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12 Feb 2013

Politeness Principle in Cross-Culture Communication

Politeness Principle in Cross-Culture Communication
(Free ELT Journal)
As we all know, different people hold different views about politeness. To be polite, Leech thinks you should follow “Politeness Principle” while Levinson suggests paying attention to others’ “Face Wants”. Sometimes what the Chinese people considered to be polite may not be true according to western culture. In order to adequately provide an educated answer to this heartfelt question, this paper attempts to shed light on some of the important differences on politeness between Chinese and western culture and their values.

Keywords:Politeness, Culture differences, Politeness principle

1. Introduction 
In 1978, English scholars Brown& Levinson wrote an article “Universals in Language Usage: Politeness Phenomena”. Soon after that, Leech delivered his six criteria of politeness in 1983. Both of them draw great attention to Politeness. According to Brown& Levinson “ politeness involves us showing an awareness of other people’ s FACE WANTS, and FACE refers to our public self- image. There are two aspects to this self-image: One is POSITIVE FACE, the other is NEGATIVE FACE. POSITIVE FACE refers to the want of every member that his wants be desirable to at least some others. [my emphasis]. NEGATIVE FACE refers to the want of every ‘competent adult member’ [of a society] that his actions be unimpeded by others.
Among Leech’s six criteria of politeness, the following six are very important:
  1. Tact-maxim (in impositives and commissives): Minimize the cost to other; maximize the benefit to other.
  2. Generosity maxim (in impositives and commissives): minimise benefit to self,maximise cost to self.
  3. Approbation maxim (in expressives and assertives): minimise dispraise of other, maximise praise of other. 
  4. Modesty maxim (in expressives and assertives):minimise praise of self, maximize dispraise of self.
  5. Agreement maxim (in assertives): minimise disagreement between self and other, maximise agreement between self and other.
  6. Sympathy maxim (in assertives): minimise antipathy between self and other, maximise sympathy between self and other.
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