Politeness strategy

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A politeness strategy is a strategy that is used to prevent a violation of the hearer's face.

Types of politeness strategies

In order to avoid FTAs or at least minimize a possible threat, speakers use various strategies:

On Record: Without Redressive Action/Baldly

If a person goes ‘on record’ when uttering an FTA, the intention is unambiguously expressed and therefore clear to all participants.

If one goes on record, one can express the FTA baldly, i.e. in most concise way possible to utter sth.

Example: “Please make coffee.”

On Record: With Redressive Action

If a person goes on record with redressive action, it means that he/she expresses an utterance while trying to counteract a possible face damage of the hearer. This way, the person uses politeness to soften the FTA.

With the help of positive politeness, the hearer’s positive face is ‘strengthened,’ as the speaker assures the hearer that he/she likes him/her.

Example: “Oh, you make such great coffee! Would you…?”

Negative politeness, by contrast, is oriented towards the hearer’s negative face, i.e. his/her potential threat of losing personal freedom of action. Therefore, the hearer shows respect for the hearer’s negative-face wants.

Example: “I’m sorry to bother you but… Would you mind making coffee?”

Off Record

If a person goes off record, there is more than one possible intention attributable to the speaker, i.e. he/she cannot be ‘blamed’ to have committed to a certain intention.

Example: “I’m so tired. A cup of coffee would help.”

Avoid FTA

If a person does not do an FTA, he/she might shy away from saying anything or might say something completely neutral without threatening the hearer's face.

Factors influencing the choice of FTA

According to Brown and Levinson, the choice of any one of the strategies mentioned above depends on certain factors, i.e.:

(i) the payoffs:

  • baldly on record: honesty, efficiency
  • positive politeness: solidarity, minimize FTA
  • negative politeness: maintain social distance
  • off record: tactfulness, avoid accountability


(ii) assumed social circumstances between H and S: distance (e.g. age), (social) power, absolute ranking of an imposition in a culture -> these factors contribute to the seriousness ('weightiness') of an FTA


  • Brown, Penelope and Stephen C. Levinson (1987 [1978]). Politeness: Some Universals in Laguage Usage. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Eeelen, Gino (2001). A Critique of Politeness Theories. Manchester: St Jerome.
  • Janney, Richard W. and Horst Arndt (1993). Universality and Relativity in Cross-cultural Politeness Research: A Historical Perspective. Multilingua 12.1: 13-50.
  • Locher, Mriam A. and Richard J. Watts (2005). Politeness Theory and Relational Work. Journal of Politeness Research 1.5: 9-33.
  • O’Driscoll, Jim (2007). What’s in an FTA? Reflections on a Chance Meeting with Claudine. Journal of Politeness Research 3.7: 243-268.