Notions of (im)politeness and intersubjectivity

Abstract

This paper critically explores how notions deployed in the theorisation of (im)politeness (a) are currently deployed or reflected in studies of intersubjectivity or intersubjectification, or (b) might have potential in the study of intersubjectivity or intersubjectification. We will examine in particular three areas. The first is ‘face’. Discussions of language change have drawn on the traditional politeness model Brown and Levinson (1987). It has been suggested that politeness oriented to positive face promotes language change, whereas politeness oriented to negative face retards language change (Wheeler 1994). However, the categories positive and negative politeness have been criticised for including within them disparate elements (cf. Jucker 2008, 2011; Leech 2014) (see also: Beeching 2007, linking aspect of face to propagation/innovation in semantic change, and Traugott & Dasher 2002: 228, on the semasiology of honorific social deictics in Japanese). Moreover, they ignore the ‘intersubjectivity’ captured in Goffman's (1967) original definition of face. The second is reciprocity. The notion of reciprocity in social interaction perhaps evolves from Gouldner (1960), a social psychologist. Reciprocity has been somewhat u nderplayed in studies of politeness, but its importance is acknowledged (cf. Culpeper 2011; Leech 2014). Put simply, a speaker who produces an utterance in a particular context with a certain level of politeness puts the addressee under pressure to reciprocate in kind. A diachronic approach to reciprocity can be operationalized by looking at the ‘resonance ’ of constructions of politeness throughout a speech event. In dialogic syntax, resonance is intended as the catalytic activation of constructional affinities across utterances (cf. Du Bois & Giora 2014). We will explore the potential of this model for incorporating the crucial role played by reciprocity in the study of politeness within a usage-based framework to language change. The third is the role of conventionalised politeness expressions. Although there is some debate about whether politeness can be inherent in language, most researchers accommodate the idea that particular expressions become at least semi-conventionalised for certain politeness values in specific contexts. Watts (2003) refers to this as ‘politic behaviour’; Terkourafi (e.g. 2001, 2005 ) accounts for such expressions in her ‘frame-based’ theory of politeness. The important point here, as Terkourafi (e.g. 2001) points out, is that the usage of such expressions demonstrates to others knowledge of community norms. During our discussion we will draw examples and mini-case studies from historical English data, especially the diachronic 1.6 billion word Hansard Corpus (British Parliament), 1803-2005.

Date
22 Aug 2016 13:00
Location
King's College, London, UK

This paper critically explores how notions deployed in the theorisation of (im)politeness (a) are currently deployed or reflected in studies of intersubjectivity or intersubjectification, or (b) might have potential in the study of intersubjectivity or intersubjectification. We will examine in particular three areas. The first is ‘face’. Discussions of language change have drawn on the traditional politeness model Brown and Levinson (1987). It has been suggested that politeness oriented to positive face promotes language change, whereas politeness oriented to negative face retards language change (Wheeler 1994). However, the categories positive and negative politeness have been criticised for including within them disparate elements (cf. Jucker 2008, 2011; Leech 2014) (see also: Beeching 2007, linking aspect of face to propagation/innovation in semantic change, and Traugott & Dasher 2002: 228, on the semasiology of honorific social deictics in Japanese). Moreover, they ignore the ‘intersubjectivity’ captured in Goffman's (1967) original definition of face. The second is reciprocity. The notion of reciprocity in social interaction perhaps evolves from Gouldner (1960), a social psychologist. Reciprocity has been somewhat u nderplayed in studies of politeness, but its importance is acknowledged (cf. Culpeper 2011; Leech 2014). Put simply, a speaker who produces an utterance in a particular context with a certain level of politeness puts the addressee under pressure to reciprocate in kind. A diachronic approach to reciprocity can be operationalized by looking at the ‘resonance ’ of constructions of politeness throughout a speech event. In dialogic syntax, resonance is intended as the catalytic activation of constructional affinities across utterances (cf. Du Bois & Giora 2014). We will explore the potential of this model for incorporating the crucial role played by reciprocity in the study of politeness within a usage-based framework to language change. The third is the role of conventionalised politeness expressions. Although there is some debate about whether politeness can be inherent in language, most researchers accommodate the idea that particular expressions become at least semi-conventionalised for certain politeness values in specific contexts. Watts (2003) refers to this as ‘politic behaviour’; Terkourafi (e.g. 2001, 2005 ) accounts for such expressions in her ‘frame-based’ theory of politeness. The important point here, as Terkourafi (e.g. 2001) points out, is that the usage of such expressions demonstrates to others knowledge of community norms. During our discussion we will draw examples and mini-case studies from historical English data, especially the diachronic 1.6 billion word Hansard Corpus (British Parliament), 1803-2005.

Bibliography
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