the claims for universality on the one hand, and diverse criticism or modification of one of the elements of the model on the other; mainly the concepts of face, face-threatening act, and the factors that determine the production and interpretation of politeness, in the other hand.

The notions of face, face threatening act (FTA) and politeness as well as the ways in which the phenomenon of politeness is realized in language usage have been extensively exploited who are concerned with linguistic pragmatics; Leech, 19983; Kasper, 1990; Brend 1978; Brown; 1988; Schmidt, 1980; Carrel and Konnoker, 1981; Ferguson, and many other scholars have explore the notions of face.

Since the main focus of this present study is trying to put economic issues written by economist in economic journals related with politeness strategies as a main topic to discuss, the researcher in this chapter, will try to discuss about the theory of politeness, and explains about the terms related to the main topic, such as the different forms of face, FT[3]A and the factors seems to be interrelated in politeness system that also useful in studying politeness strategies in written material such as academic journal.

2.1 The Theory: A Brief Overview

Brown and Levinson’s (1978, 1987) theory of politeness has become the “model against which most research on politeness defines itself”. Central to BL’s theory is the concept of face, as proposed by Goffman (1967) who defined face as:

“…the positive social value of a person effectively claims for himself by the line others assume he has taken during a particular contact. Face is an image of self delineated in terms of approved social attributes -albeit an image that others might share, as when a person makes a good showing for his profession or religion by making a good showing for himself .(Goffman 1967: 5)

BL define (1978:66) face as something that is emotionally invested and the face can be lost, maintained or enhanced and it must be constantly attended to in interaction, BL categorize politeness as either positive politeness or negative politeness and tie both strategies to the importance of face in every culture. They define ‘face’ as “the public self-image that every member wants to claim for himself”

Furthermore The main focus of BL (Brown and Levinson)[4] study as part of the linguistic project of showing universals in language usage; They construct a system in which a model person is endowed with negative and positive face; and tie both strategies to the importance of face in every culture. They define ‘face’ as “the public self-image that every member wants to claim for himself” roughly the want to be unimpeded and the want to be approved of in certain respects (1987: 58).

According to Brown and Levinson, “face wants” may consist of negative or positive face. When speakers appeal to positive face wants (i.e. the desire to be appreciated and approved of), they employ positive politeness language that emphasizes “in-group identity, shows concern, and seeks areas of agreement”. Compliments represent typical positive politeness strategies.

When speakers appeal to negative face wants (i.e. the desire to be free from imposition and distraction), they use negative politeness strategies that seeks to reduce any imposition, such as apologies that represent the type negative politeness strategies. Further, basically in most situations, everyone seeks “to maintain each others’ face”. Thus, communicating effectively involves saving face-both for the speaker-identified by Brown and Levinson as (S) and for the addressee (H) or speaker and hearer. However, Brown and Levinson point out that S and H are mitigated by three other factors: power, social distance, and imposition. For example, S will speak more politely when the target (H) has more power than S, when the social distance between the two is great, and when the imposition is high.

Before going further the following section tries to explain the first four politeness strategies of Brown and Levinson’s with some examples, based on several studies done in the past that are related to the present study of politeness.

Brown and Levinson identify five “super strategies” used to communicate. They list strategies from the most direct/impolite (bald-on-record) to the least direct/impolite (being silent).

2.1.1 Politeness Strategies

According to Brown and Levinson (1978:65), certain acts can damage or threaten another person’s face and these acts are referred to as face threatening acts (FTAs). An FTA[5] has the potential to damage the hearer’s positive or negative face or the act may damaged the spaker’s own positive or negative face. In order to reduce the possibility of damage to the hearer’s or the speaker’s face s/he may adopt certain strategies ; these strategies BL call politeness strategies (1978: 65). Politeness strategies can be divided into four main strategies: Bald-on-record, positive politeness, negative politeness and off-record strategies.

Being polite therefore consists of attempting to save face for another, although all cultures have face as Brown and Levinson claim, all cultures do not maintain face in the same way. Brown and Levinson also claim that understanding cultural norms of politeness enables communicators to “make strong predictions” about communicating effectively within a culture, also politeness strategies are developed in order to save the hearers’ “face.” Face refers to the respect that an individual has for him or herself, and maintaining that “self-esteem” in public or in private situations. The functions are to avoid embarrassing the other person, or making them feel uncomfortable. Politeness strategies are developed for the main purpose of dealing with FTA.

Next each of the strategies of BL’s theory will be presented separately first Bald on record, then positive politeness, next negative politeness and finally off record strategies Bald on record

According to Brown and Levinson(1978: 74), Bald on record strategy is a direct way of saying things, without any minimisation to the imposition, in a direct, clear, unambiguous and concise way, for example “Do.X!”. Bl claim that the prime reason for bald on record usage may be stated simply: in general, whenever the speaker wants to do FTA with maximum efficiency more than s/he wants to satisfy hearer’s face, even to any degree, s/he will choose the bald on record strategy.

There are different kinds of bald on record usage in different circumstances, because the speaker can have different motives for her/his want to do the FTA with minimum efficiency. The motives falls into two classes where the face threat is not minimised, where face is ignored or is irrelevant and 2) where in doing the FTA baldly on record, the speaker minimises face threats by implication. BL (1978: 100)

Brown and Levinson (ibid,. 1978: 100) give examples of bald on record strategy and say that direct imperatives are clear examples of bald on record usage. Imperative are often softened with hedges or conventional politeness markers, eg: “please send us the offers”. Verb “do” is used with imperatives, like in “Do call us”. What BL call bald on record strategies might involve simply following the Gricean maxims, whereas politeness strategies would involve violating the maxims in specific way (Watss, Ide and Ehlich 1992:7) Positive politeness

Unlike negative politeness, Positive politeness is not necessarily redressive of the particular face infringed by the FTA; that is whereas in negative politeness the sphere of relevant redress is restricted to the imposition itself, in positive politeness the sphere of redress is widened to the appreciation of alter’s want in general or to the expression of similarity ego’s and alter’s want.

The positive politeness is usually seen n groups of friends, or where people the given social situation know each other fairly well, it usually tries to minimize the distance between them, by expressing friendliness and solid interest in the hearer’s need to be expected (minimize FTA)

According to Brown and Levinson (1978: 106) positive politeness is redress directed to the addressee’s positive face, his/her perennial desire to the his/her wants – or actions acquisitions, values resulting from them -should be thought of as desirable. BL describe that the redress consists in partially satisfying that desire that one’s own wants – or some of them are in some respects similar to the addressee’s wants. BL also notes that unlike negative politeness, positive politeness is not necessarily redressive of the particular face want infringe by the FTA. In other words whereas in negative politeness the sphere of relevant redress is restricted to the imposition itself, in positive politeness the sphere of redress is widened to the appreciation of alter’s wants in general or to the expression of similarity between ego’s and alter’s wants .

“. . .the linguistic realizations of positive politeness are in many respects simply representative of the normal linguistic behaviour between intimates, where interest and approval of each others personality, presuppositions indicating shared wants and shared knowledge, implicit claims to reciprocity of obligations or to reflexivity of wants, etc. Are routinely exchanged. Perhaps the only feature that distinguishes positive politeness redress from normal everyday intimate language behaviour is an element of exaggeration; this serves as a marker of the face-redress aspect of positive politeness expression by indicating that even S can’t with total sincerity say “I want your wants” he can at least sincerely indicate “I want your positive face to be satisfied

Brown and Levinson (1978: 106)

BL add the element of insincerity in exaggerated expressions of approval or interest [6] As in : “how absolutely marvellous and exquisite your roses are ,Mrs.Pete” is compensate for by the implication that the speaker really sincerely wants Mrs. Pete’s positive face to be enhanced. This perspectives of intimacy is interesting when considering articles in economic journal between authors and audiences is not usually very intimate and if it were, intimacy would be disregard while doing a scientific claim. In this sense, it could be expected that not many strategies of positive politeness would be used or are used rarely in article economic journals BL also explain that the association with intimate language usage gives the linguistic of positive politeness its redressive force. They claim that positive politeness utterances are used as a kind of metaphorical extensions of intimacy, to imply common ground or sharing of wants to a limited extension of intimacy, to imply common ground or sharing of wants to a limited extent even between strangers who perceive themselves for the purposes of the interaction as somehow similar. This is true when considering economic articles, in fact some times authors and audience[7] has similar knowledge in general or purpose in common.

BL also point out that the positive politeness techniques are usable not only for FTA redress but in general as a kind of accelerator, where S, in using them, indicates s/he wants “to come closer” to H or audiences. BL divide positive politeness into three strategies; claiming the common ground, conveying that sender and receiver are co-operators and fulfilling receiver’s want. . Negative Politeness

When Brown and Levinson define negative politeness, they say that it is a redressive action addressed to the addressee’s negative face: addressee’s want to have addressee’s freedom of action unhindered and addressee’s attention unimpeded. Furthermore According to BL (1978:134) Negative politeness is the heart of respective behaviour, just as positive politeness is the kernel of “familiar” and “joking” behaviour. Negative politeness corresponds to the rituals of avoidance. Where positive politeness is free-ranging, negative politeness is specific and focused; it performs the function of minimizing the particular imposition that the FTA unavoidable effects, BL also argue that negative politeness is the kind of politeness used between acquaintances whereas positive politeness is used between closer friends.

Negative politeness is the most elaborate and the most conventionalized set of linguistic strategies for FTA redress; it fills the etiquette books although positive politeness gets some attention. Further according to BL (1987: 135) the linguistic realization of negative politeness – conventional indirectness, hedges on illocutionary force, polite pessimism[8], the emphasis on hearer’s relative power – are very familiar and need no introduction.

In addition , BL say that the negative politeness outputs are all forms usefull in general for social “distancing”[9]: they are therefore likely to be used whenever a speaker or sender wants to put a social brake on the course of interaction. BL, see five main categories as the linguistic realization of negative politeness; communicating sender’s want not to impinge the receiver, not coercing receiver, not presuming/assuming, being (conventionally in) direct and redressing receiver’s wants. Off Record

Brown and Levinsons (1978:216) define off record strategy as a communicative act which is done in such a way that is not possible to attribute one clear communicative intention to the act. In this case the actor leaves her/himself an “out” by providing her/himself with a number of defensible interpretations, s/he cannot be held to have a committed himself to just one particular interpretation of her/his act. In other words, BL claim, the actor leaves it up to the addressee to decided how to interpret act.

Further, BL continue that such off record utterances are essential indirect uses of language. One says something that is either more general (contains less information in the sense that it rules out fewer possible states of affairs) or actually different from what one means (intend to be understood). BL continue claim that in both cases the hearer must make some inference to recover what was in fact intended. For example, if somebody says: “it is hot in here”, the hidden meaning of the utterance can be request to open the window or to switch on the fan.

BL, (1978: 230-232), list inviting conversational implicatures as one main strategy of off record-ness and its subcategories are; giving hints, giving association clues, presupposing, understating, overstating, using tautologies, using contradictions, being ironic, using metaphors, and using rhetorical question. The other main strategy of going off record is being vague or ambiguous and its subcategories are being ambiguous, being vague, over-generalising, displacing hearer and being incomplete.

2.1.2 Face

Politeness theory states that some speech acts threaten others’ face needs. The concept of ‘face’ has come to play an important role in politeness theory. Brown and Levinson, for example, have chosen it as the central notion for their study of universals in language usage and politeness phenomena (1978, 1987). Brown and Levinson says that they have derived the notion of ‘face’ from Ervin Goffman in social interaction.

Our notion of ‘face’ is derived from that of Goffman and from the English folk term, which ties up face notions of being embarrassed or humiliated, or ‘losing face’. Thus face is something that is emotionally invested, and that can be lost, maintained or enhanced, and must be constantly attended to in interaction. In general, people cooperate (and assume each other’s cooperation) in maintaining face in interaction, such cooperation being based on the mutual vulnerability of face


In 1963, Erving Goffman published the article “On Face Work” where he first created the term “face.” He discusses face in reference to how people present themselves in social situations and that our entire reality is constructed through our social interactions. Face is a mask that changes depending on the audience and the social interaction (Goffman, 1967). Face is maintained by the audience, not by the speaker. We strive to maintain the face we have created in social situations. Face is broken down by Goffman into two different categories. Positive face is the desire of being seen as a good human being and negative face is the desire to remain autonomous. Moreover he argues that there is a limited amount of strategies to maintain face.

Face in communicative events is a universal concept, but it is employed in culture specific ways. It is defined in psychological, philosophical and symbolic terms, “the term face may be defined as the positive social value a person effectively claims for himself by the line others assume s/he has taken during a particular contact”. Face generally involves interlocutors’ mutual recognition as social members of a society. Face can be lost, maintained, or enhanced and must be constantly attended to in interaction.

Brown and Levinson (1978; 1987), presented politeness as a formal theoretical construct based on earlier work on ‘face’ by sociologist Goffman, (1963) as already mentioned above, BL said that we are all motivated by two desires: (positive face), and (negative face). The working definition and examples on both negative and positive face presented below. Negative Face

The negative face is the maintenance and defence of one’s territory and freedom from imposition. The negative face is an inalienable. Negative face is the desire to be autonomous and not to infringe on the other person. Negative politeness is designed to protect the other person when negative face needs are threatened. Thus there are different strategies to handle face threatening acts and these strategies are put into a hierarchy of effectiveness. Positive Face

The positive face, on the other hand, is the claim for the recognition and appropriate validation of one’s social self-image or personality. The positive face is the want of every member that his wants be desirable to at least some other members of the society. Also is the desire to be liked and appreciated. Positive politeness is designed to meet the face needs by performing an action like complimenting or showing concern for another person (Held 1989 and O’Driscoll 1996) FTA

Holtgraves and Yang (1992) defines politeness as phrasing one’s remarks so as to minimize face threat. Here, Face Threatening Act (FTA) is acts like promises, apologies, expressing thanks, ven non verbal acts such as stumbling, falling down or any utterance that intrinsically threatens another’s face (positive or negative) and includes disagreement, criticism, orders, delivery of bad news, and request. For examples; simple request threaten the target’s negative face because the target’s compliance with the request interferers with his/her desire to remain autonomous. Criticism threatens his/her desire for approval

Furthermore, Brown and Levinson (1987) propose that when confronted with the need to perform a FTA, the individual must choose between performing the FTA in the most direct and efficient manner, or attempting to mitigate the effect of the FTA on the hearer’s positive/negative face. The mitigation strategies are what BL labelled as politeness strategies.

2.1.3 Politeness Systems

Since Goffman’s (1967) work, politeness has become one of the most active areas of research in language use. The literature on the subject is mammoth-like, the research on politeness falls into three categories: (1) work that constructs theories of politeness, such as Lakoff (1973, 1977), Brown and Levinson (1987), Leech (1983), Fraser (1990), and Escandell-Vidal (1996); (2) work that investigates cultural- specific concepts and strategies of politeness, such as Hill et al. (1986), Gu (1992), Lindenfeld (1990), and Sherzer (1983); (3) work that applies existing theories to data from various cultures, such as Chen (1993, 1996), Garcia (1989), Rhodes (1989), and Holmes (1990). Although these researchers differ in important ways, they share a common focus on politeness system, that specific factors influence the adoption of strategies. Similar with Scollon and Scollon (1981) proposed the face relationships into three politeness systems namely; Difference, solidarity and hierarchical. An explanation on those politeness systems presented below.



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