Positive Face Threatening Acts

Positive face is threatened when the speaker or hearer does not care about their interactor’s feelings, wants, or does not want what the other wants. Positive face threatening acts can also cause damage to the speaker or the hearer. When an individual is forced to be separated from others so that their well being is treated less importantly, positive face is threatened.

Damage to the Hearer

v An act that expresses the speaker’s negative assessment of the hearer’s positive face or an element of his/her positive face. The speaker can display this disapproval in two ways. The first approach is for the speaker to directly or indirectly indicate that he dislikes some aspect of the hearer’s possessions, desires, or personal attributes. The second approach is for the speaker to express disapproval by stating or implying that the hearer is wrong, irrational, or misguided: expressions of disapproval (e.g. insults, accusations, complaints), contradictions, disagreements, or challenges.

v An act that expresses the speaker’s indifference toward the addressee’s positive face.

v The addressee might be embarrassed for or fear the speaker: excessively emotional expressions.

v The speaker indicates that he doesn’t have the same values or fears as the hearer: disrespect, mention of topics which are inappropriate in general or in the context.

v The speaker indicates that he is willing to disregard the emotional well being of the hearer: belittling or boasting.

v The speaker increases the possibility that a face-threatening act will occur. This situation is created when a topic is brought up by the speaker that is a sensitive societal subject: topics that relate to politics, race, religion.

v The speaker indicates that he is indifferent to the positive face wants of the hearer. This is most often expressed in obvious non-cooperative behavior: interrupting, non-sequiturs.

v The speaker misidentifies the hearer in an offensive or embarrassing way. This may occur either accidentally or intentionally. Generally, this refers to the misuse of address terms in relation to status, gender, or age: addressing a young woman as "ma’am" instead of "miss."

Damage to the Speaker

Ø An act that shows that the speaker is in some sense wrong, and unable to control himself.

Ø Apologies: In this act, speaker is damaging his own face by admitting that he regrets one of his previous acts.

Ø Acceptance of a compliment.

Ø Inability to control one’s physical self.

Ø Inability to control one’s emotional self.

Ø Self-humiliation.

Ø Confessions.

Politeness Strategies

Politeness strategies are used to formulate messages in order to save the hearer’s face when face-threatening acts are inevitable or desired. Brown and Levinson outline four main types of politeness strategies: bald on-record, negative politeness, positive politeness, and off-record (indirect).

Bald On-record

Bald on-record strategies usually do not attempt to minimize the threat to the hearer’s face, although there are ways that bald on-record politeness can be used in trying to minimze FTAs implicitly. Often using such a strategy will shock or embarrass the addressee, and so this strategy is most often utilized in situations where the speaker has a close relationship with the audience, such as family or close friends. Brown and Levinson outline various cases in which one might use the bald on-record strategy, including:

· Instances in which threat minimizing does not occur

· Great urgency or desperation

Watch out!

· Speaking as if great efficiency is necessary

Hear me out:...

· Task-oriented

Pass me the hammer.

· Little or no desire to maintain someone's face

Don't forget to clean the blinds!

· Doing the FTA is in the interest of the hearer

Your headlights are on!

· Instances in which the threat is minimized implicitly

· Welcomes

Come in.

· Offers

Leave it, I'll clean up later.


Positive Politeness

Positive politeness strategies seek to minimize the threat to the hearer’s positive face. They are used to make the hearer feel good about himself, his interests or possessions, and are most usually used in situations where the audience knows each other fairly well [7]. In addition to hedging and attempts to avoid conflict, some strategies of positive politeness include statements of friendship, solidarity, compliments, and the following examples from Brown and Levinson [2]:

ü Attend to H’s interests, needs, wants

You look sad. Can I do anything?

ü Use solidarity in-group identity markers

Heh, mate, can you lend me a dollar?

ü Be optimistic

I’ll just come along, if you don’t mind.

ü Include both speaker (S) and hearer (H) in activity

If we help each other, I guess, we’ll both sink or swim in this course.

ü Offer or promise

If you wash the dishes, I’ll vacuum the floor.

ü Exaggerate interest in H and his interests

That’s a nice haircut you got; where did you get it?

ü Avoid disagreement

Yes, it’s rather long; not short certainly.

ü Joke

Wow, that’s a whopper!

Negative Politeness

Negative politeness strategies are oriented towards the hearer’s negative face and emphasize avoidance of imposition on the hearer. These strategies presume that the speaker will be imposing on the listener and there is a higher potential for awkwardness or embarrassment than in bald on record strategies and positive politeness strategies. Negative face is the desire to remain autonomous so the speaker is more apt to include an out for the listener, through distancing styles like apologies [7]. Examples from Brown and Levinson include [2]:

^ Be indirect

Would you know where Oxford Street is?

^ Use hedges or questions

Perhaps, he might have taken it, maybe.

Could you please pass the rice?

^ Be pessimistic

You couldn’t find your way to lending me a thousand dollars, could you?

^ Minimize the imposition

It’s not too much out of your way, just a couple of blocks.

^ Use obviating structures, like nominalizations, passives, or statements of general rules

I hope offense will not be taken.

Visitors sign the ledger.

Spitting will not be tolerated.

^ Apologize

I’m sorry; it’s a lot to ask, but can you lend me a thousand dollars?

^ Use plural pronouns

We regret to inform you.

Favor seeking, or a speaker asking the hearer for a favor, is a common example of negative politeness strategies in use. R. Carter and M. MacCarthy observe three main stages in favor-seeking: the preparatory phase, the focal phase, and the final phase [3]:

1. The preparatory phase is when the favor-seeking is preceded by elaborate precautions against loss of face to both sides. It often involves signals of openings and markers to be used to clarify the situation (e.g. ‘You see,’ or ‘so,’). The request is often softened, made less direct, and imposing (e.g. past continuous ‘I was wondering’; informal tag ‘What d’you reckon?). The speaker must also reduce his own self-importance in the matter and exaggerate the hearer’s (down-scaling compliments).

2. The focal stage is subdivided into elements such as asker’s reasons or constraints (e.g. ‘I’ve tried everywhere but can’t get one’), the other’s face (e.g. ‘You’re the only person I can turn to’), and more.

3. The third stage is the final stage which consists of anticipatory thanks, promises, and compliments (e.g. ‘I knew you would say yes. You’re an angel.’).

An example that is given by McCarthy and Carter is the following dialogue from the Australian television soap opera, "Neighbours":

Clarrie: So I said to him, forget your books for one night, throw a party next weekend.

Helen: A party at number 30! What will Dorothy say about that?

Clarrie: Well, what she doesn't know won't hurt her. Of course, I'll be keeping my eye on things, and (SIGNAL OF OPENING) that brings me to my next problem. (EXPLAIN PROBLEM) You see, these young people, they don't want an old codger like me poking my nose in, so I'll make myself scarce, but I still need to be closer to hand, you see. So, (ASK FAVOR) I was wondering, would it be all right if I came over here on the night? What d'you reckon?

Helen: Oh, Clarrie, I...

Clarrie: Oh (MINIMIZATION) I'd be no bother. (REINFORCE EXPLANATION) It'd mean a heck of a lot to those kids.

Helen: All right.

Clarrie: (THANK WITH BOOST) I knew you'd say yes. You're an angel, Helen.

Helen: Ha! (laughs)

All of this is done in attempt to avoid a great deal of imposition on the hearer and is concerned with proceeding towards a goal in the smoothest way and with sensitivity to one’s interlocutors. English (‘Excuse me, sir, could you please close the window’) is associated with the avoidance or downplaying of an imposition; the more we feel we might be imposing, the more deferential we might be [7]. It is clearly a strategy for negative politeness and the redressing of a threat to negative face, through things like favor-seeking.

Off-Record (Indirect)

The final politeness strategy outlined by Brown and Levinson is the indirect strategy. This strategy uses indirect language and removes the speaker from the potential to be imposing. For example, a speaker using the indirect strategy might merely say: “Wow, it’s getting cold in here” insinuating that it would be nice if the listener would get up and turn up the thermostat without directly asking the listener to do so.

Choice of Strategy

Paul Grice argues that all conversationalists are rational beings who are primarily interested in the efficient conveying of messages [9]. Brown and Levinson use this argument in their politeness theory by saying that rational agents will choose the same politeness strategy as any other would under the same circumstances to try to mitigate face. They show the available range of verbal politeness strategies to redress loss of face. FTAs have the ability to mutually threaten face, therefore rational agents seek to avoid FTAs or will try to use certain strategies to minimize the threat.

Speaker (S) will weigh [2]:

1. the want to communicate the content of the FTA in question;

2. the want to be efficient or urgent;

3. the want to maintain H's face to any degree.

In most cooperative circumstances where 3. is greater than 2., S will want to minimize the FTA.

The greater potential for loss of face requires greater redressive action. If the potential for loss of face is too great, the speaker may make the decision to abandon the FTA completely and say nothing.

The number next to each strategy corresponds to the danger-level of the particular FTA. The more dangerous the particular FTA is, the more S will tend to use a higher numbered strategy.

1. No Redressive Action

v Bald On-Record leaves no way for H to minimize the FTA

2. Positive Redressive Action

v S satisfies a wide range of H’s desires not necessarily related to the FTA

§ Shows interest in H

§ Claims common ground with H

§ Seeks agreement

§ Gives sympathy

3. Negative Redressive Action

v S satisfies H’s desires to be unimpeded - the want that is directly challenged by the FTA

§ Be conventionally indirect

§ Minimize imposition on H

§ Beg forgiveness

§ Give deference

v This implies that the matter is important enough for S to disturb H

4. Off-Record

v S has the opportunity to evade responsibility by claiming that H’s interpretation of the utterance as a FTA is wrong

5. Don't do the FTA