Definitions of Politeness

It is remarkably difficult to come to a definition of politeness and impoliteness. Several theorists have tried to offer definitions of politeness 2 (that is the scientific abstracted view of politeness as opposed to politeness 1 which is the “lived experience” of politeness):

Robin Lakoff (1975:64) “politeness is developed by societies in order to reduce friction in personal interaction”.

Leech (1980:19) politeness is “strategic conflict avoidance” which ” can be measured in terms of the degree of effort put into the avoidance of a conflict situation”.

Brown and Levinson (1978) politeness “as a complex system for softening face threats”.

Kasper (1990: 194) “communication is seen as fundamentally dangerous and antiganostic endeavour”. Politeness is therefore a term to refer to the strategies available to interactants to defuse the danger and minimalise the antagonism.

Arndt and Janney (1985:282) politeness is “interpersonal supportiveness”.

Hill et al (1986:349) politeness is “one of the constraints on human interaction, whose purpose is to consider others’ feelings, establish levels of mutual comfort and promote rapport”.

Ide (1989:22) politeness is “language associated with smooth communication”.

Sifianou (1992: 86) politeness is ” the set of social values which instructs interactants to consider each other by satisfying shared expectations”.

All of the above quotations are taken from Watts (2003:50-52) Politeness, Cambridge University Press. Watts argues that “the very fact that (im)politeness is a term that is struggled over in the present, has been struggled over in the past and will, in all probability continue to be struggled over in the future should be the central focus of a theory of politeness…investigating first order politeness is the only valid means of developing a social theory of politeness”.