Testing Brown and Levinson's theory in a corpus of spontaneous conversational data from Cypriot Greek

Marina Terkourafi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In Brown and Levinson's politeness theory, every speech act is potentially face-threatening to an aspect of the hearer's or the speaker's face. Though imminent, face-threat is present in varying degrees, represented as the seriousness or weightiness (W) of FTAx. Interlocutors calculate this using the formula Wx = D(S, H) + P(H, S) + Rx, where D(S, H) represents the social distance between interlocutors, P(H, S) stands for the relative power of the hearer over the speaker, and Rx is the culturally and situationally specified ranking of the imposition entailed by FTAx. Picking up from previous research, which has raised several objections regarding the validity of these predictions, this paper has two objectives. First, to test whether the proposed definitions of D, P and Rx are "operationalizable": can a consistent way of assessing the values of these variables across situations be established for Cypriot Greek, such that interlocutors may plausibly appeal to these dimensions rather than to any others in making decisions about politeness? A second, related objective is to test the psychological plausibility of the theory: do interlocutors indeed engage in the amount of cognitive processing implied by postulating a level of assumptions about D, P and Rx which mediates between perception of the situation and politeness assessments? Tested against a corpus of spontaneous conversational data from Cypriot Greek, both assumptions appear problematic. Rather, directly linking perception of the situation to politeness assessments should be preferred on grounds of both parsimony and psychological plausibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-134
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Language
Issue number168
StatePublished - Dec 1 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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