Brown and Levinson’s (1987) Concept of Politeness In Face Threatening Acts


Sometimes in our daily lives, we can find acts that do not satisfy the “face wants” of the speaker and the hearer. The acts that threaten either positive or negative face of the hearer are called ‘Face Threatening Acts’ (Brown and Levinson). In other words, those acts infringe on the hearer’s need to maintain his/her self-esteem and are respected. Those acts that primarily threaten the addressee’s or Hearer (H’s) negative face want, by indicating (potentially) that the speaker (S) does not intend to avoid impeding H’s freedom of action, include orders, requests, suggestions, advice, reminding, threat, warning, offer, promise, compliment, and expression of negative emotion.
In contrast, there are acts that threaten H’s positive face such as expression of dissatisfaction, disagreement, criticisms, complaints, accusation, insults, out of control, irrelevance, bringing bad news about H or boasting about S, raising divisive topics, and blatant non-cooperation in an activity. All these acts indicate that the speaker does not care about the addressee’s feeling or want. For example, disagreeing with someone’s opinion also causes threat to his positive face, as it means that you indicate that he is wrong about something.

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