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Theoretical review of politeness and its realization in the english language


In the article that is based on the information in English and Russian languages, it is considered theoretical interpretation of politeness and peculiarities of its expression in the English language due to the grammatical Stnictures. Key words: politeness, culture, courtesy, manner, behavior, consideration, interpretation, strategies, Strucmre, stereotypes, model, intonation.

It is accepted to think that politeness is a culturally defined phenomenon, and what is considered polite in one culture can often be quite rude in another. So, it is necessary to take into account the importance of the knowledge of politeness in real life to avoid misunderstanding between native and non-native speakers.

From diachronic point of view, politeness as a linguistic category has been significant last three decades of the XX century. The main founders are Leech, Brown and Levinson.

The origins of the modern English concept of “politeness” dates back to the sixteenth century, when it signified socially cooperative behaviour to be displayed by male members of the nobility at court”. One of the principal elements of politeness so construed was the “ability to carry out civil or familiar conversation” [1, p.36]. Konrad Ehlich, German linguist, posits that the idea of politeness is based on evaluation against a standard. He notes that “the standard of politeness first emerged in late Middle Ages and was initially related to the rules of courtoisie/courtesy, which regulated the life at court” [2, p.72]. Later, the Courtoisie standard was challenged by the competing standard derived from the notion of ci vilitd/ci vility, promoted by the rising urban culture. The two standards finally settled into the European, and specifically English, notion of politeness as codified rules of ideal interaction.

Definition of the word “polite” in English from the Oxford dictionary can be interpreted like having or showing behavior that is respectful and considerate of other people [3, p. 129].

The meaning of the word “polite” in the Cambridge English Dictionary: behaving in a way that is socially correct and shows understanding of and care for other people's feelings; socially correct rather than friendly; people who have been taught how to behave in a socially correct way[4, p. 118].

The Webster dictionary gives another definition: “Politeness is the quality or state of being polite; refinement of manners; urbanity; courteous behavior; complaisance; obliging attentions” [5, p. 132].

Thus, we consider politeness as a denotation of the ease and gracefulness of manners which first sprung up in cities, connected with a desire to please others by anticipating their wants and wishes, and studiously avoiding whatever might give them pain. It is marked by or showing consideration for others, tact, and observance of accepted social usage.

Miriam A. Locher and Watts believed that the label “politeness” is rather problematic because it can be argued that it gained its contemporary interpretation in recent times and in many historical cultures it does not have any direct interpretation, or practice that would equate to what early modern or modernBritish etiquette manuals would describe as politeness[6, p.8].In their work it was suggested that the label “politeness”should describe the Rrstorder interpretation of polite utterances (the lay person’s understandings of “politeness”, as revealed in particular through their use of lexical items such as polite). They argued that the Secondorder perceptions of (im)politeness (those of the researcher) should be labelled in a different way, such as “relational work”, “facework” using Goffman’s terminology or ‘rapport management’ using Spencer-Oatey’s term. However, ideally we should also avoid using “politeness”to describe diachronic emic practices, since it is a recently coined expression from a diachronic perspective. The problem with an approach that emphasises lexical items associated with “politeness” as a way into understanding the lay person’s conception of politeness is that those terms are culture-specific and, importantly for historical enquiries, period-specific. In the case of diachronic politeness studies, “it is best to use ‘politeness’ to describe (im)polite phenomena from the researcher’s perspective, leaving “native” expressions that were available in the period studied to illustrate lay perspectives”. Another, simpler, alternative to resolve this terminological problem is to adopt the beforementioned terms (“facework”, etc.) for etic perceptions and abandon “politeness”in general[6, p. 12].

According to Brown and Levinson, 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. Usually we try to avoid embarrassing the other person, or making them feel uncomfortable. Face Threatening Acts (FTA's) are acts that infringe on the hearers' need to maintain his/her self esteem, and be respected.“Politeness strategies are developed for the main purposeof dealing with theseFTA's” [7, p.5].

There are some ways of expressing politeness in the English language. The units of speech etiquette are presented as ready formulas not only from the point of morphology and syntax, but also from the lexical, phonetic and grammatical structure. These are the speech stereotypes, which are regularly used in speech in the made forms in the process of communication.

Firstly, in conveying a message, we should think about more than just “who did what to whom”. We also have to keep in mind what our listener know already, and how to present the message in an intelligible and coherent manner. We should assume that our listener has particular knowledge. Even if we are sure they do have knowledge of something about which we wish to speak, we may need to introduce it, or recall what they already know. Similarly, we should not introduce familiar things as if they were new. This may seem patronizing, but can also be confusing, since our listeners may try to find a new interpretation to match our implication of novelty.

To make a conversation or speech action the following model is needed: there should be a speaker (Me), his addressee (You), the place of their meeting (here), the moment of the contact (now).

One more lexical method of expressing politeness is adding to a phrase the word “please”. “Please” depending on the sentence may be placed either in the beginning, middle or end of it.

Stylistically politeness is expressed by Euphemism - this is a stylistic device which denotes the use an inoffensive expression in place of an unpleasant one. (Ex.: to pass away - to die).

Besides, phonetically politeness is expressed through the Intonation. Intonationis a complex of prosodic features, it is a unity of rhythm, sentence and word stress, speech melody, temporal characteristics (duration, system of pauses, tempo), timbre and voice loudness. The intonation of English sentence plays a very important role in the speech behavior as an element of communication. It is one main extra linguistic characteristics of speech communication, which reflects the national-cultural specific of English speech behavior. The main model of expressing politeness is ‘fall-rise’ tone, however there are some variations in intonation, it depends on the sentence [8, p.9].

To underline the intonation we may use some non-verbal signs such as smile, eyebrow-flash, shake of the shoulders, nod, and flexion of head.

Politeness can be illustrated in speech with the use of “high” register, the use of explicit politeness markers (such as courtesy words: “thank you”, “please”, “excuse me”); - the use of passive and circumstantial voices (e.g. “It is regretted that...”); - replacement of personal pronouns with indefinites (e.g. “Somebody might think that...”); - point-of-view distancing, such as the present-past tense switch (e.g. “I was wondering whether...”); - invocation of general rules (e.g. “I’m sorry, but late-comers cannot be seated till the next interval”); - nominalisation (e.g. “I am surprised at your failure” instead of “I am surprised that you failed”).

The politeness effect of the utterance depends on the use of conventional indirectness, whereby the question format is used to formulate the speech act “invitation”. The other politeness strategies include the present-past tense switch (“would” and “came” instead of “will” and “come”), complex clause structure (the use of the embedded conditional instead of a simple assertion such as “I come in early”), and the adjectival “a little”, which minimises the imposition. The politeness effect of the utterance is created by the use of the delay signal (“hehh”) and the announcer (“well”), signaling the speaker’s unwillingness to decline the prior invitation, expression of appreciation (“that’s awfully sweet of you”), indirectness in formulating the declination component (“I don’t think I can make it this morning”) and specification of the reason for declining the invitation (“I’m running an ad in the paper and I have to stay near the phone”)[9, p.29],

“Could you possibly by any chance lend me your car for just a few minutes. There wouldn’t I suppose be any chance of your being able to lend me your car for just a few minutes, would there?” These endeavors have been accompanied by a growing realization that there are no absolute politeness measures because in real life situations, very subtle changes in the textual, physical or pragmatic context can lead to substantial differences in the perceived politeness of verbally identical utterances (such is e.g. the case of elaborate politeness crossing into irony.) This is related to the hotly discussed problem of linguistic markers of politeness and impoliteness, reflected in the universal lexical-conceptual distinction between polite-impolite, and their pragmatic exponents which politeness researchers typically discuss in terms of speech-act indirectness or implicitness as defined by Paul Grice. For this reason, in the current work instead of characterising them as inherently polite, utterances and expressions are considered in terms of their potentiality to be interpreted as polite and conditions under which such interpretations are produced.

From synchronic aspect politeness is about keeping good relations with your listener or reader. There are two types of politeness: showing the listener or reader that you value and respect them; changing or softening what you say so as not to be too direct or forceful.

There are many ways in which we can show that we value and respect our listener or reader. In more formal situations, we are especially careful to use certain polite phrases. Samuel Johnson: “When two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather” [10, p. 15]. In such case, we can show the realization of politeness in everyday use.

Analyzing all above said we may say that to know usage of etiquette rules of the language is as well important as to know the usage of grammatical ones. That is why we should not limit our knowledge only in grammatical structure of expressions, but also take into consideration the adopted rules of speech etiquette. We should choose each stereotype of politeness depending on the formal or non-formal situation, on neutral, elevated or colloquial-friendly style of communication, on that fact weather the addressee is known or unknown. The culture of communication is concentrated on that fact that the speaker in one or another situation could choose the most appropriate speech way of demonstrating the polite and respectful attitude towards the addressee.

To sum up, politeness in speech helps people to create an amiable atmosphere where everybody respects and has a good attitude to each other. The knowledge of Politeness in English language makes easier to understand Englishmen's behavior and avoid misunderstanding between the native and the non-native speakers that can lead to serious problems. As for foreign language students, the comprehension of Politeness in English language can minimize the cultural shock when they go to foreign countries to practice their language. It is key point in studying languages, as we know linguistic discrepancy in different countries. It is obvious that nobody wants to communicate with rude person, but everybody respects polite people and such quality is reckoned to be the indicator of intelligence. The usage of polite expression in speech helps people not to impose but make them do something in a polite way. And English Politeness as one of the most complex one has the main principle that is based on not imposing interlocutor against his or her will. And such individuality of English speakers substantiated that they respect and appreciate each personality and take into consideration other people's feeling. Such peculiarities OfEnglish language motivate us to research politeness on a large scale comparing with its implementation in Kazakh language as well.



  1. Watts, Richard J. 2003. Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Ehlicli Konrad 2005. On the Historicity of Politeness. In Watts, R. / Ide, S. / Elilich, K. (eds) Politeness in Language (Second Edition). Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 71-108.
  3. Oxford Dictionaiy of English, Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-19-861347-4, ISBN 978-0-19-861347-3.
  4. CambridgeAdvancedLeamer1SDictionary, 1995
  5. Webster1SDictionary. 1913
  6. Sell, R. D. (2005). Literarj' texts and diachronic aspects of politeness. InR. J. Watts, S. Ide and K. Ehlich (eds.), Politeness in Language: Studies in its Histon . Theory and Practice (pp. 109- 130). Berlin: Mouton.
  7. Яшина A.B. «Лингвистические стратегии вежливости». Москва. 2003.
  8. Антипова А.М. «Система речевой интонации в английском языке», Москва, 1979.
  9. "Politeness in English” Saeko Fukushima & Yuko Iwata
  10. Politeness in English. English matters, 2014.

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