Politeness, Thanking and the Influence of Gender in Writing Thesis Acknowledgements

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2012

43 Pages, Grade: 89

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The present study tackles the concept of politeness of thanking in writing thesis acknowledgements. Despite their importance in academic writings, acknowledgements have been largely neglected in linguistic studies. To those native and non-native speakers (acknowledgers) of a language, acknowledgement writing is not a simple job. In order to make readers fully understand how grateful they are, they have to express their gratitude or realize their thanking correctly and appropriately. However, instructions on how to write a pragmatically accepted acknowledgement are rare. The present study aims at identifying the pragmatic features and patterns of gratitude expressions in acknowledgements and trying to figure out how the politeness principles work in expressing gratitude and investigating the influence of the acknowledger's gender on the pragmatic performance of the speech act of thanking. It is based on the hypothesis that politeness principles affect the performance of the acknowledgers in expressing their gratitude. Also, the acknowledger’s gender may affect his/ her performance of thanking.

Theoretical Background

Politeness Theory

Human communication serves to convey information. Grice's (1975) four maxims specify what participants have to do in order to converse in a maximally efficient, rational, cooperative way: they should speak sincerely, relevantly, clearly, while providing sufficient information. In actual conversation, however, people do not seem to act according to these maxims, which implies that there must be also other functions of language ( Reuscher, 2006:34-38). Regarding discourse also as a means to establish and maintain social contacts, it becomes obvious that politeness may be a reason to not stick to the maxims and make efficiency the leading principle in all utterances. Lakoff(1979:64) states that politeness is a form of behaviour that has been " developed in society in order to reduce friction in personal interaction". Politeness is not something human beings born with, but something acquired through a process of socialization. For Trees and Manusov(1998:567), politeness is the appropriateness use of the chosen(sup)strategies within the context of the interaction. Reiter (2000) adds that politeness is not a ‘natural’ phenomenon which existed before mankind, but it has been socio-culturally and historically constructed.

Brown and Levinson's (1987) Theory ofPoliteness

The best-known politeness theory is proposed by Brown and Levinson (1987). They were the first to systematize the politeness theory on the basis of their observation of the similarities in the linguistic strategies used by people from different language backgrounds. Brown & Levinson’s politeness theory is rooted in the notion of face. They claim that face is the motivation behind politeness. In particular, their politeness is influenced by Goffman’s (1967) view of ‘face’ , who stresses the importance of understanding face as constituted in social interaction, and defines face as an image “pieced together from the expressive implications of the full flow of events in an undertaking” (1967:31). Goffman further notes that face is "the positive social value a person effectively claims for him/herself by the line others assume he/she has taken during a particular contact" (1967:5). Face is formed during a ‘particular contact’. It should be considered as the result of face-work during interactions. Thus, building on Goffman’s conceptualization of face and face-work, Brown and Levinson (1987) developed their seminal work of politeness theory and expanded the notion of ‘face’ to positive and negative face. “Positive face”, in their definition, is the wish to “be desirable to at least some others”, whereas negative face is the wish to have one’s “actions ... unimpeded by others” (1987:62). Based on the belief that people from every culture have similar face needs, Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory (1987) claims that most relationships between people are stable and maintained by universal rules in respect of maintaining each other’s face. However, this universal claim about the theory later attracted the greatest criticism. Janney and Arndt (1993: 14ff) state that one of the key concepts of Brown and Levinson (1987) is face but “the notion that politeness is motivated by the desire to maintain face is problematical for many scholars”. Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory is based on the presupposition that "certain kinds of acts intrinsically threaten face". Brown and Levinson argue that not only ‘face,’ but also the strategies of face redress, are universal. They further claim that the underlying rational, motivational, and functional foundations of politeness are assumed to be, to some extent, universal, and are assumed to influence, and be reflected by, speech in many different languages and cultures. (Brown & Levinson, 1987:65). They suggest that threatening either the positive or negative face will influence the maintenance of relationships. Some acts are intrinsically impolite, when performed; therefore, they threaten the face needs; for instance, orders, requests, suggestions, threats, warnings and so forth. Brown and Levinson argue that, in normal circumstances, people will try to avoid face-threatening acts (FTAs). They (1987:242) further propose that the degree of threat can be evaluated according to three culturally sensitive social variables: social distance (D) between interlocutors, relative power (P) of the participants and absolute ranking (R) of the impositions carried in the act in a particular culture. In addition to the three variables, the seriousness of an FTA is also determined by the participants in interactions. In any given situation, participants then select strategies appropriate to its needs. For example, "Give deference" is a strategy used to show negative politeness, and it can be shown by using honorific systems of a language. Honorifics convey a status differential between the speaker and hearer. There are four main types of honorifics: -The speaker-addressee axis: the relation of speaker to hearer (addressee honorifics)

-The speaker-referent axis: the relation of speaker to things or persons referred to (referent honorifics)
-The speaker- bystander axis: the relation of speaker (or hearer) to 'bystander' or overhears (bystander honorifics)
-The speaker- setting axis: the relation between speaker and situation (setting honorifics)

The use of referent honorifics in terms of titles and names (Snuggs/Dr. Snuggs, man/ gentleman, give/ bestow), has aristocratic connotations and gives respect to hearer (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 178ff). The greater the threat of an act, the more a polite strategy is required.

Ide (1989:225ff) states that politeness is a neutral term which refers "to a continuum stretching from polite to non-polite speech". He believes that honorifics, for example the use of the address term "Title plus Last Name" in contrast to "First Name", are formal forms used to mark politeness and create a formal atmosphere. He adds that the use of honorifics (formal forms) is determined according to the interlocutor's social class (speaker and recipient authority). So, he differentiates between honorifics in terms of an absolute variety which is obligatory and a relational variety which is optional.

Politeness Principles- Leech (1983 and 2005)

Leech's account of politeness can be used to discuss speech acts. Leech (1983) builds his pragmatic theory on Grice’s (1975) conversational maxims. Politeness is seen as a regulative factor in interaction and a key explanation of why people convey meaning indirectly. One of the strong points made by Leech in his politeness theory is the importance of the speaker’s communicative goal. He focuses on a “goal-oriented speech situation, in which S uses language in order to produce a particular effect in the mind of H” (1983:15). Leech defines the politeness between interlocutors as “interpersonal rhetoric”. In interpersonal rhetoric, Leech proposes three sets of principles: Grice’s (1975) cooperative principle (CP), his own politeness principle (PP) and the irony principle (IP). Leech introduces his PP as designed to “minimize the expression of impolite beliefs; maximize the expression of polite beliefs”. The PP theory, like Grice’s CP theory, also consists of a set of maxims: 1) Tact, 2) Generosity, 3) Approbation, 4) Modesty, 5) Agreement, 6) Sympathy.

According to Leech, the speaker should always act in the best interest of others and try to minimize the chance of not doing so. Leech (1983:80) sees his PP as explanations for the non-observance of the Gricean maxims. He claims that CP and PP interact with each other, because CP maxims are employed to explain how utterances are used to express a speaker’s indirect meaning, whereas PP maxims are used to understand why a speaker is being indirect. Although Leech (1983) provides an apparently full analysis of pragmatic phenomena, his theory is not beyond criticism. Fraser (1990: 227) argues that Leech’s principle(1983) is too theoretical, since “there is no way of knowing which maxims are to be applied, what scales are available, how they are to be formulated, what their dimensions are ... and so forth.” On the same lines, Mey (1993) also criticizes the points which Leech makes to the effect that “some illocutions (e.g. orders) are inherently impolite and others (e.g. offers) are inherently polite” (Leech, 1983:83). Mey (1993:207ff) suggests that to determine an act as polite or impolite, one should consider the social hierarchy of speaker/hearer and the context. Fraser’s and Mey’s comments indicate the failure to consider cultural and situational context in Leech’s (1983) theory. Another major problem with Leech’s (1983) politeness maxims, as pointed out by many researchers, is that he leaves open the number of principles and maxims needed in order to account for politeness phenomenon. Brown and Levinson (1987:4) state that if we need to create a new maxim every time we wish to explain every irregularity in language use, we will end up with “an infinite number of maxims” and a “vacuous” theory of politeness. They therefore suggest that instead of treating politeness as rule-governed, we should try to form a model which illustrates the politeness choices made by speakers in interaction, both interpersonally and cross-culturally.

Leech (2005) states that pragmatics is interested only in communicative behaviour, and politeness in a pragmatic sense is a matter of conveying meanings in accord( Politeness is an aspect of goal-oriented behaviour) with the Grand Strategy Principle(GSP) which is evident in common linguistic behaviour patterns in the performance of the polite acts such as thanking, that is in order to be polite, S ( self) expresses or implies meanings which place a high value on what relates to other O(other) (major constraint), or place a low value on what relates to S (minor constraint) (Leech, 2005: 1 ff).

According to Brown and Levinson (1987:288), interactional systematics is based largely on universal principles; however, the application of the principles differs systematically across cultures and within cultures across subcultures, categories and groups. According to Leech (2005), there is no absolute division between cultures in politeness. All polite communication implies that the speaker is taking into account both individual and group values. For example, in the East, the group values are more powerful, whereas in the West, individual values are more powerful (Leech, 2005:3-4).

Leech (2005:6-7) adds that there are two ways of looking at politeness: i) Absolute politeness scale: we can order utterances on a scale of politeness out of context. For example, "Thank you very much" is more polite than "Thanks", because it intensifies an expression of gratitude, rather than expressing gratitude in a minimal way. So, it is a matter of degrees of politeness in terms of the lexicogrammatical form and semantic interpretation of the utterance.

(ii) Relative politeness scale: it is relative to norms in a given society, for a given group, or for a given situation. It is sensitive to context. Hence, it is possible that a given form is considered more polite on the absolute politeness scale but it may be judged less polite relative to the norms for the situation.

Leech adapts the terms ‘courteous’ instead of ‘polite’ in referring to an absolute politeness, i.e. a relatively high position on the absolute politeness scale out of context, and ‘discourteous’ which means the opposite. In other words, he uses the phrase "courteous belief" for an attribution of some positive value to H or of some negative value to S, whereas a discourteous belief is an attribution of some positive value to S or some negative value to H. For example,

a) You’re coming to have dinner with us next week. I insist! (courteousness)

b) I’m coming to have dinner with you next week. I insist! (discourteousness)

Leech (2005) adds that the hearer-oriented constraints (primary constraints) are generally more powerful than the speaker-oriented ones (secondary constraints). He claims that scales are used to assess the appropriate degree of politeness, .i.e. politeness is itself a matter of degree, and determining the appropriate degree of politeness depends on other scales of value including:

a. Vertical distance between S and O (in terms of status, power, role, age, etc.)
b. Horizontal distance between S and O (intimate, familiar, acquaintance, stranger, etc).
c. Weight or value: how large is the benefit, the cost, the favour, the obligation, etc. (the real socially-defined value of what is being transacted)
d. Strength of socially-defined rights and obligations (e.g. a teacher’s obligations to a student; a host’s obligations to a guest, service providers’ obligations to their clients or customers).
e. ‘Self-territory’ and ‘other-territory’ (in-group membership vs. out­group). There are degrees of membership of ‘self-territory’ and ‘other- territory’ (Leech, 2005:21).

Politeness and Thanking

Politeness is a ‘pragmatic mechanism’ (Weydt, 1983 cited in Trosborg, 1995:16), in which a variety of structures work together according to the interlocutors’ intention of achieving smooth communication. Liao (1994:12) claims that politeness is manifested in the content of conversation, and in the way conversation is managed by its participants. For Trosborg (1995:19), politeness is defined as " a desire to protect self­image". It is seen as a polarity system by which participants should maintain each other's face to achieve smooth and successful communication. A speaker has to protect those faces through various strategies based on distance (D), power (P), and rank of Imposition (R) values in a particular culture.

Many theorists simply assume that politeness is a set of behaviours which can be interpreted unequivocally. Holmes (1995:5) states that:

"In everyday usage, the term “politeness” describes behavior which is somewhat formal and distancing, where the intention is not to intrude or impose ...Being polite means expressing respect towards the persons you are talking to and avoiding offending them ... politeness [is] behaviour which actively expresses positive concern for others, as well as non-imposing distancing behavior"

Holmes (1995) assumes that it is possible to categorize unequivocally those utterances in which an individual speaker affiliates to others or distances her/himself from others through language.

Yule (1996:60-62) defines politeness as "the means employed to show awareness of another person's face". "Face" is "the public-self-image of a person' which needs to be respected, otherwise it might be threatened by saying something that represents a threat to another individual's expectation regarding self- image. He adds that positive politeness, on the one hand, can be seen as a solidarity strategy which stresses the closeness between the speaker and the hearer especially in informal situations. Negative politeness, on the other hand, can be seen as a deference strategy which refers to the formality between the speaker and the hearer and it can generally be used in formal situations. Yule (1996:65-66) states that face saving behaviour which is according to Brown and Levinson (1987) a redressive action, is often at work well in the form of pre-sequences. Watts (2003:33) stresses that politeness is instrumental in creating a strictly hierarchical and elitist social structure by using it as a means of enforcing social differences. Abdulmajeed(2012:7) states that the term "politeness" comprises those features that characterize human behaviour by showing respect and considerateness.

The principles of politeness can be realized in “giving options” for Lakoff, “don’t coerce hearer” for Brown and Levinson, and “minimize cost of other” for Leech (Trosborg, 1995:16). For Lakoff, politeness has been “developed in societies in order to reduce friction in personal interaction.” Based on behaviour patterns (i.e. the way a communicative act is realized in a given situation), politeness can be classified into: polite, non-polite, and rude. According to the relational level, Lakoff believes that the superordinate maxim “Be polite”, and mitigation strategies (i.e. hedging or softening the illocutionary force strategies) can be used to achieve politeness (Trosborg, 1995:16-22).

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Politeness, Thanking and the Influence of Gender in Writing Thesis Acknowledgements
University of Mosul  (College of Education)
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There are some Arabic comparative studies
politeness, thanking, influence, gender, writing, thesis, acknowledgements
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Kamal Hussein (Author)Arwa Luay Abdulkhaleq (Author), 2012, Politeness, Thanking and the Influence of Gender in Writing Thesis Acknowledgements, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/304190


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