In most theoretical discussions, politeness is analyzed at the level of the individual. However, some analysts also study the politeness styles of cultures or language groups (English, Japanese) or sub-cultural groups such as women or working class people. The same model of analysis is used for this wider social analysis of politeness. I feel that I need to consider the difference of politeness at this wider social level and recognize that different issues are salient. There have been a amount of books and topics (Truss, 2005; Lakoff, 2006) newly which have drawn attention to changes which are perceived to be taking place in politeness at a social level. Although these works focus on politeness in the UK and the US, the way in which they describe perceptions about social change in relation to politeness is more generally valid in relation to other languages. In this essay, I will take issue with these theorists, not to argue that changes are not in fact taking place, but rather to argue that the perceptions of these changes are based on stereotypical and ideological thinking. The politeness which is described in such books is that which is stereotypically associated with particular sections of the community. Much of the theorizing of politeness has centered on the analysis of the speech of individual interact ants and has usually focused on interaction between two people (Brown and Levinson, 1978, 1987; Watts, 2003). There has been a quite easy slippage between analyzing and theorizing the relational work between two (often rather abstracted) people and making generalizations about politeness cross culturally.
I claim that it is very difficult to make these affirmations about whole cultures inclining towards either positive or negative politeness, mainly if we endure in mind that positive and negative politeness do not have the same purpose or meaning in different cultures (see e.g. Gu, 1990). Politeness at the level of the individual can be generally analyzed through investigation of the types of decision which are made about suitably within community of practice norms, whereas declarations about politeness at a social level are mainly informed by typecast and conventional fears about, or Traditionalist longing in relation to, social alteration in general. Thus, in this essay, I will focus originally on the work of Truss (2005) and Lakoff (2006) on civility and politeness at a cultural level in order to prove the way that theorists often draw on conventional knowledge about cultures when they debate the linguistic practices of those cultures.
Contested nature of politeness within cultures
Inside all cultures, there is not one only set of politeness rules which is accepted. If you accept that there are simple rules for politeness inside a culture, you can clearly form simplistic views on the way politeness works. For example, let us observe the way in which some experts of English and Chinese politeness describe these languages. Wierzbicka (2003) comments that English “abhors interference in other peoples’ affairs” (xv), which suggests that Britain is a ‘negative politeness culture’. Tsuzuki et al. (2005: 283) reach the conclusion that Chinese society is more “positive-politeness-oriented than American society”. But which group of English/American and Chinese people are they describing? Now we are not suggesting that this means that there is nothing that can be said about politeness across cultures, but perhaps that what can be said about politeness at this social level is much more complex. Regional differences in a culture: Blunt Yorkshiremen vs. soft Southerners, ‘heroic’ Southern Chinese.
As Mills (2004) has argued, it is difficult to assume that there are norms which will always be recognized by all as appropriate. There seem to be stereotypical notions of what is appropriate or what is polite, depending on the class or social level that we assume a speaker belongs to. Regularly, conservative obliqueness used by a speaker who belongs to a higher social class might be understood as excessively customary by someone from a ‘lower’ class, and positive politeness or companionship usage by a lower class speaker to a higher class listener might be understood as overly familiar in surely contexts where reverence is expected. Brown and Levinson (1978) say, in their analyses of cultural differences, that subcultural differences can be seized … governed groups have positive politeness cultures; governing groups have negative politeness cultures. That is, the world of the upper and middle groups is built in a stern and cold architecture of social expanse, a proportion and bitterness of impositions, while the world of the lower groups is built on social closeness, symmetrical solidarity and reciprocity (Brown and Levinson, 1978: 250).

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