The University of Sussex

Relevance and politeness

Mark J. Jary

The aim of this dissertation is to re-examine Brown & Levinson's model of linguistic politeness in the light of Sperber & Wilson's relevance theory. In the first two sections I outline the two theories. In the third I take a close look at the politeness of imperatives and conclude that these are not inherently 'impolite', or face threatening. I argue that they are only seen as such if a speech-act account of utterance interpretation is employed. If Wilson & Sperber's proposal of the pragmatic interpretation of illocutionary force is applied, then the politeness of any utterance is determined by its content and the force assigned to it, not the structure chosen. In the penultimate section I re-examine Brown & Levinson's on-/off-record distinction and conclude that any difference that exists is quantitative rather than qualitative. Finally, I examine the proposal that the aim of 'polite forms' is to signal that the speaker is being polite and conclude that this is not the case. Rather, these forms are used to lessen the chance of misinterpretation.


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