Impression Management

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2.1.4 The face-saving view
So far, the most influential framework for the treatment of linguistic politeness has been designed by Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson. Their theory, drawing on predecessors including the above mentioned, centers around Goffman´s concept of face which is
“the positive social value a person effectively claims for himself by the line others assume he has taken during a particular contact [...] an image of self delineated in terms of approved social attributes – albeit an image that others may share, as when a person makes a good showing for his profession or religion by making a good showing for himself” (Goffman, 1967: 5).
Touching upon one’s identity and self-esteem, face is extremely valuable. However, due to the dynamism of human interaction, it is also highly vulnerable; it can be enhanced in many ways but also lost easily (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 59).

Again, following Goffman´s observation that “the person will have two points of view – a defensive orientation toward saving his own face and a protective orientation toward saving the other´s face” (Goffman in House and Kasper, 1981: 155), the authors distinguish two related types of face, attributed by interactants to one another: the negative face, or the desire to be unimpeded in one´s actions and the positive face, or the desire to be approved (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 13). Many interactions thus represent an inherent threat to hearer´s/speaker´s face-wants as they run contrary to those face needs. But since both parties are aware of how sensitive the face is, they are mutually motivated to maintain both through defensive/ego-oriented and protective/alter-oriented means – in other words, politeness strategies (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 61, House and Kasper, 1981: 155).

To minimize the conflicts potentially arising from the face-threatening acts (FTAs), Brown and Levinson identify several politeness strategies for performing speech acts in a less imposing way, ranging from complete avoidance of the FTA to performing it in a manner seemingly without connection to the speech act.
Figure: 2-2. Possible strategies for doing FTAs ( adapted from Brown and Levinson, 1987: 69)

Do the FTA

On record

Without redressive action, baldly (1)

With redressive action

Positive politeness (2)

Negative politeness (3)

Off record (4)

Do not do the FTA (5)

If the participants decide for the FTA, it may be done in two basic ways: first, ´on record´, implying only one communicative intention and making the message clear to all participants. Second, ´off record´, where what is being said may be interpreted ambiguously because the speaker wants to avoid direct imposition through not mentioning the obvious. But precisely this fact is what draws the attention and triggers the implied meaning. The ´on record´ statements can be further professed baldly (i. e. without mitigating devices) so as to be effective in the sense of Gricean Maxim of Cooperation. On the other hand, performing action redressively, employing positive or negative politeness strategies, shows consideration for the positive and negative face respectively. Sometimes, impersonalization through the use of passive, an apology for transgression or, reversely, stressing closeness and common ground, may soften the potential face-threat (ibid: 68-70).

The kind and amount of politeness is determined by the type of speech act and the circumstances in which it takes place. In realizing it, speakers need to take into account at least three social variables: the relative power between the hearer and the speaker, their social distance and the perceived ranking of the imposition caused by the speech act (ibid: 15). With all this in mind, the speaker is able to rationally estimate the potential threat and the risk he or she is about to run by deciding for particular strategy. Generally, the more dangerous the potential FTA, the higher probability there is for choosing a higher numbered strategy in the scheme suggested above (ibid: 73).

To perform socially acceptable behaviour thus requires much cultural sensitivity and awareness. According to Brown and Levinson, the above mentioned strategies and processes are universal across the world as the notion of face and rational choices among the strategies for its protection are central to all languages. They do admit, however, that their realizations differ greatly as the H-S relationship and the potential offensiveness of the message need always to be measured against culturally specific values.

For the same reason, as Sifianou (Sifianou, 1992: 8) verifies in her application of Brown and Levinson´s theoretical work, there is no support for the view that one nation is more polite than another – they only have different means for its expression and also different values attached to it. As to what they are in the English speaking environment will be dealt with in the next chapter.

3. Cultural values related to English speaking countries

The following chapters explore some aspects of the English speaking culture in more detail, although it remains clear that any such description is limiting and simplifying; particular feature becomes relevant only on the grounds of comparison with the features of some other culture, where visible become those features that differ. It follows that different comparisons generate different outcomes. Although this study is not primarily comparative, the following chapters point to important social dimensions and vales present in the culture and reflected in the politeness strategies employed.
3.1 Hofstede´s dimensions
The sociologist Hofstede reached very similar conclusions like Brown and Levinson, when he identified power and social distance as two of five main social factors influencing human interaction. His research proved that applying these variables on particular cultures shows significant differences among them, pointing to varying hierarchies of values in the societies (Hofstede, 1980: 16).

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