Politeness

Politeness

Politeness

Politeness

Synopsis

Using a wide range of data from real-life speech situations, this introduction to politeness theory breaks away from the limitations of current models. It argues that the proper object of study in politeness theory must be "common sense" definitions of politeness and impoliteness. Richard Watts concludes that a more appropriate model, based on Bourdieu's concept of social practice, can thus be developed.

Excerpt

Writing an introduction to politeness is like being in mortal combat with a many-headed hydra. You've barely severed one head when a few more grow in its place. The first head I needed to sever was whether politeness should be taken to include all forms of polite behaviour or to focus on polite language usage. For a linguist it was not difficult to chop off that particular head. It was obvious that an introduction to politeness should focus on forms of social behaviour involving language. But the problem was that, once I had severed that head, a whole set of other heads promptly emerged. Should an introduction to politeness, understood now as linguistic politeness, focus on the canonical models of politeness in language currently on the market? What is polite language in any case? Should an introduction to politeness reveal to the reader the wide scope of empirical research on politeness in fields as far apart as legal language, second language acquisition, business studies, gender issues, developmental psychology, etc.? At present I already have a bibliography that contains roughly 1,200 titles, and it is growing steadily week by week. Should an introduction to politeness focus more solidly on the theoretical issues informing this empirical research? Or would it not have been easier to write about linguistic structures that have traditionally been considered in the literature to be 'polite', e.g. honorifics, terms of address, polite formulaic utterances, indirect speech acts, etc.? And what about the vexing issue of why so little has been written about impoliteness?

From this the reader may conclude that it has taken a little longer to write this book than I had originally planned. Faced with the hydra of politeness that I could not possibly defeat, I retired from the battle and laid aside my sword. I then started to ask myself the fundamental questions that had been spilling around in my own head for years. How could I write an introduction to politeness for readers entering the field for the first time without getting them hopelessly bogged down in a morass of problematic theoretical issues in current research? At . . .

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