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Literature Review on the Phenomenon of Politeness

Info: 4526 words (18 pages) Example Literature Review
Published: 6th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Economics

The phenomenon of interest in politeness, both socially and linguistically, has seen a significant increase over the last three decades as evidenced by the numbers of paper that have appeared on the subject in international journals and monographs. As a part of discourse analysis studies, the researcher also hopes that this study is able to contribute to the existing pool of knowledge on politeness strategies used in written discourse, particularly in the writing of economic journal articles of two identified economic journals.

The main focus of this study is to put economic issues written by economists in economic journals, related with politeness strategies as a main topic to discuss while using discourse analysis as an approach. In this chapter, the first section starts out with the explanations of discourse and discourse analysis as an approach. Then, it moves to the discussion of politeness theory which covers the concept of politeness itself and the claims for universality. They are also diverse criticism or modification of one of the elements of the model, focusing on Myers’s room of thinking in his study “Politeness in scientific text” (1989). It is linked to what Brown and Levinson had proposed in their book “Politeness: Some universals in language usage” (1978).

Moreover, other main parts that are explained briefly in this section are also from the economic texts. These sections will cover the discourse of economic as well as the author-audiences relationship in academic text that is considered as useful in studying politeness strategies in written text.

A Brief Overview of Discourse

The term “discourse” analysis is a mammoth-like interpretation. It is said as very ambiguous since its introduction to modern science. The definition of term “discourse” sometimes has various meanings and broad interpretations as there is no agreement to the use of the term discourse among the linguists. So in this study, the researcher mainly refers to the linguistics of language usage in social context, specifically on the analysis of occurring connected speech or written discourse to match with the limitation of this study.

The word “discourse” was derived from a Latin word “discursus”, which means either “written or spoken communication or debate” or “a formal discussion of debate.” Until now, however, linguists are still arguing to the use of this term if it is applied in reference. It is not easy to clarify what discourse is all about in terms of similar perception among scholars. Therefore, only discourse from the vantage point of linguistics, especially applied linguistics, is reflected here.

In language studies, the term “discourse” is defined in a number of different ways. It refers to the speech patterns and how language, dialects, and acceptable statements are used in a particular community. Discourse is a subject of study, particularly among residents in secluded areas and share the same speech conventions. Studies of discourse have roots in a range of theoretical traditions that investigate the relationships among language, structure and agency.

Many scholars also propose their own definitions on the term of discourse, namely Crystal (1992:25). He says that “discourse is a continuous stretch of (especially spoken) language larger than a sentence, often constituting a coherent unit such as a sermon, argument, joke, or narrative”. John et al (1994) mentions that discourse is used in linguistics to refer to verbal utterances of greater magnitude than the sentence. Moreover, Cook (1990:7) adds that novels, as well as short conversations or groans, might be equally and rightfully named as discourses. In general, most of these scholars and definitions above have a similar point of view that discourse relates more to parole. It is always produced by somebody whose identity, as well as the identity of the interpreter and discourse, always appears in either physical or linguistic context and within a meaningful fixed time, whereas language does not refer to anything.

The term “discourse analysis” has been used interchangeably in two separate contexts; spoken discourse and written discourse. Both are different in types, such as speaking and writing. The former involves only “air” there are certain dissimilarities that are less apparent in these kinds of discourse while the latter includes some medium of “the conveyed message”.

Spoken discourse might be seen as a spontaneous act which could show a speaker’s mistakes, repetitions, sometimes less coherent grunts, stutters or pauses and as a result, they might be meaningful. Speech develops in time that the speaker says with certain speed that is suitable for him, even if it may not be appropriate for the addressee or listener and though a request for repetition is possible, In speech situation, speaker usually knows the listener(s) or he is at least aware of the fact that he is being listened to, could enable him to adjust the register.

In contrast with spoken discourse, in written discourse, the writer is frequently able to consider the content of what he produces for almost unlimited period of time which makes it more coherent in the production. The written texts produced could have complex syntax or contained some features such as the organization of tables, formulas, or charts. The writer does not know who his audiences are and as a result, he cannot adjust to audiences’ specific expectations. In section 2.2.1, a brief overview of written discourse will be explained in details.

Discourse Analysis

The researcher uses the following explanation to define what is discourse analysis. “…that discourse analysis is a primarily linguistic study, examining the use of language by its native population whose major concern is investigating language functions along with its form, produced both orally and writing.” (Carter 1993:23)

The definition above explains the term “discourse” quite clearly as a branch of applied linguistic. Discourse analysis may function to examine the use of language, that is the language used in certain speech community in spoken or written form. In other words, discourse analysis is a study that attempts to find patterns in communicative products as well as their correlation with the circumstances, in which it is designed to recognize and identify linguistic qualities of various genre as well as the interrelationships among social relations, social identities, contexts and specific situations of language use.

Discourse analysis involves the use of both spoken and written contexts interchangeably. The two forms of context are different in types and medium. Cook (1990:156) also mentions that written or spoken type of discourse might be characterized as a class of either which is frequently casually specified, recognition of which aids its perception, and consequently production of potential response. There are certain dissimilarities that are less apparent in these kinds of discourse and the focus of discourse analysis in this study related more on written context. This study will give some overview of written discourse in general next.

Written Discourse Analysis

Written discourse can be viewed from various angles in accordance to what the readers focus on, but it could not be seen as a spontaneous act in contrast with spoken discourse, as explained in the previous section. In written discourse, the writer needs a space to carry his intention to his readers. He needs to think over what he is going to write in order for his reader to understand the message that he will produce, as often a writer cannot adjust to the readers specific expectations. He needs time to consider the content of his entire work. One of the major concerns of written discourse analysts is the relation of neighbouring sentences and in particular, factors attesting to the fact that a given text is more than only the sum of its components. It is only with written language analysis that certain features of communicative products started to be satisfactorily described, despite the fact that they were also present in speech, like for instance the use of ‘that’ to refer to a previous phrase, or clause (McCarthy 1991:37).

The structure of written discourse that could be taken into consideration are formal and informal discourse. On one hand, formal discourse is stricter; in that it requires the use of passive voice, lack of contracted forms together with impersonality and complex sentence structure. On the other hand, informal discourse for both spoken and written make use of active voice, mainly with personal pronouns and verbs that exhibit feelings such as in journal writings, where the journals are written formally, more solemn and governed by strict rules as they are meant to be used in official and serious circumstances. This is also different in informal communication as discourse products are often more casual and loose.

2.2.2 Types of the Text

Generally, all texts have certain features. Written text is indented to convey meaning and information. This function, however, might be fulfilled in a number of different ways. Differences between texts might be striking, for example menu in the restaurant is usually easy to read, while articles in academic journal or wills in the company are not. However, both texts might serve the purpose of conveying a message and information, but there are certain characteristics that distinguish them. Cook (1990) and Crystal (1995) say that enumerating several other common types of texts might affirm that the notion of text is very broad and not limited to such varieties as those that can be found in language course books.

Moreover, there is certain kind of texts or features others lack that might serve as a signpost to interpretation in written discourse. Additionally, the kind of a particular text might also provide information about anything or anyone and indirectly from those kinds types of the text vocabulary items, grammar structures, picture, symbol, etc can appear in it, which should facilitate perception of the text interpretation.

Application Discourse Analysis to the Text Interpretation

Text is something that happens, in the form of talking or writing, listening or reading. When we analyse it, we analyse the product of this process, and the term ‘text’ is usually taken as referring to the product (Halliday 1994: 311). Furthermore, McCarthy (1991) mentions that reading is an exacting task which involves recipients’ knowledge of the world, experience, ability to infer possible aims of discourse and evaluate the reception of the text. He also mentions that to develop necessary reading and comprehension skills, attention has to be paid to aspects concerning the whole system of a text, as well as crucial grammar structures and lexical items. What is more, processing written discourse ought to occur on global and local scale simultaneously, however, it has been demonstrated that readers employ different strategies of reading depending on what they focus on.

From both ideas from McCarthy above we could see that through reading activity, someone or especially the researcher could make an interpretation of the text. Interpretation in text discourse here could be defined as the act of searching and grasping the meaning that the communicative product is to convey. It is important to underline that clear understanding of writing is believed not only what the writer puts in it, but also on what the audience brings to this process, and the primary goal of the analysis of written text is to try to describe structure and content. It is important to do so because well-established empirical findings indicate the structure and content impact how readers read, understand, remember and learn from written text. The discourse analysis of written texts provides a method for systematically describing texts that readers read as well as writers write.

Furthermore, the discourse analysis of written texts here is concluded as a method for describing the ideas and the relations among the ideas that are present in the texts. The method draws on work in a number of disciplines, such as rhetoric, text linguist and psychology. These disciplines provide ways to describe and analyze how the structure and content of the texts encode ideas and the relations among ideas.

The approach to analysis that this study has illustrated here provides the picture of written discourse, as it shows specific concepts and information from the information conveyed in the text. Many approaches could be used to text processing in discourse area especially in text interpretation, but here, a good approach of analysing a text is dealt by assimilating input from the smallest chunks of discourse, such as sounds in speech and letters in texts, before moving to more general features. This kind of technique is frequently used by analysts focusing on decoding a particular word, as it is dealt initially with the alphabet, to words and short phrases, and then to simple sentences, before finally elaborating on compound sentences. Another approach of discourse analysis is by starting the process from general to particular. In this technique the readers or researchers may get the understanding not only via the information in the text, but it is also may be confronted. Perhaps it could be said that this technique is more holistic, as it moves from the general features of a text, before gradually narrowing by considering all levels of communicative products in written discourse as a total unit whose elements work collectively. It also enables readers to be confronted with their former knowledge and expectations in order to facilitate their comprehension.

2.2.5 The Discourse of Economic Journal

The overall aim of this section from this present study is to review the literature on the analysis of economics discourse from the economists and linguists perspectives. As mentioned in the previous section, in recent years there has been a steady increase in interest and research on economics discourse by both economists and linguists which has spawned an expanding body of work. Similarly both economist and linguist researchers agree that when analyzing an economics text in a journal, there are two things in concerned. The first one is the literary text (linear) and the second one is the visual (non-linear) input in the text. Both features will be explained later and also the position of academic journal as a genre will be defined in the first part in this section.

Since the early 1980s, the discussion of various controversial issues in the economics discourse community has led to increasing debate among concerned economists about the ways that they communicate with each other, as well as with non-economists. This debate has been vigorous, and has also influenced the direction and nature of the research into economics discourse by linguists. Economists’ assessments of their own discourse has contributed to a growing awareness by many that the ways they communicate their ideas in economics do not accurately correspond to the ways they actually “do” economics. The major figure amongst those economists who advocate that fellow economists should examine the ways they use their own discourse is McCloskey, an economic historian and economist, whose range of publications dealing with the “rhetoric of economics”. He asserts that economists have two attitudes to their discourse, termed the “official and unofficial, the explicit and implicit” (1986:5), and that the official, explicit attitude (rhetoric) reflects a scientific methodology which is “modernist”, a modernism which consists of “an amalgam of logical positivism, behaviourism, operational, and the hypothetic-deductive model of science” (1983:484).

McCloskey argues that economists in practice don’t follow the rules as laid down by this official methodology, but in reality argue using the unofficial, implicit rhetoric of economics. He therefore believes that the rhetoric of economics should be examined by those economists who use it, suggesting that the quality of their argument would be at a more sophisticated level if they were more aware of the grounds on which they were arguing, because they claim to be arguing on grounds of certain limited matters of statistical inference, on grounds of positive economics.

Other economists besides McCloskey have also been actively examining aspects of economics discourse. Henderson (1986) for example, offers a seemingly parallel, but unconnected examination of the various ways that metaphor in economics can be investigated, stating that they are very common both in economics as a science, and in discussions involving economic policy. Like McCloskey, he examines metaphor as a series of tropes as in metaphor, simile, and analogy, and states that what he terms as “living” and “dead” metaphors are an integral part of the economics lexicon, and are in fact inter-woven into the concept-structure of introductory economics textbooks. Furthermore what McCloskey and Henderson and some economist had done provides economists’ regarding current views of their own discourse.

Other researchers who have touched on, but not focused specifically on visual information in economics discourse are Mauranen (1993), Tadros (1985), Mead and Henderson (1983), Mason (1990, 1991), Allen and Pholsward (1988), and Cameron (1991). Concerning the nature of economics writing, most of these scholars proposed similar idea that economists, along with other academic writers, use rhetorical devices in order to persuade readers of their point of view and that there is an intellectual hesitancy to see the use of such devices as acceptable within the conventions of the scientific methods

The Theory Politeness strategies: : A Brief Overview

This research is mostly based on Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory (1978, 1987). This section consists of two main aspects, which are the concept of politeness and the claims for universality on the one hand, and diverse criticism or modification of one of the elements of the model on the other; mainly the concepts of face, face-threatening act, and the factors that determine the production and interpretation of politeness.


Politeness theory states that some speech acts threaten others’ face needs. The concept of ‘face’ has come to play an important role in politeness theory. Brown and Levinson, for example, have chosen it as the central notion for their study of universals in language usage and politeness phenomena (1978, 1987). Brown and Levinson say that they have derived the notion of ‘face’ from Goffman in social interaction.

Our notion of ‘face’ is derived from that of Goffman and from the English folk term, which ties up face notions of being embarrassed or humiliated, or ‘losing face’. Thus face is something that is emotionally invested, and that can be lost, maintained or enhanced, and must be constantly attended to in interaction. In general, people cooperate (and assume each other’s cooperation) in maintaining face in interaction, such cooperation being based on the mutual vulnerability of face


In 1963, Erving Goffman published the article “On Face Work” where he first created the term “face.” He discusses face in reference to how people present themselves in social situations and that our entire reality is constructed through our social interactions. Face is a mask that changes depending on the audience and the social interaction.

Face is maintained by the audience, not by the speaker. We strive to maintain the face we have created in social situations. Face is broken down by Goffman into two different categories. Positive face is the desire of being seen as a good human being while negative face is the desire to remain autonomous.

Moreover, he argues that there is a limited amount of strategies to maintain face. Face in communicative events is a universal concept, but it is employed in culture specific ways. It is defined in psychological, philosophical and symbolic terms, as “…the positive social value a person effectively claims for himself by the line others assume s/he has taken during a particular contact”. Face generally involves interlocutors’ mutual recognition as social members of a society. Face can be lost, maintained, or enhanced and must be constantly attended to in interaction.

Brown and Levinson (1978; 1987) present politeness as a formal theoretical construct based on earlier work on ‘face’ by sociologist Goffman, (1963) as mentioned above, and they say that we are all motivated by two desires: positive face and negative face. The working definition and examples on both positive and negative face are presented below. Negative Face

Goffman (1967) publishes the article “On Face Work” where he discusses face in reference to how people present themselves in social situations and that our entire reality is constructed through our social interactions. Face is broken down by Goffman into two different categories, one is the desire to remain autonomous and the other is not to infringe on the other person.

The negative face is the maintenance and defence of one’s territory and freedom from imposition. The negative face is an inalienable. It is the desire to be autonomous and not to infringe on the other person. Here we could simplify that negative face is related to autonomy; freedom from imposition and the basic claim to territories, personal preserves, rights to non-distraction i.e. to freedom of action and freedom from imposition. Positive Face

In any society, whenever the physical possibility of spoken interaction arises, it seems that a system of practices, conventions, and procedural rules comes into play which functions as a means of guiding and organizing the flow of messages. An understanding will prevail as to when and where it will be permissible to initiate talk among whom, and by means of what topics of conversation (Goffman, 1967).

The positive face is the claim for the recognition and appropriate validation of one’s social self-image or personality. The positive face is the want of every member that his wants be desirable to at least some other members of the society and also the desire to be liked and appreciated. In short, positive face is the positive consistent self-image or personality.


According to Brown and Levinson (1987, 1978), face-threatening acts may threaten either the speaker’s face or the hearer’s face, and they may threaten either positive face or negative face. FTA or Face Threatening Act includes expressing thanks, apologies, promises, even non verbal acts such as stumbling, falling down or any utterance that intrinsically threatens another’s face (positive or negative). It also includes disagreement, criticism, orders, delivery of bad news, and request. For examples, simple request threatens the target’s negative face because the target’s compliance with the request interferes with his/her desire to remain autonomous. Conclusively, FTA is an act which challenges the face wants of an interlocutor. Brown and Levinson (1987) propose that when confronted with the need to perform an FTA, the individual must choose between performing the FTA in the most direct and efficient manner, or attempting to mitigate the effect of the FTA on the hearer’s positive/negative face. The mitigation strategies are what Brown and Levinson labelled as politeness strategies.

Politeness Strategies

Brown and Levinson’s (1978, 1987) theory of politeness has become the “model against which most research on politeness defines itself”. Central to BL’s (Brown and Levinson) theory is the concept of face, as proposed by Goffman (1967) who defined face as:

“…the positive social value of a person effectively claims for himself by the line others assume he has taken during a particular contact. Face is an image of self delineated in terms of approved social attributes –albeit an image that others might share, as when a person makes a good showing for his profession or religion by making a good showing for himself.

(Goffman 1967: 5)

The main focus of BL (Brown and Levinson) study as part of the linguistic project of showing universals in language usage; they construct a system in which a model person is endowed with negative and positive face; and tie both strategies to the importance of face in every culture. In their study, BL defines ‘face’ as “the public self-image that every member wants to claim for himself” and explain that face as something that is emotionally invested and the face can be lost, maintained or enhanced and it must be constantly attended to in interaction, roughly the want to be unimpeded and the want to be approved of in certain respects (1987: 58).

According to Brown and Levinson (1978:65), certain acts can damage or threaten another person’s face and these acts are referred to as face threatening acts (FTAs). An FTA (it will be explained briefly on the FTA section (2.3.2. FTA)) has the potential to damage the hearer’s positive or negative face, or it may even damage the speaker’s own positive or negative face. In order to reduce the possibility of damage to the hearer’s or the speaker’s face, s/he may adopt certain strategies. These strategies, by Brown and Levinson, are called politeness strategies (1978: 65). Politeness strategies can be divided into four main strategies: bald-on-record, positive politeness, negative politeness and off-record politeness strategies.

Therefore, being polite consists of attempting to save face for another, and although all cultures have “face” as claimed by Brown and Levinson, they do not maintain face in the same way. Brown and Levinson also claim that understanding cultural norms of politeness enables communicators to “make strong predictions” about communicating effectively within a culture. In their books, they try to underline that politeness strategies are developed to avoid embarrassing the other persons or making them feel uncomfortable in order to save the hearers’ “face”.

The following sections present each of the theory of politeness strategies separately as proposed by Brown and Levinson (1987), from bald on record, to positive politeness, and then negative politeness and finally, off-record politeness strategies.

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