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Politeness Principles


Language as a means of human communication is very interesting to learn. The science of studying language is called linguistics. In linguistics itself, there are many other branches of science. One of them is pragmatics. In general, pragmatics is the study of meaning based on context. (George Yule, 1996:3) It doesn't stop there, in pragmatics it also turns out to study many things. One of them is language politeness. Well, politeness is the main focus of this post. There are several experts who express their opinions about the concept of politeness. Brown and Levinson are the experts who introduced the concept of politeness strategy. 


Politeness Strategy 

The concept of politeness strategy was adapted by Brown and Levinson from the face concept introduced by Erving Goffman, a sociologist. According to Goffman, the face is a picture of self-image in agreed social attributes. This face can be interpreted as honor, self-esteem, and self-image in public (public self-image). 

So, face here is not defined as a yes face, but self-respect. We as social beings when interacting with others have the potential to injure or harm the self-esteem of others. These are called face-threatening acts (FTA). This act of attacking self-esteem or FTA has a relationship with language politeness. 

Why? Because when we attack someone's self-esteem, we will instinctively realize that our actions will harm others. So that we will also prepare politeness strategies when talking to other people by looking for ways so that our actions do not offend the interlocutor. The strategy we seek has levels. Brown and Levinson categorize them into 5 levels. Among others are: 

1. Bald-on record strategy (without strategy), this strategy is carried out by speakers by not making any effort to reduce the consequences of threatening. Alias ​​speaks openly. This strategy is usually done with people who are already familiar. An example of his utterance is hey, wake up! 

2. Negative politeness strategy, this strategy contains a low level of politeness. For example, when we wake up a roommate in a boarding house with the words, "Ven, wake up dong". The word Ven is a form of negative politeness. 

3. Positives politeness strategy, this strategy is used to show intimacy and is usually used to the interlocutor who is not known or to the interlocutor who is familiar but has a great need. For example, we will speak more politely to a college friend we don't know than to a friend we already know. 

4. off-record politeness strategy (indirect or disguised strategy), this strategy is realized in a sarcastic or disguised way. For example, we forget not to bring a pen when we are going to take the civil servant written exam, then we want to borrow it from the gentlemen next to us. We don't immediately say "You can borrow a pen", but say "Sorry, sir, do you have more pens?". 

5. Don't do FTA (do nothing), this strategy is the highest politeness strategy. In this strategy, we do not do anything that can interfere with self-esteem. 

For example, we are being invited by a lecturer on vacation, and suddenly on the way we want to pee. But we are silent, not daring to speak because we are very reluctant to ask to stop at a public toilet. So, the concept of politeness strategy offered by Brown and Levinson can be used to prevent or repair the damage caused by actions that attack self-esteem. Okay, now let's move on to the principle of politeness!


Politeness Principle

According to Leech (in Joan Cutting, 2002), there are six maxims in the politeness principle. The six principles are:

a.       The maxim of wisdom (tact), namely the principle that refers to reducing one's own benefits and maximizing the benefits of others. According to Leech, this type of maxim is the most important kind of politeness in society. (Joan Cutting, 2002: 419) Example: A: “Let's finish the fruit salad! There's still a lot inside, really."

B: "Wow, the fruit salad is really fresh, Mom."

The above statement shows that what A says maximizes profit for B.

b.      Generosity maxim, namely the principle that refers to minimizing benefits for oneself and maximizing self-sacrifice. (Joan Cutting, 2002: 49)

Example: Mother A: "Oops, I've run out of fried oil."

Mother B: “Just use my cooking oil, ma'am. I'll take it to the kitchen first."

The statement above shows that what Mrs. B said minimizes benefits for oneself and maximizes self-sacrifice, namely by offering and getting cooking oil.

c.       The maxim of acceptance, which is the principle that refers to minimizing belittling others and maximizing praise for others. (Joan Cutting, 2002:49)

For example, the speech "wow, your bread is delicious, ya" will be appreciated rather than the speech, "your bread is not good!".

d.      Modesty, namely the principle that refers to reducing self-praise and adding insults to oneself. (Joan Cutting, 2002:49)

Example: X: "You'll sing at the wedding, okay?" Y: “okay, but my voice is not good.”

From the maxim above, we can see that Y reduced self-praise and added insults to himself by calling his voice bad.

e.       The maxim of agreement, which is the principle that refers to reducing disagreement with others and increasing agreement with others. (Joan Cutting, 2002:50)

Example: X: “Wow, it feels like the day is going by really fast.” Y: “Yes, indeed!” From the maxims above, we can see that Y's statement is to apply the principle of agreement, namely by agreeing to what X said.

f.        Maxim of sympathy, namely the principle that refers to minimizing antipathy and maximizing sympathy for others. (Joan Cutting, 2002:50)

Example: A: “Next month my book will be published.” B: “Wow, congratulations! You are great!"

From the speech above, we can see that what B said applies the principle of sympathy, namely by congratulating A's success. So, that's it, guys, explanations of strategy and politeness principles. This knowledge is very important for anyone to know considering we are social creatures who interact with other people every day. 


A translation of this blog post:

Mari Mengenal Strategi Kesantunan dan Prinsip Kesantunan dalam Pragmatik | kumparan.com



Cutting, Joan. Pragmatics and Discourse. London: Routledge. 2002. 

Syahrin, Elvi. "Politeness Strategy as Pragmatic Competence in French Directive Speech Acts". Medan State University. 2008. 

Yule, George. pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1996.


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