Discuss how politeness forms in language interactions are used to create and reduce social distance in Australia today.

Essay by winged.feline August 2006

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Polite language is used to create social distance and to avoid offending, or appearing rude towards, others. The level of polite language used is determined according to the Principle of Appropriateness; it depends on how much social distance exists between the interlocutors, the formality of the situation, how the power in the relationship is balanced, and, if a question is being asked, how imposing the request is to the person who is required to carry it out. It also relates to positive and negative face and how we behave in order to "save face". Society's changing social expectations ensure that the language and behaviour we consider as polite is changing as well.

Politeness is used as a way to avoid conflict and to create an appropriate amount of social distance, and the language used must adhere to the rules of the Principle of Appropriateness. The level of polite language used will vary according to the formality of the relationship between the interlocutors.

For example, there is a high level of social distance between an employee and their boss, so it is more likely that formal language will be used between them. Modal verbs play a large part in this; one is more likely to say, "May I please open the window? It's a little stuffy in here" in a formal context than with friends, when they may say, "I'm going to open the window". In a highly formal context it is also likely that an individual would speak indirectly; rather than asking, they may say "Gosh! It's warm in here," indicating that they would like the window to be opened. By using a declarative rather than an interrogative sentence, the speaker is avoiding social conflict- the other person has no real obligation to carry out the implied request. Forms of...