Politeness can be understood as a social phenomenon, a means to achieve good interpersonal relationships, and a noun imposed by social conventions. So it is phenomenal, instrumental and normative by nature. Politeness is universal, which is interpretable in various ways, i.e. it can be observed as a phenomenon in all cultures, it is resorted to by speakers of different language as a means to an end and it is recognized as a norm in all societies.
Despite its universality the actual manifestations of politeness, and the standards of judgement differ in different cultures, which can be traced to the origin of the notion of politeness in different cultures.
Pragmatics refers to the study of how speakers of a language use sentences to effect successful communication. Pragmatics is a comparatively new branch of study in the area of linguistics; its development and establishment in the 1960s and 1970s resulted mainly from the expansion of the study of linguistics, especially that of semantics. (Dai Weidong, 2002)
PP is one of the Pragmatic theories. Geoffrey Leech once put it that far from being a superficial matter of “being civil”, politeness is an important missing link between the CP and the problem of how to relate sense to force. He defines politeness as forms of behaviour that establish and maintain comity. That is the ability of participants in a social interaction to engage in interaction in an atmosphere of relative harmony. According to Geoffrey Leech’s maxim “Be polite”, there are
three rules of politeness (or rapport) or politeness strategies (Lakoff, 1990:35)
(1) Don’t impose (Distance)
(2) Give options (Deference)
(3) Be friendly (Camaraderie).
Leech formulated the Politeness Principle in both positive and negative forms (ibid., 81)
(1)Maximize (other things being equal) the expression of polite beliefs
(2) Minimize (other things being equal) the expression of impolite beliefs.
Under the two general requirements, Leech lists six specific maxims:
(1) Tact Maxim
Grice is aware that speakers do not always follow these maxims. In fact they often violate them and thus produce some implicature. However, the Cooperative Principle is not enough to explain how people talk. It can only explain how the implicature is produced, but not why people produce so many indirect utterances. Then, the Politeness Principle is created. On the whole, it can be defined as “try to use more polite expressions” or “try to lessen the impolite expression”.
Another influential theory concerning politeness is Leech’s Politeness Principle. Leech places PP as a member of a set of principles which he called Interpersonal Rhetoric; other important principles within Interpersonal Rhetoric include the Co-operative Principle and the Irony Principle. These principles, together with other principles within Textual Rhetoric, socially constrain communicative behavior in various ways; they do not provide the main motivation for talking, but serve as regulative factors to ensure that once conversation is under way, it will not follow a fruitless or disruptive path. Instead of basing his theory on the notion of face, Leech patterns on Grice’s CP and divides the PP into a number of maxims, i.e. Tact Maxim,
Generosity Maxim, Approbation Maxim, Modesty Maxim, Agreement Maxim, and Sympathy Maxim.
Leech distinguishes self and other; the relationship of these two parties is the concern of politeness. To act on the maxims he has specified, the participants of conversation should minimize cost to other and maximize benefic to other (or maximize cost to self and minimize benefit to self). Minimize dispraise of other and maximize praise of other, minimize praise of self and maximize dispraise of self, maximize disagreement between self and other and maximize agreement between self and other, minimize antipathy between self and other, and maximize sympathy between self and other.
Politeness can be realized in a number of ways, among which the use of language is an important one. With the development of pragmatics in the past thirty years or so, more and more attention has been paid to the ways in which language is used to show politeness and also the difference between different languages and cultures.