1.3 Politeness theory and face

Here, politeness theory comes into the play. Developed by Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson, politeness theory argues that most commonplace speech acts such as criticizing, inviting, advising or even complimenting, carry an element of risk for speaker and hearer. With each speech act we can cause a potential damage to the person of either hearer or speaker, or both of them. One of the most relevant concepts in linguistic politeness is the notion of 'FACE', going back to Erving Goffman, who defines face as the positive social value a person effectively claims for himself/herself by the line others assume he has taken during a particular contact.

'Face' is something that can be lost, maintained or enhanced during a face-to-face or mediated contact with other participant. It consits of two related aspects: the positive and the negative face.

The positive face is the positive consistent self-image or „personality“ (crucially including the desire that this self-image will be appreciated and approved of) claimed by interactants. It is the wish of every member that his wants be desirable to at least some others.

The negative face is the basic claim to territories, personal preserves, rights to non-distraction – i.e. to freedom of action and freedom from imposition. It is the want of every competent adult member that his actions be unimpeded by others.

Usually, it is in every participant's interest to maintain each others face, as no one wants to hurt the other. This may lead to a bad atmosphere and be an obstacle to our wish to be successful in communication. That is why we pay attention to the other person’s faces. In this way, politeness can be defined as showing awareness of and consideration for another person's face.