21 May, 2009

Politeness and Interaction

According to Yule (1996:59), “a linguistic interaction is necessarily a social interaction”. In order to make sense of what is said in an interaction, one has to consider external as well as internal factors, which relate to social distance and closeness.
External factors are typically refer to the “relative status of the participants, based on social values tied to such things as age and power” (Yule, 1996:59). On the other hand, internal factors are typically more relevant to participants whose social relations are worked out within the interaction(Yule, 1996:59). Thus the amount of imposition and the degree of friendliness are considered internal factors as they are often negotiated during a communicative event.
Both external and internal factors have an effect on the understanding not only of what is said, but also of what is communicated. The comprehension of what is uttered usually goes beyond what was intended to be expressed, and includes evaluations in terms of politeness. Therefore, one can clearly observe that much more is communicated than is said during a socio-linguistic interaction (Yule, 1996).
Within an interaction, as mentioned by Yule (1996:60), the term politeness does not refer to the idea of “ ‘polite social behavior’, or etiquette, within a culture”. It depends on the concept of “face” to be effectively understood. Based on Yule’s assertion about “face”, one can conclude it means the way every person is socially considered due to his/her self-image, that is, his/her public self-image towards the others. In an interaction, “politeness” can then be defined “as the means employed to show awareness of another person’s face” (Yule, 1996:60), either in social distant situations or social close ones.

The Politeness Principle
Three Maxims

Robin Lakoff (1973) has summarised politeness in three maxims:
1. Don't Impose
2. Give Options
3. Make your receiver feel good
(Robin Lakoff 1973)

Politeness refers to:
Non-intrusive behavior.
Expression of good-will or camaraderie.
Politeness is also defined as the concern for someone’s “face”.
Face needs are the basic wants.
There are two kinds of face needs:
•Negative face needs
: need to not be imposed upon.
•Positive face needs: need to be liked and admired.
Polite people avoid “face-threatening” acts, and use positive polite utterance when possible.
However, politeness is often described in terms of “respect or deference” for another person’s face when the other person is socially distant; and in terms of “friendliness, camaraderie, or solidarity” when the other person is socially close.

In an interaction, the participants often have to determine, as they speak, the relative social distance between them, and hence their “face wants”, that is, their public self-image. If a speaker says something that represents a threat to another individual’s expectations regarding self-image, it is described as a face threatening act. Alternatively, given the possibility that some action might be interpreted as a threat to another’s face, the speaker can say something to reduce the possible threat. This is called a face saving act.
Structurally speaking, modal verbs (specially “would”, “should” and “could”) are usually used to signal a sort of face saving act.

John: I am going to tell him to stop that awful noise right now!
(face threatening act)
Mary: Perhaps you could just ask him if he is going to stop soon because it is getting a bit late and people need to get to sleep.
(face saving act)
Since each person is expected to respect the face wants of others, there are different manners to perform face saving acts. In order to save another person’s face, we should observe their negative or positive face wants. “Negative” in this case refers to the opposite of “positive face”.
According to Yule (1996:61-62), “a person’s negative face is the need to be independent, to have freedom of action, and not to be imposed on by others. (…) So, a face saving act which is oriented to the person’s negative face will tend to show deference, emphasizing the importance of the other’s time or concerns, and even including an apology for the imposition or interruption” (negative politeness).
Furthermore, Yule (1996:62) asserts that “a person’s positive face is the need to be accepted or connected, even liked by others and be treated as a member of the same group. Therefore, a face saving act, which is concerned with the person’s positive face, will tend to show solidarity, emphasize that both speakers want the same thing, and that they have a common goal” (positive politeness).
Through a single speech event, one can detect different interpretations associated with different expressions possibly employed within that event. The relationship between these politeness concepts, positive or negative, and language application depends on the concepts of “Self” and “Other”. A person who aims to have his/her needs figured out by the other person next to him/her (the “Other”) is the “Self”.
The requirements of the self are sometimes not explicitly expressed, but are just conveyed as vague intentions. When this “say nothing” works, it is because “the other offers and not because the self asks” (1996:62). Therefore, one can clearly conclude that more is communicated than is said.
Nevertheless, if someone decides to say something, he/she does not have actually to ask for anything, but simply produce a statement, as the following ones:

1) Whh, I forgot my pen.
2) Hmm, I wonder where I put my pen.
Such statements are not directly addressed to the other. Consequently, the other can ignore them, that is, act as if the statements have not been even heard. These statements, as stated by Yule (1996:63), are “technically described as being ‘off record’.” In contrast to such “off record” statements, the self can directly address the other as a means of expressing his/her needs. These direct address forms are technically described as being “on record”.
The most direct address form among on record statements is known as “bald on record”. It is signaled by the use of imperative forms and means that the other person is directly asked for something, as in this example:
“Give me a pen”. (Bald on record)
Bald on record forms may be followed by expressions like “please” and “would like” which make the demand softer and are called “mitigating devices”.
Most of the time, bald on record expressions are associated with speech events where the speaker assumes that he/she has supremacy over the other and can control the other’s behavior through language. Concerning Yule’s words on page 64, “in every-day interaction between social equals, such bald on record behavior would potentially represent a threat to the other’s face and would generally be avoided. Avoiding a face threatening act is accomplished by face saving acts which use positive or negative politeness strategies”.
A “positive politeness strategy”, according to Yule (1996:64), “leads the requester to inquire for a common goal, and even friendship”. There is a greater risk for the speaker to suffer a refusal during “on record expressions” than in “off record statements”. However, in most English-speaking contexts, a face saving act is more commonly performed via a “negative politeness strategy”. The most typical form used is a question containing a modal verb, which results in forms that contain expressions of apology for the imposition. “These questions present an opportunity for the other to answer in the negative to the question without the same refusal effect of responding with a negative to a direct, bald on record imperative” (Yule, 1996:65).
The use of a face-saving on record form represents a significant choice (more elaborate negative politeness work is represented through longer talk, less direct, less clear, more complex structure, and often with hesitations) because the speaker is making a greater effort, in terms of concern for face/politeness, than is needed simply to get the basic message across efficiently.
The tendency to use positive politeness form emphasizes closeness between speaker and hearer. It can be seen as a “solidarity strategy”. Linguistically, this strategy can include personal information, use of nicknames, and shared dialect or slang expressions. It is often signaled by inclusive terms such as “we” and “let’s”. On the other hand, the use of negative politeness form emphasizes the hearer’s right to freedom. It can be seen as a deference strategy. It is involved in what is called “formal politeness” and it is impersonal, as if nothing is shared. Language is characterized by an absence of personal claims.
These types of strategies are illustrated here by the use of utterances that are central to the speech event. However, face saving behavior is often at work well before such utterances are produced, in the form of “pre-sequences”. Face is typically at risk when the self needs to accomplish something involving other. The greatest risk appears to be when the other is put in a difficult position.
A good way of avoiding risk is to provide an opportunity for the other to cease the potentially dangerous act, using a pre-request, before simply making a request, for example. After that, considering the answer provided by the hearer in the first question, the speaker can go ahead or just stopping on that point.
John: Are you busy? (Pre-request)
Mary: Not really. (Go ahead)
John: Check over this memo. (Request)
Mary: Okay. (Accept)
Sometimes, some pre-requests are treated as being requests because they are answered in the first moment (‘short-cut process’).
Tim: Do you mind if I use your phone?
Joan: Yeah, sure.
These forms are normally interpreted as a positive response, not to the pre-request, but to the unstated request. Other examples with pre-invitation can be observed as follows:
Leo: What are you going to do this Friday? (Pre-invitation)
Giselle: Hmm, nothing so far. (Go ahead)
Leo: Come over for dinner. (Invitation)
Giselle: Oh, I’d like that. (Accept)
Leo: Are you doing anything later? (Pre-invitation)
Giselle: Oh, yeah. Busy, busy, busy (Stop)
Leo: Oh, okay.
When there is silence, it is generally interpreted as a “stop”. In conclusion, it is important to say that the structure for any interaction must be carefully analyzed because what allows a great deal to be communicated that is never said by the writers or speakers is the familiarity readers and listeners have with the regularity of such structure.