Authored by: Dawn Archer

The Routledge Handbook of Pragmatics

Print publication date:  January  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415531412
eBook ISBN: 9781315668925
Adobe ISBN:


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Linguistic politeness and impoliteness (henceforth im/politeness) studies span anything from an investigation of a linguistic feature (please, sorry and the n-word being typical examples) to a comparison of interlocutors’ interaction strategies (in a given setting at a given time). They focus also on what such features or strategies tell us about their attentiveness to face. The term face originates from China, but was first popularised in the West by the sociologist Irving Goffman. Goffman (1967: 5) describes face as ‘the positive social value a person effectively claims’ about self, based on what others seem to be assuming about him/her (Goffman called this their line). He describes facework, in turn, as ‘the actions taken by a person to make what [s]he is doing consistent with face’ (Goffman 1967: 5). Consider the idiom losing face. We lose face when someone fails to ratify an image of self that we are (emotionally) invested in. However, if they maintain that image for us or support it when it has been challenged by another, their actions help us to maintain or save face. In essence, then, face is ‘an image of self delineated in terms of approved social attributes’ (Goffman 1967: 5), akin to a type of behavioural mask and thus relates to (without being the same as) identity. In fact, facework is very much shaped by ‘the rules of the group’ (Goffman 1967: 5–6), its definition of the activity, and its associated feelings in respect to the line being taken. Facework can thus constitute:

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