Politeness Theory


In conversation, there are ways to go about getting the things we want. However, in different social situation we are obliged to adjust our use of language to fit the occasion (Fatkhurozi, 2007:14). It would seem socially unacceptable if people speak the same ways to all kinds of people surrounding them. Brown and Levinson (in Watts, 2003: 34 as cited in Fatkhurozi, 2007: 14) describe politeness as an instrumental system of means to satisfy individual face. Politeness strategies are developed to save the hearer's face. Face refers to the respect that an individual has for him or herself. 

The main concept is about maintaining "face" which consists of two related aspects. First, negative face, which is the want of the member of society in which their action are not imposed by others. Second, positive face, that is the want of the member of society in which they want to be appreciated by others. In this concept generally, people cooperate in maintaining face in interaction. Meanwhile, Holmes (1992 as cited in Fatkhurozi, 2007:14) explains that politeness involves taking account of the feeling of others. A polite person will make others feel comfortable. Being polite linguistically involves speaking to people appropriately in the light of their relationship to others. 

Using an imperative such as stop talking or shut the door to a superior at work is likely to earn the office junior a reprimand. Calling the managing director Sally when you do not know her well and have only just stared work in the typing pool or stationary store is liked to be impolite. Making decisions about what is or is not considered polite in any community, therefore involves accessing social relationship along the dimensions of social distance or solidarity, and relative power or status. We need to understand the social values of a society in order to speak politely (Fatkhurozi, 2007: 14).

Being polite may also involve the dimension of formality. In formal situation the appropriate way of talking to your brother will depend on your roles in context. If he is acting as the judge in a law court then calling him Tom will be considered disrespectful, while at the dinner table calling him your honor will be perceived as equally rude (Fatkhurozi, 2007: 15).

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