Politeness in task-oriented dialogue

Merrison, Andrew (2002) Politeness in task-oriented dialogue. Working Paper. Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield.

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Human communication is a process involving interactive and collaborative effort and its success is dependent on the joint responsibility of all participants involved (Grice, 1975; Clark, 1996). Furthermore, it is often assumed that while part of this effort concerns the management of transactional wants, it is another, entirely separate part which is concerned with the management of face wants (Goffman, 1967b). In short, there is apparently one fundamental organisational principle for talk which is transactional (task-related), and another for that which is interactional (social). What such a view fails to realise, however, is that in certain circumstances part of the collaborative effort required in transactional dialogue can be seen to involve the management of face.

This paper investigates the role of face in task-oriented dialogue. In doing so it suggests a maxim of interactional organisation which recognises the interplay of face wants with transactional wants. Various ‘sensitive’ behaviours are seen to mitigate threats – either threats to the success of the transaction or threats to face. Consequently, and analogous to Brown & Levinson’s (1987) notion of face-threatening act (FTA), this paper introduces the term transaction-threatening act (TTA).

More specifically this paper investigates the role of face in task-oriented dialogues between aphasic and non-aphasic individuals. Results indicate that when engaged in talk with aphasic dialogue partners, non-impaired speakers sensitively manage potential FTAs and TTAs:

(a) by simplifying the interaction by avoiding the generation of unnecessary talk; and

(b) by avoiding highlighting any non-competence on the part of their impaired interlocutor.

Such management is found to be achieved both by active and inactive strategies of restoration. More importantly, much of this restoration involves face-work which obtains despite the very clear transactional aspect to the task-oriented dialogue in which the participants are engaged.

In short, we find that even when engaged in task-oriented dialogue, speakers can be seen to invest a great deal of effort into doing politeness.

Key Words: face, politeness, transactional discourse, sensitivity, aphasia, (perceived) non-competence, Merrison’s maxim

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Status: Published
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
School/Department: School of Languages & Linguistics
URI: http://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/136

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