Chinese idea of face vs. the politeness theory

Shengwen Xu

In our textbook, the politeness theory is introduced. Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory (1987) analyzes how we deal with each other’s face wants. They divide people’s face wants into two types, negative and positive. Negative face is “the want of every competent adult member of a community that their actions be unimpeded by others”; while positive face is “the want of every member that their wants be desirable to at least some others.” (Brown & Levinson 1987:62) They assume not only that these operate in almost all languages and cultures, but also that the need to protect alter’s negative face and to defend ego’s positive face are important functions of politeness in all languages and cultures. (Nwoye, B. G., 1992)

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