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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Politeness Theory and Second Language Learning

Xiaoke Sun # Post 2

Politeness, which is regarded as a sign of good education, is highly praised in our society. Having acquired proficiency in different languages, I found out each language has its particular way to show politeness, explicitly or implicitly. For example, Mandarin has two different pronouns (“ni” and “nin”) of the second personal singular. By altering between them, speakers are able to show different levels of respect and politeness. The similar linguistic trait can be found in French. People use “vous” as a respectful form to address the second person singular, (as “nin 您” in Mandarin) while using “tu” (as “ni 你” in Mandarin) in the casual, or peer interaction. In English, however, only “you” is employed to address the person (or people) that the speaker is associating with, regardless of their age or social status. It is not to say that English lacks preciseness or politeness. Instead, it highlights the variety and complexity of linguistical features among different languages. The way to show politeness in English is unique in its use of conditional tense or in its increase of the length of sentence. This feature can be well explained by Alison’s example of using “Could I bother you to lend me your pen?” instead of shortly saying “Pen”.

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