Discourse politeness question

Dennis R. Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Wed Mar 19 15:29:46 UTC 2008

Let's Brown and Levinson this stuff.

Any request (even if only for an opinion) attacks the hearer's
"negative face" - their desire to be left alone, unimpeded, not
bossed around, etc.... Since attacking the hearer's negative face
threatens the speaker's "positive face' (the desire to be well
thought of), they must use some strategy to offset the face threat.

Ses Strategy 5, (p. 178) in B&L, where they discuss the protection of
a threat to the hearer's negative face with the strategy 'Give
deference." Since English does not have honorifics, we do this more
subtly, and in this case stressing the importance of the addressee's
opinion (by saying how "very much" we'd like to have it) is a way of
showing deference to the hearer and an attempt to remove the threat
to his or her negative face.


>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       William Salmon <william.salmon at YALE.EDU>
>Subject:      Re: Discourse politeness question
>>  My question: Why does the addition of two words that denote greater
>>  urgency actually mitigate the patronizing effect of the plainer
>>  utterance?
>>  (1)
>>  Hi Peter,
>>  I'd like to have your thoughts on this.
>>  Best,
>>  Ron
>>  (2)
>>  Hi Peter,
>>  I'd like very much to have your thoughts on this.
>>  Best,
>>  Ron
>Do you get the same mitigating effect if 'very much' is located
>elsewhere in the sentence:
>I'd like to have your thoughts on this very much.
>I'd very much like to have your thoughts on this.
>I'm not sure I get the same effect in these two, at least not to the
>extent that I do in your (2) above.
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
15C Morrill Hall
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
preston at msu.edu

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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