Language in use: The pragmatical term politeness in reference to the serial "Friends"

Term Paper 2005 27 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


List of contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition of the pragmatically term politeness
2.1 Introduction politeness
2.1.1 External factors
2.1.2 Internal factors
2.2 Politeness and face
2.2.1 Negative face
2.2.2 Positive face
2.3 Say nothing
2.4 Say something
2.4.1 Off record
2.4.2 On record Positive politeness and solidarity strategy Negative politeness and deference strategy
2.5 Pre-Sequences
2.6 Conlusion

3. Analysis of the serial Friends (Season 2, episode 21)
3.1 FriendsThe one with the Bullies
3.2 External factors
3.2.1 Socially closeness
3.2.2 Socially distance
3.3 Internal factors
3.4 Say nothing
3.5 Say something
3.5.1 Off record
3.5.2 Bald on record
3.5.3 Positive politeness
3.5.4 Negative politeness
3.6 Pre-sequences

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

6. Appendix

1. Introduction

In 1987 Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson’s book Politeness. Some Universals in Language Usage was published. They analyzed the pragmatically term politeness and the concept of face. But it was not only them who worked on that topic. Other persons who dealt with pragmatics too started to write books about politeness, mostly in reference to Brown’s and Levinson’s theory. Most of the books that were published are theoretical. Some of them include examples to underline the expositions and to make them more understandable. But the question is if pragmatical politeness is a phenomenon that is also noticeable in everyday language or if it really is a more theoretical term and therefore can hardly be practiced. To answer this question it is important to first give a definition of the pragmatical term politeness and to analyze it by using those theoretical books. Only then is it possible to prove if politeness is either used in everyday language or not. After that it is necessary to analyze a medium that is representative of daily situations. In this case one episode of the serial Friends will be worked on to see if it includes examples of the different parts of pragmatical politeness. When the analysis of both parts, the theoretical and the practical, is completed the question if pragmatical politeness is a more theoretical term or if it is noticeable in everyday language too will be answered.

2. Definition of the pragmatical term politeness

2.1 Introduction to Politeness

When talking about politeness, the pragmatical term is meant and not politeness referring to “social rules of behaviour such as letting people go first through a door” (Cutting 2002: 44). We talk about what is communicated within a linguistic interaction. A linguistic interaction is also called social interaction because our social relationships mostly determine what we say. There are some social factors that have an influence on how we address the other participants. Here we can make a distinction between external factors and internal factors.

2.1.1 External factors

The external factors deal with social distance and closeness. The participants of an interaction can either have a close relationship as friends do or a distant relationship as for example two strangers. To a friend we have a socially close relationship and therefore address this person with the first name or a nickname, whereas we have a socially distant relationship to a stranger. Because of that we address the non-familiar person with mister, misses or something equal. Other social values also play a role such as age and power. A person that has a lower status or is much younger than the other one would rather mark social distance by using forms such as Mr. Smith or Dr. Smith, whereas an older person with a higher status would address the other with the first name. If someone is older as oneself but has a lower status it is usual to mark respect to the older and use socially distant forms. Here age is more important than power.

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2.1.2 Internal factors

The internal factors deal with “amount of imposition or degree of friendliness” (Yule 1996: 59). These internal factors can make the participants change from social distance to social closeness, which means that they move from title plus last name, for example Mr. Smith, to first name. This change is performed when the participants are strangers for example but show sympathy for each other within the interaction. Here their relationship is not fixed yet and therefore is in “the process of being worked out” (Yule1996: 59). Although the internal factors are even more relevant to the participants than the external, both are very important not only because they have an influence on what we say. By taking part in an interaction we communicate more than is said and because of that those factors have an influence on how our messages are interpreted.

2.2 Politeness and face

Politeness can be seen as a fixed concept such as etiquette for example. There are general principles or maxims, which are being tactful, generous and modest. Those principles differ from culture to culture within a social interaction, but the participants are usually aware of them because they are part of their social background. There is also a “more narrowly specified type of politeness” (Yule 1996: 60) which is the concept of face. Brown and Levinson (1987) analyzed that concept and the “awareness of the face” (Cutting 2002: 45). In fact, face means nothing else but public self-image and refers to the respect that people have for each other. Showing awareness of someone’s face can be either socially close or distant. When talking to a person that is socially distant, a stranger for example, this awareness marks respect or deference whereas by talking to a person that is socially close, like a friend, it marks friendliness or solidarity. Every participant in an interaction expects the other to respect one’s own face wants. If this is not the case a face threatening act (FTA) is performed. To avoid this threat it is possible to lessen it by using mitigatig devices such as ‘please’ or ‘could’. This is called face saving act (FSA). It is generally not the speakers intention to threaten someone else’s face and therefore “there are many [...] ways of performing face saving acts” (Yule 1996: 61). It is possible to perform the FSA attending either to the negative or the positive face.

2.2.1 Negative face

When talking about the negative face, the need to be independent is meant as well as “the need to have freedom of action and not to be imposed on by others” (Cutting 2002: 45). The term negative simply is the opposite of positive and does not mean something bad. By performing a FSA attending a person’s negative face the speaker marks deference which means that he creates a situation that is speaker minus other(s). In cases of interrupting the other it often also includes an apology. This is called negative politeness.

2.2.2 Positive face

The positive face on the other side is the need to be accepted and connected to a group, for example. The speaker creates a situation that is ‘speaker plus other(s)’. When performing the FSA attending someone’s positive face, the speaker also marks solidarity because the participants have a common goal. This is called positive politeness.

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2.3 Say nothing

Another way to avoid a FTA is to say nothing and instead of this making the needs obvious by giving non-verbal hints such as searching for something in the bag or looking around rather confused. It is likely that someone will offer to help because of noticing those hints but it is not sure that they are understood or realized. If they are then “more has been communicated than was said” (Yule 1996: 62).

2.4 Say something

2.4.1 Off record

It is also possible to say something instead of saying nothing. Here it is not necessary to say directly what is wanted because it can also work to simply make a statement such as “I’m freezing!”. Those statements are off record which means that they are indirect. They are not always successful because they are not directly addressed to someone but if they work, for example someone gives a jacket to the freezing speaker, then again “more is communicated than said” (Yule 1996: 63). Those statements are therefore also hints and it could be denied that the speaker asked for help because the question was indirect (Cutting 2002: 45). Typically off record forms are exaggeration, understatement, irony, metaphors, ambiguous or vague utterances and rhetorical questions (Meibauer 1999: 116).

2.4.2 On record

Instead of indirectly addressing the other person, it is also possible to speak on record which means asking directly for what is wanted or needed. This can be done either baldly or with mitigating devices. When doing it baldly, a FTA is performed because it might include imperative forms and therefore makes less effort to safe the other person’s face. The addressee has little choice to refuse unless he or she wants to be impolite. This form is often used at the military because there it is important to make short and unambiguous utterances. In everyday use people try to avoid this form because it threatens the other person’s face. In some situations those bald on record forms can be FSA too, for example, when someone is warned (“Stop!”) or something is offered (“Give me your coat”). Another way to soften the FTA and make it a FSA is to use mitigating devices such as ‘please’, ‘could you’ or ‘may I’.

illustration not visible in this excerpt Positive politeness and solidarity strategy

By using positive politeness the speaker performs a FSA and marks solidarity and closeness to the addressee, who has the opportunity to refuse the speaker’s question or request. Because of that, the speaker makes the other person feel good. It becomes clear that both participants have a common goal. It is also possible to create a common ground before attending to someone’s positive face “by some ‘getting to know you’ talk” (Yule 1996: 64). Performing positive politeness is also called solidarity strategy. The reason for that is that this strategy expresses closeness via use of nicknames, personal information, slang or gossip. It can also include terms such as ‘we’ or ‘us’. Negative politeness and deference strategy

The more common strategy is using negative politeness. The speaker avoids imposing upon the addressee by giving the other the opportunity to say “no”. In doing this, the speaker uses modal verbs such as ‘could’, ‘sorry to bother you’ or ‘might I ask’. It is also possible to hesitate. Negative politeness is usually performed by asking questions and even by asking “for permission to ask a question” (Yule 1996: 65). Because of that, a refusal is not as impolite as it is when refusing a bald on record question. Negative politeness can also be seen as deference strategy or formal politeness. The participants of an interaction have no common goal and are independent from each other. The interaction is impersonal and also “marked via an absence of personal claims” (Yule 1996: 66). The speaker can also make expressions that do not directly refer to the hearer such as ‘Visitors have to leave their jackets at the wardrobe’.

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2.5 Pre-sequences

A FSA can also be performed after a pre-sequence. We already found out that within a linguistic interaction it is usual to save the other person’s face, but it is also important to save one’s own face. To avoid having the self needs at risk it is possible to make pre-requests before asking the main question. Such pre-requests could be “Do you have a minute?” or “Am I disturbing you?”. If one of the pre-requests is being refused via a so called ‘stop’ response, it is not necessary to ask the main question because the answer would be negative. If the pre-requests are answered in a positive way via a so called ‘go ahead’ response, the probability that the main question will be answered with “yes” rises. By making pre-requests the speaker avoids requests that can not be fulfilled. Pre-requests need not necessarily be answered by a ‘stop’ or ‘go ahead’ response. They can also directly be answered if the addressee realizes the speaker’s intention. This is called unstated action or ‘short cut’ process because the addressee answers a request that was not made. Other forms of pre-sequences are pre-invitations such as “What are you doing tomorrow” or pre-announcements such as “Do you know what I just saw?”.



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University of Duisburg-Essen
Language Friends Pragmatics




Title: Language in use: The pragmatical term politeness in reference to the serial "Friends"