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The Principles of Politeness and Social Deixis

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2005 13 Seiten

Anglistik - Linguistik


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The different categories of deixis
2.1. Local deixis
2.2. Temporal deixis
2.3. Person deixis
2.4. Discourse deixis
2.5. Situation deixis
2.6. Social deixis

3. The principles of conversation
3.1. Politeness
3.2. Face
3.2.1. Face threatening acts (FTAs)
3.2.2. The strategies of face threatening acts

4. About the connection between social deixis and politeness

5. Conclusion


6. Works Cited

1. Introduction

„Have a look over there! You will have to do that next week.“

If we wanted to follow and to join this conversation, we would need to know different pieces of information from the extralinguistic context: Where and when did the action take place? And finally, who are the speaker and the addressee?

The tokens “there”, “you”, “that”, and “next week” can be described as deictic expressions or – for short – deictics (THOMAS 1995: 9).

The term “deictic expression” comes from the Greek word deiktikós (“pointing at”) (BUßMANN 2002: 149). Lyons defines deixis to be “the location and identification of persons, objects, events, processes, and activities being talked about, or referred to, in relation to the spatiotemporal context created and sustained by the act of utterance and the participation in it, typically, of a single speaker and at least one addressee” (JARVELLA / KLEIN 1982: 35).

We are frequently faced with deictic expressions in everyday-language – whether consciously or unconsciously – in the way that we refer to persons, places, times, and various different other things. Thereby, we would receive a demand such as “Do this!” or “Keep out!” as much more rude and aggressive than a – more politely – demand such as “Would you mind to do this?” or “Please, do not disturb”. Obviously, we are able to feel the delicate differences between both demands while speaking and we seem to be able to make adequate use of these differences. Why is that so? Why do we receive two demands with quite the same content in different ways? What are these differences like, how are they received, and which advantages does a speaker gain from either using the one expression or the other?

It seems that deixis and politeness are connected in a way and that the use of different deictic expressions also has different effects on the politeness expressed through these deictic expressions. Insofar, it can be stated that we are just on the interface between deixis and politeness.

My aims are to find answers to the questions above, to give an overview of the prevailing politeness principles, and to draw a connection to social deixis in particular. I will first organize the different categories of deixis and then concentrate on the politeness principles developed by Brown and Levinson.

2. The different categories of deixis

Interestingly, our present knowledge of deixis seems to be still fragmentary: According to Weissenborn and Klein, one reason for that may have to do with the fact that “deixis is the domain par excellence where language and reality meet” (1982: 3). Levinson depicts deixis to “essentially concern the ways in which languages encode or grammaticalize features of the context of utterance or speech event, and thus to concern ways in which the interpretation of utterances depends on the analysis of that context of utterance” (1983: 54).

There are three traditional categories of deixis: place, time, and person (LEVINSON 1983: 62). The predominant literature provides another four categories that will be considered as well: discourse deixis,situation deixis,empathetic deixis, and social deixis. As this paper mainly focusses on politeness principles and their connection to social deixis, I reduce myself in the following to a brief overview of the different categories of deixis and will then introduce the acknowledged model of politeness principles by Brown and Levinson.

2.1. Local deixis

Local deixis denotes locations regarding the speaker, the addressee or third parties, whereby two modes of reference are possible (ERNST 2002: 50):

- “absolutely with regard to a standardized measuring system (e.g. degrees of latitude or longitude)” (2002:50)
- “relatively with regard to something named”:

e.g. “the restaurant is 300 meters away from the town hall”; this is always the case, independent from the location of the speaker), while “Give me the screwdriver on your left” is relative to the speaker / hearer (2002: 50).

Pure place-deictic English words are the adverbs here and there, and the demonstrative pronouns this and that (LEVINSON 1983: 79).

An interesting phenomenon in that context is what is called empathetic deixis. Empathetic deixis describes “the metaphorical use of deictic forms to indicate emotional or other psychological ‘distance’ or ‘proximity’ between a speaker and a referent” (LEVINSON 1983: 81). That is the case with a shift from that to this to show empathy, and from this to that to show emotional distance (1983: 79).

Local deixis is sometimes also referred to as space deixis,place deixis, or spatial deixis.

2.2. Temporal deixis

As it is similar to local deixis, temporal deixis (also referred to as time deixis) is complicated by the fact that there is an “interaction of deictic co-ordinates with the non-deictic conceptualization of time (and – as far as local deixis is concerned – of place)” (LEVINSON 1983: 73). Hereby, calendrical units and non-calendrical units interact with temporal deixis (LEVINSON 1983: 73). Another important fact in context of this category is the distinction between the so-called coding time (CT) and receiving time (RT). Coding time describes the moment of the utterance or inscription, while receiving time denotes the moment of reception (LEVINSON 1983: 73; ERNST 2002: 54).

As a rule, we may assume that the “deictic details match with the non-deictic time window” (ERNST 2002: 54); in other words, “RT can be assumed to be identical to CT” (LEVINSON 1983: 73). Temporal deixis is represented by words such as today,last Wednesday,while chewing,now,then,tomorrow, and yesterday etc. (LEVINSON 1983: 73 - 75).

2.3. Person deixis

In Stephen C. Levinson’s words, person deixis (also referred to as personal deixis) “concerns the encoding of the role of participants in the speech event in which the utterance in question is delivered” (1983: 62). Furthermore, the basic grammatical distinctions are the categories of first, second and third person (1983: 69) and person deixis is reflected in deictical expressions such as I,you,they,him,her,them etc. (1983: 68 – 72). Furthermore, a distinction between speaker,addressee,audience, as well as overhearers, and unratified vs. ratified participants[1] is necessary (1983: 72).

Shopen states that, more specifically, “person deictics may reflect, whether speaker and addressee, speaker and third party, or addressee and third party are of the same or different social rank, sex, or age group. Such information may then be reflected not only in the choice of first, second or third person deictics, but as well in the title of address or in the use (or non-use) of particles or affixes indicating respect or deference (‘honorifics’), or even be reflected in the choice of vocabulary used.” (1985: 270).


[1] i.e. those who are addressees and non-addressed participants (1983: 72)


ISBN (eBook)
583 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität zu Köln
Principles Politeness Social Deixis Pragmatics Speech Theory



Titel: The Principles of Politeness and Social Deixis