Politeness and Interaction

What do we mean by being polite?

Politeness is usually associated with respect towards other people. We may pay respect to other people’s feelings, opinions, their present social situation etc. Moreover, the social distance between speaker and addressee highly determines our choice of language and our attention we pay to ways of politeness. Strangers are certainly treated more politely than a close friend. If you think of the kind of language you would choose in order to make a polite impression you might come up with strategies like formality, deference, apologies or indirectness.

Polite Distance

Consider this quite humorous examination on polite distance. In what way do you think does it illustrate social distance?

However, politeness is perceived differently around the world and different norms of politeness obviously influence the use of language, as well. Thus, whereas deference might be a proper way of using politeness among strangers in one society, this might not be the case in another. It might even be considered as impolite to emphasise the social distance in a society like for example North America, Australia or Italy, where people are accustomed to a more direct and open way of politeness.

Politeness is based on conventions. What is considered to be polite or impolite depends on norms both speaker and addressee are accustomed to. Our awareness of certain social conventions leads us to choose a particular way to address other people. To agree on these conventions is necessary for a successful use of different politeness strategies in language.

WITH the utmost politeness he introduced Timmy Willie to nine other mice, all with long tails and white neckties. Timmy Willie's own tail was insignificant.
Johnny Town-mouse and his friends noticed it; but they were too well bred to make personal remarks; only one of them asked Timmy Willie if he had ever been in a trap?

Categories: Glossary