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Another approach to verbal politeness starts from the notion of “face” understood as the public
self-image that every communicator wants to present to his fellow communicators. This notion has
two sides: it involves a) the person’s desire to be understood, approved of, liked or admired
(positive face) and b) the person’s want to be unimpeded by others, i.e. to have freedom of action
and freedom from imposition (negative face). The self-image is vulnerable in interaction, i.e. it can
be maintained, enhanced or lost.
Certain kinds of speech acts threaten both sides of the interlocutor’s face:
a) Those indicating that the speaker does not care about the hearer’s feelings or wants, (positive
face) e.g. disagreements, expressions of criticism, contempt, complaints, bringing of bad
news about the hearer, mention of emotional topics.
b) Those indicating that the speaker does not intend to avoid impeding the hearer’s freedom of
action, (negative face) e.g. orders, requests, advice, remindin, threats, warnings, offers,
expressions of strong emotions, e.g. anger, hatred.
People are generally cooperative in maintaining each other’s face and they do that by avoiding
these threatening acts, by employing certain strategies that minimize the threat, or by redressing the
face in some way, usually by means of language, in other words by using politeness strategies.
These strategies are of two kinds:
a) those redressing the positive face: strategies indicating that the speaker is concerned about
the hearer’s feelings, wants, etc. or is treating the hearer as a member of an in-group, a friend.
b) those redressing the negative face: strategies indicating that the speaker will not interfere
with the hearer’s freedom of action or will not impose himself on the hearer. These consist of
apologies for interfering, acts expressing linguistic deference, hedges on the illocutionary force, etc.
By using these strategies the speaker can give the hearer the opportunity to maintain or
enhance face in the following ways:
a) The speaker can minimize the threatening aspect of his words by assuring the hearer that he
likes him and wants his wants. E. g. a criticism with the assertion of mutual friendship may
lose its sting.
b) The speaker can pay respect and deference to the hearer, he can maintain social distance.
The choice of strategy depends on the context, the speaker’s rational assessment of the face risk
to participants based on the intrinsic advantages of a strategy. In professional settings the context
includes sociological variables which influence the choice, namely the social distance of speaker
and hearer, the relative power of the two participants attached not so much to individuals as to roles
and role-sets and the ranking of imposition in that particular culture.
EXERCISE. Imagine a situation for the following utterances and identify the values of the
sociological factors.
1. Excuse me, would you by any chance have the time?
Got the time, mate?
2. Excuse me sir, would it be all right if I smoke?
Mind if I smoke?
3. Look, I’ m terribly sorry to bother you but would there be any chance of your lending me just
enough money to get a railway ticket to get home? I must have dropped my purse and I just
don’t know what to do.
Hey, got a change for a quarter?

Positive politeness strategies fall into two classes:

a) With these strategies the speaker conveys that the hearer’s goods, wants, or needs are
admirable or interesting; claims common membership with the hearer in a group, or common
opinions, attitudes, knowledge
S 1: Notice, attend to hearer’s interests, wants
e.g. You look tired. Why don’t you take some rest?
Your jacket is wonderful. Where did you buy it?
S2: Exaggerate interest in, approval of, sympathy with the hearer
e.g. Your proposal is incredibly adequate!
S3: Intensify interest in the hearer
e.g. You always volunteer to do the rounds. I’ll do them this time. (exaggerate facts,
I’ll be done in one second.
S4: Seek in-group identity markers
e.g. Got any Winstons? (use of jargon or slang)
I came to borrow a syllabus model.
S5: Seek ways to agree with the hearer. Raising safe topics is one way (in some cultures a
request is normally preceded by a small talk which shows the speaker’s general interest in the
hearer). Another is to seek those aspects of topics on which you may agree and disregard the ones
you disagree with. E.g. What nice shoes you are having! (when all other pieces of clothing are in
bad taste). Agreement may also be stressed by repeating part or all of what the preceding speaker
has said.
e.g. A: I had a flat tire on the way home.
B: Oh God, a flat tire!
S6: Avoid disagreement
1. Pretend to agree or hide disagreement
e.g. 1) A: Have you got friends?
B: I have friends. So-called friends. I had friends. Let me put it that way.

2) A: What is she like, friendly?

B: Yees, not really friendly but certainly not hostile.
2. Soften disagreement
e.g. A: You coming early?
B: Well, I got a lot of things to do. I don’t know. It won’t be too early.
3. When asked to state a negative opinion, lie rather than damage the hearer’s face.
e.g. When refusing a request, pretend there are reasons why you cannot comply.
A: Can I borrow your laptop?
B: Sorry, it’s out of order.
1. Be vague about your opinions rather than disagree. (Speakers use hedges, such as sort of, kind
of, in a way, like)
e.g. I sort of think John’s idea is productive. (expressing disagreement with the speaker’s idea)
You really sort of try harder. (expressing criticism)

b) With these strategies the speaker indicates that he and the hearer are cooperatively
involved in an activity and share a goal
S7. Assert or imply speaker’s knowledge of and concern for hearer’s wants.
e.g. Look, I know you want the car back by 6.0, so shouldn’t I go to town now.
I know you can’t bear parties, but this one will be really good – do come!
S8. Offer, promises
e.g. I will lend you my bike if you think you can arrive in time.
I will be there in time. Otherwise we won’t finish.
S9: Be optimistic
e.g. Look, I’m sure you won‘t mind if I borrow you laptop.
I just dropped by to invite you all for tea tomorrow – you will come, won’t you?
S10: Include both speaker and hearer in the activity
e.g. Let’s take a break. (I want to take a break, so let’s stop)
We need it to be done by 12 o’clock. (I need it)
S11: Speaker demands reasons as to why he hearer can’t cooperate.
e.g. Why don’t we propose a cancellation!
Why not lend me your file for the weekend?

Negative politeness
Such strategies represent redressing action to the hearer’s face about his need for freedom of
action and freedom from imposition. They have the function of minimizing the imposition that the
communicative act effects. Negative politeness strategies are conventionalized and form the staff of
etiquette books.
S1. Be conventionally indirect
e.g. Can you shut the window?
Why are you painting your house yellowish green?
S2. Using hedges on the illocutionary force (minimizers and maximizers).
e.g. He really did go that way.
That’s really true.
That’s how it is, it seems to me.
S3. Using hedges on the politeness principle. (prefacing criticism)
e.g. Frankly, you are wrong.
S4. Expressing doubt that the speech act is appropriate.
e.g. I don’t suppose there’d be any chance of your coming.
S5: Minimize the imposition.
e.g. I just want to ask you if I can borrow a single sheet of paper.
Could I have a taste (a slice) of that cake?
S6: Give deference (speaker humbles himself or treats the hearer as superior)
e.g. We look forward very much to dining with you.
A: Did you call the applicant?
B: Yes, sir, I thought you would like that.
S7: Apologize
1. Admit the imposition
e.g. I’m sure you must be very busy, but I need to ask a favor.
2. Admit reluctance about the imposition
e.g. I normally wouldn’t ask you, but I have no choice.
3. Give compelling reasons.
e.g. Can you help me with this, because there’s no one else I could ask/
4. Beg forgiveness.
e.g. I’m sorry to bother you……; I hope you’ll forgive me…..
S8: Impersonalize the speaker and hearer.
e.g. It is so. (avoid overt reference to the subject)
It would be desirable to raise the subject. (using impersonal constructions)
The report was typed negligently. (use of passive voice)
One shouldn’t do things like that. (use of indefinite pronouns or phrases)
We cannot accept responsibility. We regret to inform you that… (use of plural pronouns)
The President should not become involved in such a case. (avoidance of pronoun “I”)
S9: State the strategy as a general rule.
e.g. Staff will please refrain from dumping litter in the corridors.
The Government expresses regrets over the occurrence of the incident.
Late-comers cannot be seated till the next interval.
S10: Nominalizations (use of nouns instead of verbs raises the degree of formality)
e.g. Compare: 1. I am surprised that you failed to reply.
I am surprised at your failure to reply.
2. I am pleased to be able to inform you that……
It is my pleasure to be able to inform you that…….
S11: Claim/disclaim debt to hearer.
e.g. Claim: I’d be eternally grateful if you would…../ I’ll never be able to repay you if you …
Disclaim: I could easily do it for you.
It wouldn’t be any trouble. I have to go by there anyway. (offer)
I. Which is more polite (1) or (2)?
a. If you don’t mind me asking, where did you get that dress?
b. Where did you get that dress, if you don’t mind me asking?
a. Goodness, aren’t your roses beautiful! I was just coming by to borrow a mouse pad.
b. I was just coming by to borrow a mouse pad. Goodness, aren’t your roses beautiful!
a. Could you stack the shelves now, please?
b. I’m terribly sorry to bother you with a thing like this and in normal circumstances I wouldn’t
dream of it, since I know you are very busy yourself, but I’m simply unable to do it myself now.
a. Your car’s broken down? Pity!
b. Isn’t it just ghastly the way it always seems to rain just when your car has broken down!
II. Which utterance in the pair is polite and why?
a. John’s an immoral man.
b. John’s not exactly a moral man.
a. John’s not a bad guy, but frankly, the team will do as well without him.
b. John’s an easy-going fellow and the team will do as well without him.
a. You will please refrain from leaving litter in the compartment.
b. Passenger will please refrain from leaving litter in the compartment.
III. Which utterance in the pair is formal?
a. You performed well on the test and we were favorably impressed.
b. Your good performance on the test made a favorable impression on us.
a. We urgently request your cooperation.
b. Your cooperation is urgently requested.
a. I am surprised that you failed to reply.
b. We are surprised at your failure to reply.
a. Mr. Munteanu regrets that he cannot attend the opening of your factory.
b. It is Mr. Munteanu’s regret that he cannot attend the opening of your factory.