Social Interactions via Language – Politeness

Now, another theory I absolutely love in terms of conversation analysis and pragmatics (speaker meaning) is Brown and Levinson’s “Politeness theory”. According to Yule (2014), politeness is showing awareness and consideration for another person’s emotional and social sense of self (or “face”). Psychology tells us there are at least two basic psychological needs we all share: the need for relatedness and belonging (or “positive face”, and the need for autonomy (the need to be independent and free from imposition, or “negative face”).

Of course, what counts as polite behavior differs vastly across societies, groups and cultures. Lakoff (1990) identifies three types of politeness that are woven into language, and can be easily identified:

a. Distance politeness

b. Deferential politeness

c. Camaraderie politeness.

Can you tell which one is the most influential where you live? Which one do you use the most? What are some assumptions and “markers” for each of these types of politeness and how best to communicate with representatives of each?

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