The use of Positive Politeness Strategies considering a Specific Speech Act.

Term Paper, 2005

20 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Politeness in General

3. Positive Politeness on the Example of a Radio Documentary
3.1 Claim Common Ground
3.2 Convey that Speaker and Hearer are Cooperators
3.3 Fulfil Hearer’s Wants.

4. Conclusion

5. Attachment...

6. References

1. Introduction

Positive politeness strategies are based onBrownandLevinson’stheory about politeness in general. They distinguish between two kinds of politeness – positive and negative politeness. Even though their theory about speech acts has been developed in 1978, it does not seem to be outdated. Brown and Levinson are still the leading linguists in the field of politeness who explain which positive politeness strategies people follow during speech acts.

The strategies of positive politeness not only apply to speech, to spoken language and recorded speech; but also to written texts. There seems to be a difference in use of positive politeness strategies in written texts and speech act. Various problems occurred while working on the paper. First, it was very difficult to find an interview, which could be downloaded from the internet. Secondly, this interview had to be interesting enough to make it pleasurable to work on. And lastly, it was necessary to find an interview which can be used throughout this paper as an example to illustrate all 15 strategies of positive politeness. This seemed to be the most substantial problem. It is almost impossible to find an interview, which follows all 15 strategies. I assume that not all 15 strategies of positive politeness had been used during the interview.

This paper will deal with documentary of the British rock band Coldplay. It was recorded from the BBC homepage, where you find links to British radio stations, and I edited the interview by cutting out musical interludes. The talk was broadcasted on Radio 1 in the Steve Lamacq’s show “Bigger, Stronger - Coldplay's early days”[1]. Even though I contacted Radio 1, I was not able to find out the exact date when the interview was broadcasted.

2. Politeness in General

According to many linguists, the importance of politeness strategies lies in maintaining a social order and is seen as “a precondition of human cooperation” (Brown & Levinson, 2000, xiii). Lakoff said that the purpose of politeness is to avoid conflicts (Lakoff, 1889. 101). Politeness strategies are learned when your mother tells you to thank someone who has, for example, given you a present for your fifth birthday. It seems to be very important to stick to these conventions, which have developed since human being exists.

Brown and Levinson found out that politeness can be divided into positive and negative politeness, and both forms of politeness are distinguished by negative and positive “face”. While the positive face describes every member’s wish to be desired by at least some others, negative politeness differentiates in “the want of every competent adult member” (Brown & Levinson, 2000, 62) to be unimpeded in his actions by others. (Brown & Levinson, 2000, 62)

The “face” is the central term, which explains the ways of being polite. The basic strategy of politeness is not to lose face by minimising the face-threatening act – the negative face – and improve the positive face (Matthews, P. H., 1997, 125)

3. Positive Politeness on the Example of a Radio Documentary

This chapter will deal with the use of positive politeness strategies in the chosen example of a radio documentary. To work on the politeness strategies in this chapter, I have chosen to divide the subchapters as suggested by Brown and Levinson in “claim common ground”, “convey that speaker and hearer are cooperators” and “fulfil hearer’s wants for something”. (Brown & Levinson, 2000, viii f.)

For the following section, I only worked on passages spoken by the band members during the documentary, neither the introductory passages spoken by the interviewer nor the introduction itself were analysed in terms of positive politeness.

3.1 Claim Common Ground

Claim common ground is the only one of the three main categories, which contains eight different positive politeness strategies. However, not all these eight strategies can be found in this example of a documentary. Nevertheless, it can be pointed out that six out of the eight strategies can be attributed in this documentary.

It is quite outstanding that the band members used many exaggerations during the documentary, as you can see below from example 1 to 24.


Exaggeration is the strategy, which is most frequently used.

(1) I was quite enjoying the lessons but never ever practised it.
(2) playing to death
(3) I was experimenting with computer music and did all the programme. It was pretty good.
(4) I really loved “Northern Soul” and […] Johnny Greenwood as well, he was great.
(5) I used to play the violin ages ago in school […].
(6) She had a massive record collection.
(7) Just completely kept
(8) deadly silence
(9) Pretty impressive
(10) It was brilliant.
(11) I think I always used to be quite drunk.
(12) And suddenly this beautiful music started coming out.
(13) It was great. It was really nice[...].
(14) That was horrible.
(15) exactly the same
(16) And he had this brilliant rip and I thought this guy is brilliant.
(17) For about a month every song had the word sad in it ‘cause this girl coming around to our housed called Alice Hill.
(18) It was really not nice. Real mistake. […] Big mistake.
(19) I was shunned constantly by the evil.
(20) There was this completely stoned guy […].
(21) The room was absolutely tiny.
(22) We just invited absolutely everybody we could possibly think of
(23) We just completely filled the place out with just our friends.
(24) He (the promoter) knew that we get lots of people. Not necessarily just random people, but just all our mates, which was good.

Some of the examples are on the borderline where it is hard to decide whether the speaker has exaggerated or not. As with some of these idioms like “It was brilliant.” the hearer does not know if it is the true or just a saying, but I nevertheless classed it as an exaggeration.

Use In-Group-Identity Markers

The following examples show the use of in-group identity markers in the sense of slang and jargon.

(25) I wanna […].
(26) yeah
(27) stuff like that
(28) I don’t give a shit.
(29) gonna
(30) wicked
(31) I don’t give a shit.
(32) didn’t have a clue
(33) Fucking Micky […]
(34) 100 quid

There is also the possibility of classing some slang words as in-group identity markers in the sense of contraction and ellipsis.

(35) ‘cause
(36) wanna
(37) gonna

I have chosen to class words defined in dictionaries as colloquial as use of in-group-identity markers in the sense of jargon rather than slang because, I think, slang words usually have a negative connotation.

(38) pushy
(39) dropping down that jaws
(40) rubbish
(41) hack out
(42) 100 quid
(43) wacky

The word “quid” which was also classified as an in-group identity marker in the sense of jargon can be also classed as a slang word if slang is defined as ordinary language (Matthews, P. H., 1997, 343).

The use of in-group-identity markers especially the address forms had been used quite frequently during the documentaries.

(44) mate/s
(45) bloke/s
(46) guy/s
(47) lad/s
(48) Fucking Micky […].

“Fucking Micky” which was categorised earlier on as slang in in-group identity marker can also be classified as an address form.

What is named in-group identity markers in Brown and Levinson`s theory can be only regarded as a positive politeness strategy if the hearer belongs to the same group, which is able to understand the jargon. If the hearer does not belong to the same group he or she will not understand what they are talking about and might feel excluded. As jargon I summarise all words especially names they mentioned during the documentary. Kienpointner said that swear words can also be regarded as polite when used in a certain social situation. He distinguishes between cooperative and non-cooperative rudeness. A form of cooperative rudeness is for example mock impoliteness a technique to create a relaxed atmosphere. (Kienpointner, 1997, 262) Regarding to the documentary the usage of slang and swear words created definitely a relaxed atmosphere apart from a few exceptions which are pointed out in the following examples.

(49) I didn’t have to be Pavarotti to enjoy music. Almost everybody all over Europe knows Pavarotti as an artist especially the fans of classical music.
(50) I got into Jeves there’re the band I liked Goble Mother and AHA. James and AHA.

Some band names are probably well known all over the world like AHA but they also mentioned many names, which are very rare and not universally known names.

(51) She had a massive record collection lots of old 45s ranging from early sixties stuff a little like original Beatles singles and stuff and right the way through the early nineties like pretty much chronological order.

45’s is a very specific term from the music industry, which I could only understand through the context. On the internet, I found out that 45 is a synonym for a record, which only holds a single song on each side, and the term 45 also refers to the rotational speed.[2]

Seek Agreement

During the documentary, the band members used the strategy of seeking agreement in the sense of repetition. The seeking agreement examples found in the documentary usually occurred as tags at the end of a longer passage to ensure that the interviewer gets all the information needed.

(52) You know?/ Do you know what I mean?
(53) Right./ That’s right.

When the band members talk about their musical interests, they claim common knowledge. They assume that the audience knows about their idols they give as examples. It is also possible to classify the use of band names as in-group identity markers in the sense of jargon as it was done prior.

(54) Nick McCabe, I really loved “Northern Soul” and Graham Cox as well and ah Kevin Shields and Johnny Greenwood as well, he was great. Joey Santiago from the Pixies as well.
(55) Or Chris Demore at the mayflower which was the best thing I’ve ever been to.

If for those not familiar with British musicians, you might not know that Chris Demore was an artist with his own music show. I was not able to find out if I spelt his name correctly, I could not even find him on the internet but I made it up from the context.

(56) And I really fancied her and she come around and instead of going: yeah Alice; we have a drink and going out.

This example shows you that the third person singular “s” is sometimes omitted in spoken language. This may be due to various facts. The main reason for omitting the




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The use of Positive Politeness Strategies considering a Specific Speech Act.
University of Rostock  (Institut für Anglistik & Amerikanistik)
Linguistic Politeness
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ISBN (eBook)
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553 KB
This paper deals with documentary of the British rock band Coldplay:
Positive, Politeness, Strategies, Specific, Speech, Linguistic, Politeness
Quote paper
Anett Senftleben (Author), 2005, The use of Positive Politeness Strategies considering a Specific Speech Act., Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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