Politeness Principle

Leech’s Politeness Principle with a case study about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Term Paper, 2008

11 Pages, Grade: 2,7


Table Of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Part One: Theory
2.1 Positive and negative politeness

3 Leech’s Maxims
3.1 Tact Maxim
3.2 Generosity Maxim:
3.3 Approbation Maxim:
3.4 Modesty Maxim:
3.5 Agreement Maxim:
3.6 The Sympathy Maxim:

4 Miscellaneous Principles
4.1 Consideration Maxim:
4.2 Irony and Banter Principle

5 Part 2: Practise
5.1 Tact Maxim
5.2 Approbation Maxim / Modesty Maxim
5.3 Agreement Maxim
5.4 Sympathy Maxim
5.5 Consideration Principle
5.6 Banter Principle
5.7 Irony Principle

6 Summary

7 Bibliography

1 Introduction

The following term paper deals with Leech’s Politeness Principle and the Maxims of Politeness, especially with its appliance on children’s books.

I think it is a quite interesting theme to analyse children’s books according to politeness.

At a first step I would like to show the coherence between the Politeness Principle and Gricean’s Cooperative Principle, and to show problems with the CP. Next I want to give a short overview about positive and negative politeness and about the Politeness Principle itself. After that I would like to point out the six main maxims: Tact Maxim, Generosity Maxim, Approbation Maxim, Modesty Maxim, Agreement Maxim, and Sympathy Maxim. Further I also want to give a short overview about the Miscellaneous Principles: Consideration, Irony and Banter.

After explaining the maxims I would like to find examples, where these maxims are broken. The resource for these examples is Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

In a last step I want to give a short summary about how analysing the book functioned and whether Leech’s Maxims can be adapt to children’s books.

2 Part One: Theory

According to Leech, Gricean’s Cooperative Principle (CP) is necessary and helps to account for the relation between what an utterance means in a particular context and what a Speaker intends to mean in a particular conversation. But Leech reveals a few problems with Gricean’s Cooperative Principle.

A first problem is that the CP itself can’t explain why people are often so indirect in conveying what they mean. And second the CP can not explain what the relation between sense and force is when non-declarative types of sentences are being considered (Cruse 2000: 362). Leech isn’t concerned to create highly precise formalised rules such as those in the syntactic or semantic components of a grammar.(Watts 2003: 63)“Semantics is rule-governed (=grammatical); general pragmatics is principle-controlled (= rhetorical)”. Leech conceptualises “general pragmatics” as the “general condition of the communicative use of a language” (Leech 1983: 5).

For these reasons Leech proposes the Politeness Principle

But before I explain the Politeness Principle, it’s necessary to define politeness. Alan D. Cruse defines politeness as “first and foremost, a matter of what is said, and not a matter of what is thought or believed” (Cruse 2000: 362).

Leech defines the Politeness Principle as “Minimize the expression of impolite beliefs” (Leech 1983: 81), for Cruse this is not the best formulation, he prefers the statement: “Choose expressions which minimally belittle the hearer’s status” (Cruse 2000: 362).

Things which may be thought to belittle the hearer’s status are:

- Treating the hearer as subservient to one’s will, by desiring the hearer to do something which will cost effort, or restrict freedom, etc.
- Saying bad things about the hearer or people or things related to the hearer
- Expressing pleasure at the hearer’s misfortunes.
- Disagreeing with the hearer, thus denigrating the hearer’s thoughts.
- Praising oneself, or dwelling on one’s good fortune, or superiority.(Cruse 2000: 362).

The purpose of Politeness is the maintenance of harmonious and smooth social relations in the face of the necessity to convey decrease messages.

2.1 Positive and negative politeness

Leech divides politeness into positive and negative politeness.

Negative politeness dilutes the effect of abate expressions. An example for this would be the following:

(a) Help me to clean up the kitchen!

Positive politeness emphasises the hearer’s positive status. An example for positive politeness would be:

(b) Thank you very much, that was extremely helpful(Cruse 2000: 362). Speaker-orientated politeness involves self-belittlement, as any aggrandizement of self implies of the hearer.

Hearer-orientated politeness is more crucial.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Politeness Principle
Leech’s Politeness Principle with a case study about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Saarland University
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
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Politeness, Principle, Leech’s, Politeness, Principle, Alice’s, Adventures, Wonderland
Quote paper
Annika Schario (Author), 2008, Politeness Principle, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/150093


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