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An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

An Analysis of
Politeness Principles
being Practiced in

Fizza Akram
Myra Faisal
Rushmah Saleem

Submitted to:
Rukaiza Khan
An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

This paper presents an implementation of different politeness theories, in Pakistani society,

depicted by the media. And a review of research, done in the past on the politeness phenomena in

other countries. For this purpose, a speech and a movie are analyzed in this paper, in relation to

Brown and Levinson’s politeness strategy and Leech’s politeness theory. The data is collected by

note taking and then analyzed under the before mentioned theories. The paper also addresses the

problems that limit the scope of these theories thus benefitting the analysts in the field of

pragmatics, conversational analysis and communication studies.

This research work shows how different politeness theories are being practiced in the Pakistani

society. As media demonstrates the reality and insight of a society, the paper focuses on reviewing

and demonstrating how the politeness principles are being used in our media industry. For this

purpose, the authors have taken into consideration Imran Khan’s first address to the Nation as a

Prime Minister on August 19th,2018 and the 2017 Pakistani movie “Rangreza” directed by Amir

Mohiuddin and written by Akhtar Qayyum.

The paper reviews Imran Khan’s address under Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory and

the movie “Rangreza” under Leech’s theory of pragmatics and politeness.

According to definition politeness is a behavior that is respectful and considerate to other

people1 whereas, pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics and semiotics that studies the ways in which

Google dictionary
An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

context contributes to meaning2. However, both, Leech and Levinson have their own definitions

and theories of politeness and pragmatics.

Brown and Levinson’s theory (1987, p. 1) deals with politeness “as a complex system for

softening face threats”. They have based their own definition of politeness on ‘face theory’ which

is originally seeded by Goffman (1967). Whereas, Leech (1983, p. 19) views politeness as

“strategic conflict avoidance that can be measured in terms of the degree of effort put into the

avoidance of a conflict situation”.

In relation to pragmatics, Leech (1983: 10) states that “Pragmatics can be usefully defined as the

study of how utterances have meaning in situation”. While, according to Levinson (1983: 24),

pragmatics is the study of ability of language users to pair sentences with the contexts in which

they would be appropriate. Viewing the statements given by Levinson and Leech it can be seen

that pragmatics is a study which tries to understand meaning of utterances by looking at the

situation when the utterances happen3. Pragmatics talks about the meaning of emotions or it can

be defined as the study of speaker’s meaning. The speaker and the hearer can use their background

knowledge to easily understand every utterance they produce.

Although politeness has been studied by many individuals belonging to different cultures for

many years, yet the theories of ‘Brown and Levinson’ and Leech have become very influential.

However, both these theories had to face some disagreement within academia as they had some

shortcomings, for instance both these theories don’t cover the aspects of universalism and cross-

Wikepedia 12 April,2019
politeness principle analysis in cartoon movie entitled
stand by me doraemon by Eko Mulyono (April 2016)
An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

cultural communication. These shortcomings and suggestions to overcome them have also been

discussed in this paper.

Literature Review:
The paper titled “A Critique of Politeness” by Fareed H. Al-Hindawi published in Theory and

Practice in Language Studies, Vol. 6, No. 8, pp. 1537-1545, August 2016. The research was

conducted to point out the shortcomings and defects of different theoretical and pragmatic models

of politeness4. In the paper the author has reviewed all the politeness theories given by Brown and

Levinson, Leech and Lakoff. It is a descriptive qualitative study. He compared all the theories and

presented a critique of those theories. The paper used note taking method for data collection. The

result of the research showed that there are many shortcomings in the politeness theories being

used, which lessen their efficiency in the analysis of interactive communication.

The paper titled “A study of apology as a politeness style in sitcoms: Implications for Language

Teaching and Learning” by Reza Abdi published in English Language Teaching Vol. 1, No. 3,

pp.37-57, 2014. The research focuses on the impact of apologies as a politeness technique in

interpersonal relationships and communication. The study investigated the apology exchanges

used in popular English situation comedy (sitcom) namely Simpsons. .5 The findings of this study

have implications for L2 learners, helping them become more aware of cultural differences and

thus apologizing more effectively

The paper titled “A Corpus Study of Politeness Principle in Desperate Housewife” published

in Theory and Practice in Language Studies, Vol. 3, No. 11, pp. 1969-1974, November 2013. The

A critique of politeness theories
A study of apology speech act in sitcoms.
An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

study shows how often people express their politeness in their daily life in American culture. The

research is uses corpus study method to study the politeness principles in Desperate Housewife6.

Since it has a clear objective and useful methods, this study is a feasible one. The quantitative

method is used as the researching method in this study. This study also shows that Leech’s theory

is not perfect and further studies should be made in this field to improve the politeness theories.

The paper titled “An analysis of positive politeness strategy in the film entitled “In Good

Company”” by Ani Septyaningsih published in 2007. The research finds out the kinds of positive

politeness strategies depicted by the characters and the factors influencing them. The research uses

qualitative method of study as the research method and it employs purposive sampling as the

sampling technique. The data are all the dialogs containing positive politeness strategy which have

paramount relationship with the problem statement and it is collected by note taking method. There

are 29 data found in the film. The data are then identified by utilizing Brown and Levinson’s

politeness strategy to answer the kinds of positive politeness strategy employed by the character.7

The paper titled “Politeness principle analysis in cartoon movie entitled stand by me Doraemon”

written by Eko Mulyono. In this paper the author is discussing Leech’s model and analysing movie

Stand By Me Doraemon accordingly. He is discussing the politeness scale on which one can judge

the deliverance of dialogues. He also discusses the different maxims of leech’s model and how

one can differentiate between them. The author explains how to identify which dialogue falls under

which maxim. The authors conclusion was that the most used maxim in the movie was approbation

maxim because the writer wanted to avoid conflict and to create a comfortable environment.

A corpus study of politeness principles in desperate housewife.

An analysis of positive politeness strategy in the film entitled “In Good Company”.
An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

Findings and Discussion:

Review of Imran Khan’s Speech Under
Politeness scale of Brown and Levinson:
Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson's politeness theory was originally published in 1978 and

revised in 1987. This theory provides many insights into human behavior. This politeness theory

acts as a touchstone for the other researchers who wish to go beyond it. Brown and Levinson's

theory of politeness is known for its organization, comprehensiveness, and level of argumentation.

Aydinoglu stated in 2013 that “the notion of politeness and impoliteness has been one of the

controversial issues and has been defined in many different ways since politeness theory was first

introduced by Brown and Levinson”.

One of the many definitions of politeness is "a battery of social skills whose goal is to ensure

everyone feels affirmed in social interaction". Considering this definition, we can say that being

polite is a way for the speaker to save his face or the face of the listener. The theory developed by

Brown and Levinson has two parts. The first part consists of the fundamental theory of the nature

of politeness and what role it plays in a conversation. The second part consists of positive and

negative strategies of politeness that have been taken from three languages: English, Tzeltal, and


Brown and Levinson have used the term “face” in their theory derived from Erving Goffman’s

“Interaction Ritual” (1967). The term “face” basically refers to the motions of being embarrassed,

humiliated or losing face. Therefore, 'face' is basically the public self-image. It has two related
An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

aspects, positive and negative. The flow diagram shown below shows the structure of Brown and

Levinson in detail.

Do not do Without
the FTA On the redress Positive
record With Politeness
Do the FTA
Off the redress Negative
record politeness

The politeness theory of Brown and Levinson is known to be applicable to any

written/spoken material. In this paper, we will make an attempt to apply it to the speech of

the Prime Minister of Pakistan. This speech was delivered by Imran Khan as his first

address to the nation after becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan. In his speech, he

discussed the problems that he thinks the nation is facing and his solutions to overcome

them in his five-year tenure as prime minister.

In this research paper, the researcher finds the use of positive politeness, negative

politeness and off the record politeness in the speech of Imran Khan.

According to Brown and Levinson, positive face reflects the desire of an individual to

please the listeners. It is a way for the speaker to get his wishes and desires appreciated in

a social context.
An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

• Attend to the listener’s wants and needs

• Optimistic statements

• Statements that include both the speaker and listener

• Joke

• Vow or offer

• Exaggerate the interest in the listener

A few other statements used by Imran Khan that depict positive politeness are:

• I want to especially praise the people of Balochistan, the kind of difficulties that they

had to face. The way they came out to vote, I want to thank all those people.
An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

• My effort will be that we try our best to raise these people up, that all of our policies be

focused on human development.

• I say to you today, if you say there was rigging in any one constituency, we will stand

with you and aid in its investigation.

This kind of politeness if used to send a message to the hearer in a non-imposing way. It

is used to reflect the speakers need for freedom of action, his/her freedom of imposition

and the right to take their own decision. Another name for negative politeness is negative

face redress. A way for accomplishing this is by being direct indirectly.

• By being indirect

• By using questions

• By being pessimistic
An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

• By minimizing the impositions

• By being apologetic

• By using plural pronouns


This strategy of Brown and Levinson is very indirect and relies upon implication.

Off record, politeness breaks conversational norms and applies a recommended

course of action. In this strategy the speaker expects the hearer to decipher his

statement to understand what the speaker intended on saying. The risk with off the

record politeness is that the implications are so vague that the chances of it being

misunderstood are great.

In the above statements, the speaker addresses his opposition parties indirectly.

This technique used by the speaker is off the record politeness.

Review of the movie “Rangreza” Under

Leech’s politeness principle:
An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

We are going to analyze the movie “Rangreza” according to Leech’s politeness principle. Leech’s

politeness principle consists a total of six maxims. All these maxims are explained and applied on

the dialogues of the movie as follows:

Tact maxim:
Tact maxim is a maxim which focuses on reducing cost to others and maximizing

benefits to others. This maxim expects the participant to reduce his self-praise.

Approbation Maxim:
This maxim focuses on avoiding saying unpleasant things about others.

Approbation Maxim promotes minimizing dispraise of others and maximizing

praise of others.

Some of the utterance of approbation maxim in the movie Rangreza are as follow:

(1) Saba: You nailed it

(2) Ali: I saw yor clip on facebook, you were pretty good

(3) Baray khan sahib: You make amazing tea

(4) Ali: Love you cuz

(5) Baban: He is not as good as you, not as competent as you.

(1)Was uttered by Saba after Ali’s super it concert. Ali uttered (2) when he was

talking to his dad about his press conference. (2) was uttered when Baray khan

sahib praised his wife when she made tea for him. (3) Ali uttered this when he was

telling his cousin how great she is. The Baban uttered (4) when he was trying to tell

Waseem that he is really good at beating the tabla.

An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

Generosity Maxim:
In this maxim emphasis is on minimizing benefit to yourself and maximizing cost

to yourself.

(1) Reshmi: Wait, let me bring something

(2) Reshmi: She can come anytime.

In utterance (1) Reshmi is being generous by making herself go to get medicines to

benefit Waseem who is injured. (2) In this utterance Reshmi is telling Ali that his

mother can visit her house anytime she wants, whenever it is convenient for her.

Modesty Maxim:
Modesty maxim focuses on being humble that is by minimizing self-praise and

maximizing self-dispraise.

Ali’s mom: Allah has been so merciful son.

This was uttered by Ali’s mother when he was in hospital, she said that we are

nothing her son is only feeling better because of God’s mercy.

Agreement Maxim:
This maxim focuses on maximizing agreement between self and others and minimizing

disagreement among others.

(1) Ali: please pray that my wish comes true

Reshmi: Yes, I will pray.

An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

(2) Ali: May I call you late night?

Reshmi: yes, sure

In (1) Ali is requesting Reshmi to pray that his wish comes true and Reshmi is

agreeing that she will pray. In (2) Ali is asking Reshmi can he call her and Reshmi

is agreeing that yes he can.

Sympathy Maxim:
This maxim promotes the minimization of antipathy and maximization of


(1) Reshmi: sorry, I just saw you on tv are you okay?

(2) Reshmi: take care of yourself.

In (1) utterance Reshmi is being sympathetic by calling Ali and telling him that

she heard about his burning studio on news. In (2) Reshmi is again being

sympathetic and is asking Ali to take care of himself after the burning studio


Pakistani movies and Leech’s Politeness

In movie “Rangreza’ there were some dialogues which could have followed politeness

principles but the writer chose to use the harsh or anti-politeness approach. For instance:

Reshmi: Let me bring something for you

Waseem: Hey, mind your own business.

Here the writer could have just made Waseem reply in softer mode and could have just
An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

said No, Thank you!

Conclusion and suggestions:

After reviewing the movie “Rangreza” and Imran Khan’s speech, we are led to the following


In movie ‘Rangreza’ out of total six maxims only five are used. Zero times tact maxim, five times

approbation maxim, two time generosity maxim, one time modesty maxim, two times agreement

maxim and two times sympathy maxim are used. The most used maxim in movie ‘Rangreza’ is

approbation maxim.

Leech’s model is not a universal model and as well not a cultural one. It is not applicable over all

cultures. Politeness models should be designed according to every individual society instead of

one specific society.

In movies you just can not judge any dialogue just by reading it, you have to see the way it is

delivered by the actor. So, in Pakistani movies usually dialogues are delivered in a harsh way

because here people are used to of using anti-politeness principles. But other person does not seem

to mind it because he heard his elders doing the same. Secondly, in Pakistan our language consists

different words for elders and youngsters there is no universal term for them like in English we

use ‘you’ for both elders and youngsters but in Urdu we use ‘tum’ for younger ones and ‘ap’ for

An analysis of politeness principles being practiced in Pakistan

In his first address to the nation as prime minister, Imran Khan uses 19 positive politeness

statements, 2 negative politeness statements and 4 off the record politeness statements.

Brown and Levinson's theory describes a speaker who is too afraid to be rejected by the hearer.

Although famous and very helpful, this theory is not guaranteed to be applicable to all societies

and countries. This is because every society has its own values and concepts of politeness. In this

regard, it cannot be implied that western people are more polite than Asian people.