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Politeness Theory, Cultural Approaches

Hairong Feng
Published 2015 · Psychology

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Politeness theory maintains the universality of an individual's positive and negative face wants in all cultures. During everyday interaction, individuals often perform actions that threaten face. They therefore use politeness strategies to mitigate face threats. This position of politeness theory is challenged at two cultural levels. From a cross-cultural perspective, East Asian politeness scholars challenge the conceptualization and universality of face in politeness theory. They argue that face is more relational and interdependent in East Asia, by comparison to the more independent nature of face in the West. This essential difference in the conceptualization of face leads to variations in the degree to which a speech act threatens face and in the motivation to use politeness. Within a single culture, Brown and Levinson's politeness model is viewed as relatively instrumental and strategic at an individual level—it describes how an individual chooses politeness strategies in order to mitigate face threats. But recent work contends that politeness must be examined at a cultural level, as it requires consideration of cultural, social, and contextual factors within a community of practice. Keywords: culture; face; politeness; politeness theory; Basic assumptions of politeness theory
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