Changes in politeness cultures

Andreas H. Jucker

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of English

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199922765
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Changes in politeness cultures

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  • Linguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics
  • Sociolinguistics


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The 1970s and 1980s saw the emergence of more systematic research on politeness, led by the pioneering studies of Geoffrey N. Leech (1983) and Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson (1987). In their research, Brown and Levinson used Erving Goffman’s (1974) notion of face as a starting point and conceptualized politeness as a means to mitigate face threats and to maintain face in everyday interactions. Criticisms aside, Brown and Levinson’s theory became the most influential approach to politeness. Richard J. Watts, Sachiko Ide, and Konrad Ehlich (1992) identified two levels of politeness: first-order politeness, which corresponds to the various ways in which polite behavior is perceived and talked about by members of socio-cultural groups, and second-order politeness, a theoretical construct within a theory of social behavior and language usage. This article provides an overview of politeness in the history of the English language, focusing on politeness-related terms such as politeness, graciousness, courtesy, tact, and civility.

Keywords: politeness; history; English; graciousness; courtesy; tact; civility; Penelope Brown; Stephen C. Levinson; language usage; linguistics; socio-cultural processes

Article.  5034 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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