Politeness and Saying
to save one's face: also to save face; to
lose face [tr. Chinese tiue lien]: to be
humiliated, lose one's credit, good name,
or reputation; similarly, loss of face. Hence
face = reputation, good name.
• (OED online)
Face in sociology
Chinese notion of face appropriated by
sociolinguist Erving Goffman (1967, i.a.)
and re-characterized as:
• "the positive social value a person
effectively claims for himself by the line
[stance; attitude] others assume he has
taken during a particular contact"
• an image of self, delineated in terms of
approved social attributes
Positive and Negative Face
Brown and Levinson (1978) distinguish:
• Positive face: positive self-image or
– may include solidarity between participants
• Negative face: the basic claim to
territories, personal preserves, rights to
non-distraction -- i.e., to freedom of action
and freedom from imposition
Violations of Face
• Positive face violations: calling
somebody fat, not inviting someone to
your party, implying that somebody is
stupid or incompetent
• Negative face violations: stepping on
somebody's toes, taking their time or
money, occupying their space, preventing
them from passing by
Positive and negative politeness
• Positive politeness: acts of saving or
protecting the hearer's positive face
• Negative politeness: acts of saving or
protecting the hearer's negative face
Indirect speech acts
• Which one does more to save the
addressee's negative face?
1) Could you pass the salt?
2) Pass the salt.
• Is there a difference in positive
Imperatives and politeness
Imagine that your classmate wants to
come to a party that you are hosting.
Which is more polite?
1) Can you come to the party?
2) Come to the party!
Think about positive vs. negative politeness.
Indirect speech acts
• Which is more polite, B or B'?
A: How about going to the movies tonight?
B': I can't, I have to study.
A speaker typically does not just say,
[Okay,] “Bye,” and walk away; rather, most
speakers go through a fairly regular
routine of first signaling to the other that
the conversation is ending and only then
adding a concluding salutation.
Face-threatening nature of
ending a conversation
By moving to end a conversation, one
risks a chain of interpretations leading to a
negative conclusion about the other.
Moving to end a conversation may be
interpreted to mean that one does not wish
for the conversation to continue. This in
turn risks the implication that the company
of the other is not being enjoyed, which
then could imply that the interlocutor is
boring, for example, or annoying.
Insights from Goffman (1967):
When a person begins a mediated or
immediate encounter, he already stands in
some kind of social relationship to the
others concerned, and expect to stand in a
given relationship to them after the
particular encounter ends. This, of course,
is one of the ways in which social contacts
are geared into the wider society.
Much of the activity occuring during an
encounter can be understood as an effort
on everyone’s part to get through the
occasion and all the unanticipated and
unintentional events that can cast
participants in an undesirable light, without
disrupting the relationships of the partici-
pants. And if relationship are in the
process of change, the object will be to
bring the encounter to a satisfactory close
without altering the expected course of
This perspective nicely accounts, for
example, for the little ceremonies of
greeting and farewell which occur when
people begin a conversational encounter
or depart from one. Greetings provide a
way of showing that a relationship is still
what it was at the termination of the
previous coparticipation... Farewells sum
up the effect of the encounter upon the
relationship and show what the
participants may expect of one another
when they next meet.
The enthusiasm of greetings compensates
for the weakening of the relationship
caused by the absence just terminated,
while the enthusiasm of farewells
compensates the relationship for the harm
that is about to be done to it by separation.
Greetings, of course, serve to clarify and
fix the roles that the participants will take
during the occasion of talk and to commit
participants to these roles, while farewells
provide a way of unambiguously
terminating the encounter.
Greetings and farewells may also be used
to state, and apologize for, extenuating
circumstances – in the case of greetings
for circumnstances that have kept the
participants from interacting until now, and
in the case of farewells for circumstances
that prevent the participants from
continuing their display of solidarity.
Closing section (S&S 1973)
• (Topic boundary)
• Proper Initiation
• Optional other stuff, e.g.,
– Making arrangements
– Reinvocation of things discussed earlier
– Explaining the reason for the conversation
– Saying “thank you”
• Terminal Exchange
A: So, uh.
A: Well, that's probably all we need to do today.
B: So long.
A: Thanks a lot.
• Not all sequences “Okay” / “Okay” are
• They’re pre-closings only if they occur
after a topic boundary.
(Schegloff & Sacks 1973)
Positive face-saving strategies
• The Positive Comment
• The Excuse
• The Imperative to End
• General Wish
• External positive comment
• Dispreference markers
• Use of names
Source: Switchboard corpus
• Strangers were paid a small amount to
have a roughly 5-minute conversation on a
given topic (e.g. "sports" or "gardening")
with another stranger.
• Jacob Bien and I studied 70 of these
conversations, attempting to classify each
line of the dialogue.
Pros & Cons of Switchboard
• Uniformity • Less variety
• Strangers => • Strangers => Few
Politeness (sincere) Plans
• Time limit => • The time limit is an
uniform quantity of easy justification for
Absent in Switchboard:
• [At the beginning]:
Sorry to bother you, were you sleeping?
• [As the conversation is winding down]:
Oh, by the way, I wanted to tell you…
• [Just before saying “bye-bye”]:
Tell Lucy “hi” for me.
The Positive Comment
• Great talking to you.
• I’d better get back to my dorm before…
• I actually have to get going now…
• I’d better go get some work done… I’m so
behind in IHUM reading!
• My roommate told me to be back before
six, so I actually better get going…
The Imperative to End
• I guess our time's about up
• <Laughter> I guess we're supposed to say
good-bye or something …
• [And] we’ll talk another time perhaps.
• [and] maybe we’ll get on line again
• [and] maybe we’ll meet up again some
• (Ron,) (we’ll) see you (later)
• Talk to you on the next go around
• We'll see how our predictions come true.
The General Wish
• Good luck with that problem set!
• Don’t let that chem final worry you. I’m
sure you’ll do fine.
• Good luck finding his office!
The External Positive Comment
• And, uh, let’s hear it for the summertime…
• But, uh, this is a great project they’re
B: Think we've talked long enough?
A: I think so <laughter>.
B: <Laughter> All right.
A: Well, I've enjoyed talking to you.
B: [ [ I, + I, ] + I ] have talked long enough.
A: Okay <laughter>.
A: Thanks. B: Thank you.
A: Bye. B: Good-bye.
• Ron, we’ll see you later.
• Thanks, Sherry.
• The Blame
• The Promise
• The Summary
• Goal completion
• The Loss for Words
• Thanks for the Conversation
• I better let you get going.
• Well, I shouldn’t keep you any longer… I
know you’re so busy.
• I should probably let you get dinner.
• I’ll call you soon.
• Let’s get lunch sometime.
• I’ll talk to you soon.
• Okay, I guess that’s most of my, um,
financial plans right now. [… Mine too.]
• Well, it sounds like we're doing our part
and at least starting, [to recycle]
• But, uh, [ as, + as ] far as that goes, [ I, +
we ] at least agree on what we enjoy.
• [Well] I think we’ve done it.
• [Well] I think we’re about done.
• I guess our five minutes are up according
to my watch.
• Surely we’ve made it.
The Loss for Words
• I can’t think of anything else.
• That’s about as much as we can do with
• I guess [this, + the ] weather isn’t as lively
a topic [ as, + uh, as ] some of the others
we might have gotten.
• [Well] that’s about all I …
Thank you for the Conversation
• [Well] thank you.
• [and] thank you for calling
• Thanks for your time.
• [Well] thanks a lot
• Thanks, Sherry.
• [and] thanks for participating