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A Comparative Analysis of Politeness in First Encounter Conversations in British English Film and Peninsular Spanish Film

Valerija Sinkevičiūtė


This paper aims at analysing the phenomenon of politeness in British English and Peninsular Spanish in the first encounter conversations between strangers taking into consideration power and distance, where relevant. I attempted to demonstrate the differences in two cultures as Spaniards are thought to be more direct, while the British seem to be deeply concerned about non-imposition. The data for the analysis were taken from to films: Love Actually (British English) and Va a ser que nadie es perfecto (Peninsular Spanish), which were analysed applying Brown and Levinson’s framework. The results supported my hypotheses that most of the strategies used by Spaniards were those of positive politeness, while the British employed negative politeness strategies. However, the number of positive politeness examples found in British English conversations and negative politeness strategies as well as many instances of bald on record technique (which were claimed to be inappropriate and almost absent) used by Spaniards revealed new tendencies in the use of politeness in Peninsular Spanish and British English cultures.

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1There has been a great interest in linguistic politeness in the last twenty years (Watts [2003], Holmes [1995], Hickey and Stewart [2005]). This comparatively new area of pragmatics has been investigated from different points of view; thus, many approaches have been suggested, among which Leech’s Politeness Principle and Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Strategies are most widely applied. As Watts [2003: 58-60] points out, in the 1960s – 1970s there were the first attempts to carry out conversation analysis and examine polite behaviour: Grice’s Cooperative Principle based on four maxims and Lakoff’s Pragmatic Competence. These two approaches had a tremendous influence on the development of pragmatics and the beginning of the analysis of politeness; however, they did not become widely used models. Nevertheless, they served as a basis for the development of new theories and nowadays in order to carry out research on politeness, many linguists apply those elaborated approaches proposed by Leech and Brown and Levinson, which tend to claim for universality [Watts 2003: 62-63]. Alongside these fundamental theories the concept of politeness is applied while analysing favours, requests, gender differences in conversation etc., and comparing the use of politeness in different cultures.

2As mentioned above, the two mostly valuable and widely used approaches to politeness are Leech’s [1983] Politeness Principle and Brown and Levinson’s [1987] Politeness Strategies. These two theories present different approaches to politeness study, and they both have been applied in numerous studies; however, criticism has also been levelled at them on various bases. Leech’s [1983] approach presents the entire phenomenon of politeness in six maxims (Tact, Generosity, Approbation, Modesty, Agreement and Sympathy). Leech pays much attention to the Tact and Generosity maxims, claiming that the Tact maxim is the most important maxim in the English-speaking society, while the Generosity maxim, ‘the flip-side of the Tact maxim’ [Cutting 2002: 48], is of greater importance in Mediterranean cultures [Leech 1983]. The limited number of maxims is the main drawback in Leech’s approach, since it is possible to add other maxims, e.g. a patience maxim suggested by Cutting or a consideration maxim proposed by Cruse (both discussed in Cutting [2002: 51]).

3Unlike Leech’s Politeness Principle, Brown and Levinson’s model with the central concept of face (a wish either to be liked and accepted (positive face) or not to be imposed upon (negative face)) comprises a great number of strategies, which are used in order to mitigate Face-Threatening Acts (FTAs) to save face. Brown and Levinson have successfully divided all FTAs into on record (direct FTAs) and off record (indirect FTAs), further subdividing the former into bald on record (clear acts, which most of the time involve the imperative mood [Brown & Levinson 1987: 95] and those produced with redressive action (using mitigating devices as a compensation for an FTA), i.e. positive and negative politeness acts. This rather complex multi-layer classification allows the analysis of the phenomenon of politeness in greater detail since the distinction between numerous FTAs is drawn, which helps to identify a particular FTA and measure the threat posed to someone’s face more easily. Furthermore, regardless of Brown and Levinson’s claim that positive and negative politeness exclude each other, which is strongly criticised and appears to be false, it is claimed that the very concept of face is applicable to many cultures [Watts 2003: 63]. Thus, this approach has been prominent in various analyses and cross-cultural research, which will be introduced in the following paragraphs.

4As suggested above, politeness is a central concept in many analyses, namely, on favours, requests, gender differences etc., e.g. Goldschmidt’s [1998] article on favour asking, Heinemann’s [2006] and Macaulay’s [2001] works on interrogative requests and indirectness and gender in requests respectively, Hobbs’ [2003] research on gender differences in voice mail messages, Holmes’ [1995] thorough analysis of male and female politeness, etc. In addition, for the purposes of the present research it is essential to point out that much attention is devoted to politeness in cross-cultural research, where in order to present differences in various cultures the scholars frequently apply the concept of face.

5In cross-cultural pragmatics analyses of the comparison and contrast between English and Spanish cultures are among the most common. Until now a general view that Spaniards use more positive politeness markers, while the British give priority to negative politeness strategies has prevailed and happens to be supported by many studies (Placencia and García [2006: 24], Ballesteros Martín [2001 :191-192]). The results of the Spanish linguist Ballesteros Martín’s [2001] analysis of two direct ‘impositive acts: requests and commands’ [Ballesteros Martín 2001: 171] show that where Spanish speakers tend to be more direct and preserve their positive face, the British show their concern about their individuality and non-imposition, thus choosing to respect the hearer’s negative face [Ballesteros Martín 2001: 193-195].

6More evidence supporting this general opinion is provided in Hickey and Stewart’s [2005] research on politeness in twenty-two European countries. It is stated that in a written discourse (Spanish course feedback) the British employ such negative politeness techniques as hedging (perhaps, the modal could), deictic anchorage (e.g. use of the past tense as in I was wondering…), non-conventional indirectness and off record strategies [Ballesteros Martín 2001: 122-125]. Furthermore, the analysis of a gift-giving situations in Spain shows that Spaniards tend to replace ‘thanks’ with admiration, personal enthusiasm, praise of others [Ballesteros Martín 2001: 325]. As a result, it can be claimed that in the investigated situations Spanish culture tends to be characterised as positively and the British culture as negatively polite; however, it should be mentioned that not all of the possible spheres have been researched yet in order to be able to make generalisations and draw conclusions about the use of politeness in the two cultures.

  • 1 Nobody is Perfect (English title).

7Undoubtedly, there has been much research on politeness as a cross-cultural phenomenon and the majority of it has been devoted to the analysis of some restricted aspects, such as giving thanks, favours, requests, gender differences, etc. However, any thorough cross-cultural analysis of politeness in first encounter conversations has not been presented. Thus, this paper aims at analysing the phenomenon of politeness in British English and Peninsular Spanish in first time encounters (the first conversation between at least two people) between strangers taking into consideration distance and power (the degree to which one can impose upon the other [Holmes 1995: 17]) where relevant. I will examine two films: a British film Love Actually (LA) and a Peninsular Spanish film Va a ser que nadie es perfecto1 (VASQNEP), which have been chosen on the basis of the similarity of genres (both comedies) as well as their representation of each culture respectively, which suggests that they also reflect the use of politeness in those cultures. I will use Brown and Levinson’s framework, namely FTAs on record without and with redressive action. Following a traditional view on Spanish and British cultures the hypotheses of this thesis are as follows:

  • the English-speaking society uses more negative politeness during the first encounter conversations;

  • the Spanish-speaking society tends to apply positive politeness strategies in the first encounter conversations;

  • bald on record technique is very uncommon in the first encounter conversations;

  • various combinations of the strategies are possible and quite frequent in first encounter conversations.

Data and Methods

8The data for this thesis were taken from two films: the British film Love Actually (further referred to as LA) and the Peninsular Spanish film Va a ser que nadie es perfecto (further referred to as VASQNEP). The films are of a similar genre – both comedies, besides they represent the same period of time, i.e. they were released in the beginning of the 21th century (LA was released in 2003, VASQNEP in 2006).

9Twenty first encounter conversations in LA and sixteen first encounter conversations in VASQNEP of different length were found and analysed. It is essential to mention that every utterance (whether a full sentence or not, ended either with a full stop, exclamation mark, question mark or ellipsis) was taken as a single unit of conversation suitable for analysis, thus if a person produced three utterances in one turn, those were examined as separate units, but not as one turn produced without interruption. Furthermore, if a particular word or phrase was repeated several times in a row, a strategy it employed was thought to be used once; however, if such a word or phrase was repeated in the same utterance but interrupted by other words, every word or phrase was taken as a separate strategy employed. On the whole, in British English 123 utterances and in Peninsular Spanish 130 utterances were analysed, from which some utterances were previously excluded for they did not generate any interest for this research, i.e. they did not comprise any of the strategies somehow redressing the threat to the Speaker’s (S) or the Hearer’s (H) face.

10Every situation involving at least one S and H (except for one phone conversation and some other where only the S’s utterances were taken into consideration) was transcribed; moreover, where relevant, the distance and power between the participants were indicated. Some Spanish utterances analysed in this study were translated into the English language, preserving the syntactic structure of the Spanish utterances, especially words that indicate particular strategies. Then, other words, phrases and sentences were not translated word for word, i.e. finding an equivalent utterance with the same meaning in the English language. Finally, every utterance, in its turn, was examined using Brown and Levinson’s framework [1987: 102, 131] indicating either bald on record technique or positive or negative politeness strategies (also their combinations if relevant).

11In conclusion, a quantitative method was applied in order to find out the most frequently used politeness strategies, namely, the statistics in the form of bar charts for the frequency of positive and negative politeness strategies and pie charts for overall analysis were presented (both British English and Peninsular Spanish), thus showing the tendency of the use of politeness strategies in both cultures.

1. Negative politeness in the first encounter conversations

1.1. Theoretical background

12One of my hypotheses is that English-speaking people use more negative politeness during first encounter conversations; in the Peninsular Spanish film, on the other hand, these are not the dominant strategies. In order to begin analysing negative politeness strategies in the first encounter conversations in LA and VASQNEP it is essential to understand how negative politeness is seen and presented by Brown and Levinson [1987].

13First of all, it is crucial to define the concept of face, which is the central element of the whole model of politeness. Negative face is defined as “the want of every competent adult member’ that his actions be unimpeded by other” [Brown & Levinson 1987: 62]. This strongly suggests that every person wants not to be imposed upon and that his/her freedoms to be unhindered.

14Negative politeness is a redressive action that is directly addressed to negative face and is employed in order to minimise the effects of the acts (e.g. requests, suggestions, remindings, etc.) that threaten it. Since there is a great number of negative face threatening acts (negative FTAs) [Brown & Levinson 1987: 65-66], Brown and Levinson propose a variety of negative politeness strategies, which suggest being direct, not assuming, not coercing, communicating S’s want not to impose upon H, redressing other wants of H’s, thus satisfying H’s want not to be impinged upon [Brown & Levinson 1987: 131]. All these strategies are further subdivided and will be elaborated on in case a particular negative politeness strategy is found in first encounter conversations under analysis.

15In addition, it should be mentioned that negative politeness is one of the most successful forms of ‘social distancing’; thus, negative politeness strategies are used by speakers when they intend to maximise social distance in the conversation [Brown & Levinson 1987: 130].

16Finally, Brown and Levinson claim that negative politeness is what people in Western cultures employ in their interactions, and they emphasise that English-speaking culture uses negative politeness in its most elaborate form as a ‘conventionalised set of linguistic strategies’ [Brown & Levinson 1987: 130].

1.2. Love Actually (LA)

17In the British English film Love Actually 76 strategies of negative politeness have been found, which constitute the majority of the overall number of different strategies employed in the film (for the frequency of the strategies see Appendix A).

18It appears that the most commonly used strategy of negative politeness is the one of hedging (34 instances out of 76) since almost all the characters in the film employ this strategy for several different reasons. Brown and Levinson [1987: 145] define a hedge as follows:

[…] a particle, word, or phrase that modifies the degree of membership of a predicate or noun phrase in a set; it says of the membership that it is partial, or true only in certain respects, or that it is more true and complete than perhaps might be expected’.

19Most of the time, hedges have been used in the form of hesitation, where S tries to state something more indirectly. This type of hedges can be used for asking to elaborate more on something that has been previously said as in example (1), showing agreement as in (2) and (3) or softening disagreement as in (4):


Er, er, what?


Erm, all right.


Er, yes.


Er, no.

20Then, actually, that performs the function of hedging, has two aspects: contrastive and emphatic [Brinton 2004: 98]. For example:


By the way, he introduced me as John but actually everyone calls me Jack.


Stepdad, actually.

21Here in (5) a contrastive aspect is seen as S expresses the opposition between what has just been uttered and what is going to be said. On the other hand, S in (6) tries to explain the situation and correct the answer using the emphatic actually.

22Furthermore, a number of examples with really has been found. For instance:


Not really, Mike.


No, no, really, it wasn’t.

23In example (7) really functions as a weakener of impolite direct answer no. On the other hand, in (8) it introduces a sincerity hedge, which draws H’s attention to the fact that S is sincere, thus the whole utterance should be perceived as trustworthy.

24There are also hedges that introduce a change of topic in the conversation, thus partially apologising for it. This type includes by the way, anyway:


I’m Colin, by the way.


Anyway, how can we help, sir?

25Other hedges that have been not as widely used are adverbial-clause hedge in fact:


In fact, I am.

and sort of, which is used in order to deny responsibility for the truth of what has been said, thus making the utterance more vague:


I sort of brought my sister to stay.

26Also, a strategy of giving deference, mainly using the address form sir, has been found in a number of utterances. This strategy indicates that “H is of higher social status than S”, who humbles himself/herself [Brown & Levinson 1987: 178]:


Morning, sir.


Certainly, sir.


Please, sir, please.

27In further analysis of the British English film, a negative politeness strategy which helps to realise both S’s desire to state something directly and in the same time redress this desire, i.e. being conventionally indirect, has been found. Thus, the utterance is on record, while S shows his intent to go off record [Brown & Levinson 1987: 132]. For example:


Would you like it gift wrapped?


I’d like a Budweiser, please.


Look, could we be quite quick?


Could we be quite quick, please?

28In this strategy various words or phrases can be used, however, in the corpus there have been only a few examples, most of which are presented above. In (16) S conveys the question indirectly, thus showing his desire not to impose upon H. In (17) a similar example is presented with the phrase would like accompanied by please, which in this case functions as part of the strategy of being conventionally indirect (another use of please will be illustrated later). In this example S shows his intention to go off record rather than stating his/her want directly (cf. I want a Budweiser or Give me a Budweiser). Furthermore, an interesting shift in S’s utterances can be observed in (18) and (182). The former utterance includes not only the modal could but also the direct look (bald on record technique will be discussed in detail in Section 3), whereas the latter conveys the message with a higher degree of indirectness, using both could and please.

29In addition to the most frequently used strategies, there have been some other (minimising the imposition, apologising and incurring a debt) that are worth mentioning. The strategy of minimising the imposition suggests that in order to reduce the extent of imposition and show that the degree of it is not great, some particular expressions such as just, little, couple of, a drop, a tiny bit, etc. and other words that imply minimising the imposition are used. For instance:


Let me just pop it in the box.


Ready in the flashiest of flashes.


Just a moment

30In all these examples the degree of imposition is somehow minimised. In (19) two ways of signalling minimisation are found: the adverb just, which delimits the extent of the FTA [Brown & Levinson 1987: 177], and the verb pop, whose meaning suggests minimising the imposition, i.e. to put quickly. In (20) and (21) a true meaning of the utterances is hidden for in both cases the activity would take several minutes and definitely more that a moment or flash.

31The strategy of apologising consisted of S begging H’s forgiveness and using sorry:


I’m sorry.

32The last strategy found in the British English film is that of going on record as incurring a debt. There have been only a few examples, however, those analysed have showed an interesting tendency as in all of them please functioned as the only signal (though not very strong) for S’s claiming indebtedness to H:


Are you singing carols?
Er, no. No, I’m not.
Please, sir, please.

33As has been shown, the majority of strategies found in the British English film Love Actually have been those of negative politeness. In the following sub-section the strategies of negative politeness will be analysed in the Peninsular Spanish film, where a totally different picture will be presented.

1.3. Va a ser que nadie es perfecto (VASQNEP)

34In the Peninsular Spanish film Va a ser que nadie es perfecto the strategies of negative politeness are not as frequently employed (47 instances) as in the British English film (for the frequency of the strategies see Appendix B). However, there is a clear difference in the distribution of the strategies and one strategy that has not been found in the British English film has appeared here.

35In the majority of instances (23 out of 47) the strategy of giving deference has been found. In comparison with the English language, in Spanish it is much easier to show and understand the way S claims his inferiority to H for in the language there is a system of honorifics, i.e. the 3rd person singular or plural pronouns, Usted or Ustedes, possessive pronoun su, the pronouns le and les (when referring to Usted or Ustedes, respectively), as well as the inflections of the verbs that indicate H’s superiority [Brown & Levinson 1987: 178-179; VOX, 2006]. For example:

  • 2 When you is used in a polite form in 3rd person singular (Sp. Usted) and 3rd person plurar (Sp. Ust (...)
  • 3 The translation of this and subsequent utterances has been made by the author of the present paper.


   ¿Traduce usted lo que le dice el acusado o sólo traduce lo que le da la gana?
(Do you (3rd p. sg.)2 translate what the accused says to you (3rd p. sg.) or only what you (3rd p. sg.) want?)3


   ¿Qué quieren tomar?
(What would
you (3rd p. pl.) like to drink?)


   … ¿usted está en la cola?
(… are you (3rd p. sg.) in the queue?)

36These examples show that in order to give deference the honorifics in the form of Usted or the verb inflections are employed. Examples (24) and (26) present the singular pronoun Usted, the pronoun le in (24), which functions as an indirect object, and the inflections of the verbs. However, in (25) there is no pronoun and only the inflection of the verb shows that S give deference to Hs, as the verb in the 3rd person plural means that the 3rd person plural pronoun is referred to in the utterance.

37Furthermore, in the film there have been some other examples of the same strategy:


   Voy a la esencia, señoría.
(The essence, Your Honour.)


   A ver, caballero
(Well, gentleman…)


   Hola buenas noches, señor agente.
(Hello, good evening, sir agent.)

38In example (27) there is an extract from the scene in the court, thus, deference is given in the form of the conventional word señoría, while in (28) and (29) S chooses to humble himself using caballero and señor, thus stating that H has a higher status than himself.

39Further analysis showed that Peninsular Spaniards tend to use the strategy of apologising to a greater extent than the British and use several ways. For instance:


   Perdona, lo siento
(Sorry, I’m sorry…)

40As it can be seen, mainly two forms are used in order to apologise: perdona and lo siento as in (30), both meaning almost the same, only the latter seems to introduce a state of being more sorry for perdona stands for “begging for forgiveness”, while the verb sentir means “lament something”.

41In contrast to the British, it has been observed that Spaniards use fewer indirect requests and hedges. When employing the strategy of being conventionally indirect Spaniards tend to soften on record desire, putting a statement in the Present Simple tense in a question form, which functions as Future Simple in requests and questions about some decisions or future plans most of the time [Sánchez Lobato & García Fernández 1999: 96], for example:


   ¿me apartas el coche?
(Will you move the car?)


   ¿Me invitas a una copa?
(Will you buy me a drink?)

42Both examples show the use of Present Simple referring to some future intentions. Thus in English these utterances are in Future Simple, which comparing to the examples from LA (where would was used) suggests a lower degree of conventionalisation.

43As far as hedges are concerned, in VASQNEP several different strategies have been found:


   No te había visto, la verdad.
(I haven’t seen you, really.)


   supongo que porque soy cojo.
I suppose because I’m lame.

44As well as in British English, la verdad functions as a sincerity hedge, by using which S wants H to believe that what has been said is right. In (34) supongo stands for the hedge addressed to the Quality Maxim [Brown & Levinson 1987: 164], i.e. S does not take full responsibility for the utterance.

45Other examples of negative politeness include the strategies of being pessimistic (35), minimising imposition (36) and going on record as incurring in debt (36):


   Venga, cuenta, que sí.
(Come on, tell me, yeah.)
No te quiero aburrir, que no, que no.
(I don’t want to make you bored, no, no.)


   tus amigos pueden empujarlo un poco, os lo agradecería.
(… your friends can push it
a little bit, I would be grateful.)

46In (35) the second utterance shows a clear example of non-imposition as S presupposes that something could be boring to H, thus by producing the utterance S expresses doubt about the appropriateness of his utterance and gives H a way out to refuse to listen to S. In (36) two different strategies are found: the one minimising the imposition, namely un poco, and the other of incurring in debt. Not like in the examples from LA, here this strategy is used in its full form, directly stating the indebtedness to Hs (os lo agradecería).

47Having analysed negative politeness in both films, it can be claimed that there are some similarities in both films; however, the differences are much more apparent from the examples illustrated. They will be discussed in greater detail in the next Section, where positive politeness strategies will be presented and the analysis of the examples will reveal some new tendencies.

2. Positive politeness in the first encounter conversations

2.1. Theoretical background

48The hypothesis that the Spanish-speaking society tends to apply positive politeness strategies in first encounter conversations follows the traditional view (as have been discussed in the Introduction) that Spaniards are more concerned with H’s positive face, while the British respect individuality and non-imposition, which has been showed in the previous Section.

49Positive politeness consists of a number of techniques addressed to the addressee’s positive face, i.e. a desire that wants, actions, values of the addressee should be desirable and approved. A redressive action in positive politeness is communicated by the fact that S indicates that his/her wants are similar to those of H.

50Brown & Levinson [1987: 101] suggest that positive politeness is referred to as the “normal linguistic behaviour between intimates”. However, later they specify that an element of exaggeration distinguishes that kind of behaviour from positive politeness redress. This exaggeration then results in insincerity to some extent, as in “How absolutely marvellous!”, but it is compensated by the fact that S intends to show that his/her want to preserve H’s positive face is sincere. As Hickey, L. and M. Stewart [2005] suggest, positive politeness strategies tend to prevail in the Mediterranean cultures, for example Spanish, as for Spaniards it is crucial to preserve H’s positive face, thus indicating S’s want to be closer to H.

51Positive politeness is divided into many strategies (claiming that H’s wants are interesting, in-group membership with H, common ground, knowledge, reciprocity, etc.) suggested by Brown & Levinson [1987: 102], all of which comprise mitigating devices in order to minimise the threat to H’s positive face.

52In this section the analysis of the instances, in which positive politeness strategies were found, in the British English and the Peninsular Spanish films is provided.

2.2. Love Actually (LA)

53In the British English film a variety of positive politeness strategies have been found, namely 12 out of 15 strategies suggested by Brown & Levinson (for the distribution of the strategies see Appendix C). Moreover, almost all the strategies have been illustrated by more than two examples and the majority of them (12 out of 51) has comprised the strategy of claiming in-group membership with H.

54This prevailing strategy of using in-group identity markers suggests that using particular address forms, ellipsis, dialect, jargon (the former two were found in the film) S claims common ground with H. For example:


Not really, Mike.


It’s the school Christmas concert, you see, David.


Ever do weddings?


Looking for anything in particular, sir?

55In example (37) the use of contracted forms of the full name is observed, which functions as a gesture of in-group solidarity (cf. in the same conversation “That’s not me, Michael”). This contracted form seems to endear H indicating to some extent the ‘the association with smallness’, whereas, as has been noted, in negative politeness S tends to somehow increase ‘the size of H’ [Brown & Levinson 1987: 112]. In (38), though, the absence of the contracted form suggests the use of the first name instead of a title, as David is the Prime Minister, who should be addressed as Prime Minister by people (as in this conversation) having less power than he has (cf. “Aren’t you the Prime Minister?” uttered by the character in the same situation as S in (38) and not “Aren’t you David?”). In addition, ellipsis, which also functions as an in-group marker, is seen in examples (39) and (40). This marker suggests in-group mutual knowledge between S and H, thus the use of ellipsis marks the whole utterance (or a part of it, as in (40)) as informal and positively polite. In (40) the first part of the utterance is perceived as positively polite only due to the use of ellipsis, which marks even conventionally indirect requests with a feature of positive politeness [Brown & Levinson 1987: 112].

56Also, in the British film characters tend to seek agreement and avoid disagreement. These strategies in this paper are merged and constitute another strategy of positive politeness. They allow S to show his/her agreement with H or at least pretend to agree, thus minimising the threat to H’s positive face.


   You’re Sam’s dad, aren’t you?


   Yes, I did, but


   So that’s a no, then?


   And that’s not you?

That’s not me, Michael.

57In (41) agreement is sought by using a question tag, which, to some extent, forces H to agree with what has just been uttered. (42) illustrates an example of a token agreement, where S appears to agree and at the same time hide his/her disagreement. It is also possible to try to avoid disagreement using pseudo-agreement technique, where then and so play the role of conclusory markers which point to some agreement between S and H. Example (43) presents the use of both then and so which in this case lead to a fake conclusion, as there was no prior agreement between S and H. The last example of seeking agreement shows a technique of repetition, which demonstrates agreement with what has been previously said. Thus, in (44) H repeats the entire question in his answer, which also suggests emotional agreement [Brown & Levinson 1987: 112-115].

58Furthermore, in order to claim common ground the strategy of noticing, attending to H (also conveying that H is admirable, interesting) is employed in a number of utterances. For instance:


   I very much like the look of you.


   I heard you were gorgeous.



No, thanks.

59Examples (45) and (46) illustrate the fact that S has noticed some aspects of H, who wants his/her wants, need, interests to be noticed. As a result, S using gorgeous and very much shows his/her notice and approves of H’s appearance. In (47) H uses thanks in order to soften a threat to S’s positive face by only saying “No”. Thus, I suggest that here thanks, following a negative direct No, conveys that S is still admirable or interesting to H, thus mitigating the impact of a negative reply.

60Another basic positive politeness technique, namely joking, seems to be used quite frequently in British English, as it makes H feel more relaxed, especially in situations where he/she is nervous.


Ah, right, it should be a lot easier with me than with the last lot: no nappies, no teenagers, no scary wife.


… And now I’ve gone and said ‘shit’.

You could’ve said ‘fuck’ and we’d have been in real trouble.

61Both examples are uttered by the Prime Minister talking to his staff for the first time. Using the strategy of joking he intends to put both Hs at ease and reduce the tension. In (48) S indicates his knowledge of H’s wants. Also, in (49) the Prime Minister jokes in order to relieve an already increased tension and preserve H’s positive face, which in this case is extremely vulnerable and could be easily threatened.

62In order to show cooperation between S and H the strategy of including both S and H in the activity, i.e. an inclusive we is employed. In the film we stands either for you, as in (18), or for I, as in (50):


we’re going to pop it in the Christmas box.

63Examples (51) and (52) introduce the strategy of presupposing/raising/asserting common ground, namely point-of-view operations.


It’s the school Christmas concert, you see, David.


Here, aren’t… Aren’t you the Prime Minister?

64(51) presents a case of personal-centre switch from S to H, where as Brown & Levinson [1987: 119] suggest S speaks as if H were S and presupposes that her knowledge is equal to that of H. In fact, David has no idea about the school Christmas concert, but S using you see claims “H’s knowledge of that kind of situation in general” [Brown & Levinson 1987: 120]. In (52) a place switch could be observed, where a more proximal demonstrative here is used rather than a distal one. Although H has more power, S decides to use this special deixis, which in this case is employed in a rather polite use.

65Another common feature of positive politeness in conversations is to intensify the interest of S’s utterances, which would make them worth listening to. For example see (5), where S tries to receive H’s attention, thus making a good story. In (53) S uses a vivid description with the exaggeration, which stresses the sincerity of the utterance and should attract H’s interest:


Looks like a dead baby’s finger. Oooh. Oh. Tastes like it, too.

66The technique of exaggeration is not only associated with intensifying the interest, but also functions on its own. Most of the time it is done with exaggerated intonation, stress, intensifying modifiers or an exclamation mark at the end of the utterance:


It’s brilliant!


That is so much more than a bag.

67Finally, the strategies of promising, giving gifts to H in the form of understanding or sympathy and being optimistic were found:


You won’t regret it, sir.


I’m so sorry, sir.
It’s fine.


I hope we’ll meet again, Karen.

68(56) demonstrates S and H’s cooperation, where S will try to obtain whatever H wants, and S’s intentions to satisfy H’s positive face. In (57) S indicates that he/she knows that H wants to be liked, understood, listened to, etc., thus S shows his understanding in saying It’s fine after H’s apology. An utterance like (58) claims mutual S and H’s interest as well as a tacit cooperation; as a result, S chooses to be optimistic about future actions.

69As can be seen from the examples mentioned above, a variety of positive politeness strategies is employed in the British English film. In the following sub-section the same strategies will be analysed in the Peninsular Spanish film and a slightly different picture will be presented.

2.3. Va a ser que nadie es perfecto (VASQNEP)

70In the Peninsular Spanish film positive politeness plays a crucial role in conversations for the entire culture is characterised as positively polite. As in the British English film, almost all the strategies suggested by Brown and Levinson are present in the film; however, the prevailing ones, which attract attention with the striking 33 and 19 instances (out of 76), are claiming in-group membership with H and seeking agreement/avoiding disagreement, respectively (for the distribution of the strategies see Appendix D).

71On the one hand, as in British English, the strategy of claiming in-group membership, by using in-group markers, is the most prominent in Peninsular Spanish. On the other hand, unlike in British English, there is a wide range of different in-group markers such as tío, guapa, chavales, bonita, cariño, majo, nene, hombre, etc. in Peninsular Spanish. Here are some examples:


¡Qué pesada eres, hija mía!
(How annoying you are, my daughter!)


¿Pero qué haces, tío?
(But what are you doing, bloke?)


Perdona, bonita
(Excuse me,


Fuera el coche, cariño.
(Away! the car, dear.)

72It is important to mention, though, that sometimes this strategy of using in-group markers and claiming solidarity fails; as a result the positive face of S is threatened. For example, in the answer to (61) H utters: “No me llamo ‘bonita’” (“‘Pretty’ is not my name”).

73Then the strategy of seeking agreement/avoiding disagreement is very frequently used in the film. For instance:


¿Todo te sabe igual?
(Does everything taste the same to you?)


Te molesta?
(Does it bother you?)
No, pero
No, but…)


Será David, ¿no?
(It will be David, won’t it?)


No. David.


Al final la parejita, ¿no?
(After all, a couple, isn’t it?)


, al final la parejita, majo.
(Yes, after all the couple, handsome.)


Tía, tú no te enteras, ¿no?
(Chick, you don’t get, do you?)
Tampoco me llamo ‘tía’, ¿eh?
(Neither my name is ‘chick’, eh?)


Mira, verás.
(Look, you’ll see.)

74In (63) an example of agreement by repetition is seen. H repeats part of the previous utterance, thus agreeing with S. A token agreement, also found in British English, is illustrated in (64), although it shows not the positive Yes, but as in most cases, but the negative No, pero since “No” is the only polite answer to a preceding utterance. However, H wants to hide his disagreement and decides to redress his action by using token agreement technique. In examples (65), (66) and (67) a very common way of seeking agreement is presented, i.e. the use of no at the end of the interrogative sentence, which suggests that either a affirmative response or the confirmation of what has been uttered is expected [VOX 2006] and this kind of no functions as an English question tag [Fernández 2005]. This technique is peculiar because the same word no is employed in both negative and positive utterances as in (65) and (66), but it has the same impact on H and leads him to the agreement with what has been said (though not always – cf. (652) and (672)). Also, it seems that if there is no direct answer (or no) to ¿no?, it also shows agreement to what has been stated before. It is seen in (66) and (662) since H neither disagrees nor agrees, paying attention to other element in the utterance; consequently, this signals the agreement and S continues talking as if the answer were an agreement.

75Furthermore, the strategy of attending to H, though not so abundant in instances as the first two, is employed in the Peninsular Spanish. In example (68) thanks functions as a part of the strategy of noticing some new aspects of H for S decides to approve of what H has done for him (though it is something ordinary) as well as comments on a presumably noticeable change in H’s appearance.


   Gracias. Un peinado muy bonito.
(Thanks. Your hairstyle is very beautiful.)


   eres la chica más guapa de la disco.
(… you are the most beautiful girl at the disco.)

76In addition, it is essential to analyse the strategy of assuming reciprocity since it has only been found in the Peninsular Spanish film. This strategy points to cooperation and to reciprocal rights of doing FTAs. In both examples below it is assumed that S tends to cooperate with H and is ready to reciprocate H’s actions, thus providing some benefit for H.


Si nos cuentas qué te ha pasado, te quitamos el coche.
(If you tell us what has happened to you, we will move the car.)


La quitaré cuando haga la llamada.
(I will take it off when you make a call.)

77Finally, the remaining positive politeness strategies, those of exaggerating, intensifying interest to H, presupposing common knowledge, joking, offering, including both S and H in the activity and giving gifts to H, were exemplified only by one or two instances in the film.

78The most valuable and interesting examples are the following:


   Ya, más os gustaría, chavales.
(Sure, you would like that, mates.)


   Ya sabes, aquí la gente va muy “ciega”. (dice el ciego)
(You know, here people go very ‘blind’.) (the blind man says)


¿vamos a tomar algo?
let’s drink something?)


   Venga, yo te invito.
(Come on,
I invite you.)


   Nadie quiere comer mis comidas.
(No one wants to eat my dishes.)
Bueno, a mí me pasa un poco igual, que como no veo, no sé si las cosas me quedan muy crudas o muy hechas.
(Well, something similar happens to me, as I don’t see, I don’t know when something (I prepare) is raw or well-done.)


   ¡Hostia! ¡Vaya cuadriceps!
(Jeez! What quadriceps!)


   Tengo el partido el que va a tocar. Hoy lo he soñado.
(I have winning lottery tickets. Today I have dreamt about that.)

79In example (72) S presupposes that she knows what Hs want and in the utterance claims it. The joke (73) could be a joke only in a specific situation, the one when it is uttered by the blind man as in the example, where S makes a joke about his disability. In addition, the strategy of including both S and H in the activity as in (74) using let’s is followed by an offer (75), which is used in order to redress a potential threat of FTA and claim that S can give whatever H wants. Then, example (76) illustrates a long utterance, where H presents a similar situation to that of S, thus satisfying S’s want to be understood. The exaggerative use of words and intensifying modifiers as well as intonation are employed in (77) in order to show that H is admirable to S. And the last strategy (78) found in the Peninsular Spanish film suggests intensifying interest and making it worth listening to S or, especially in this case, leading H to the decision to buy lottery tickets.

80Taking all the examples into consideration, it could be claimed that some positive politeness strategies adopted in Peninsular Spanish are very frequently used. However, it is true that the majority of them are only employed in a few cases in the film.

3. Bald on record in first encounter conversations

3.1. Theoretical background

81The hypothesis about bald on record technique claims that it is very uncommon or even inappropriate in first encounter conversations. However, this claim has been partially refuted by the analysis of the examples.

82Bald on record technique is used when S wants FTA to be as effective as possible and S’s desire is to attend to neither of H’s faces. There are two cases when bald on record technique is used. The first one includes occasions when face is irrelevant, thus no face redress is necessary, e.g. urgency (Help me!), doing FTA is in H’s interest (Careful! He’s a dangerous man) or S is superior in power to H (Be quiet – teacher to pupil). The other case comprises welcomings (Come in), farewells (Go) and offers (Have another cake) [Brown & Levinson 1987: 95-100]. As Brown and Levinson mention, direct imperatives are clear cases of bald on record strategy, thus the majority of example in all languages consist of their use, which will also be seen in British English and Peninsular Spanish.

3.2. LA and VASQNEP

83In the British English film bald on record techniques are very uncommon and very few examples have been found:


Look, I don’t need a bag.


Leave it.


No bloody holly.

84These three cases have been found in the same conversation between a customer and a salesman. In (79) imperative is used in order to emphasise a point, while in (80) S allows himself to employ this technique because his positions as a customer is superior in power to that of a salesman. Furthermore, example (81) does not include a direct imperative, though a direct request or order can be observed from the example, which would be equivalent to an imperative “Don’t put holly”.

85In Peninsular Spanish bald on record strategy is very frequent (55 instances) and it is formed in a rather different way. For example:


   No le hagas ni caso.
(Don’t pay attention to him.)


Excuse me.)





86In Peninsular Spanish (82) is an example of non-honorific imperative, i.e. the one which is addressed to the second person singular pronoun (). In (83) a formulaic entreaty in Peninsular Spanish as well as its equivalent in British English is illustrated. Here perdona functions as excuse me since a person expresses his want to interrupt somebody and does not lament for something he has done (cf. I’m really sorry for interrupting you). In addition, examples (84) and (842) clearly exemplify honorific and non-honorific uses of the imperative. The former is used to address the second person singular pronoun (), while the latter indicates the use of the third person singular (Usted), which is a honorific form in Peninsular Spanish.

87From the examples, it is seen that in both languages bald on record technique is used in the form of direct imperative. However, in Peninsular Spanish imperative forms are divided into honorific and non-honorific.

4. Combined politeness strategies in the first encounter situations

88According to Brown & Levinson [1987] positive and negative politeness exclude each other. This has been disproved by a number of studies. This research presents also a counterargument to the claim.

89In the films four different combinations of the strategies (29 instances in total) have been found (for their distribution see Appendix E). Firstly, in both British English and Peninsular Spanish films a combination of negative politeness and bald on record technique was encountered. For example:


Look, we’re not actually flying.


Vaya, oye, perdona, que no lo sabía …
(Oh, look, sorry, I didn’t know that…)

90In these examples, the imperative mood indicates bald on record techniques. Moreover, in (85) negative politeness in the form of hedge and in (86) in the form of apologising are indicated.

91Also, a combination of positive politeness and bald on record techniques could be illustrated by the following examples from the Peninsular Spanish film. In (87) and (88) the imperative mood serves as a bald on record technique, while the strategy of giving deference is used as a positive politeness marker:


   Cómprame claveles, mi alma.
(Buy carnations, my soul.)


   Mira, tío, tú entra, tú entra
(Look, bloke, you enter, you enter…)

92Furthermore, another combination of negative and positive politeness was found only in the British English film. For example see (5), (40) or the following utterance:


Yeah, a bit dodgy, isn’t it?

93Example (5) has been analysed in the sections dedicated to negative politeness, namely indicating the strategy of hedging, as well as to positive politeness, where it has been presented as the strategy of intensifying H’s interest to the utterance. Moreover, example (40) shows positive politeness strategy of in-group markers and sir suggests the strategy of giving deference. In (89) two positive politeness strategies are used, those of seeking agreement and in-group markers (ellipsis), as well as the strategy of minimising, which marks this utterance as negatively polite.

94Finally, the last combination consists of all three strategies, i.e. negative and positive politeness as well as bald on record techniques. The example is provided from the British English film and a part of it has been analysed in example (18) as negative politeness strategy of being conventionally indirect and as positive politeness strategy of including both S and H in the activity. Moreover, the imperative mood in look stands for bald on record technique.

95This section shows that every possible combination has been found in the films, one of them in both films (bald on record and negative politeness), some examples only in the British English film (combinations of negative and positive politeness and that of bald on record, negative and positive politeness) and the remaining combination of bald on record and positive politeness in the Peninsular Spanish film.

4. Conclusions

96This research has shown that in first encounter conversations the British tend to use more negative politeness strategies; however, there is a significant number of positive politeness strategies. As far as bald on record techniques are concerned, in the British English film they are almost absent. On the contrary, the Peninsular Spanish film has shown the tendency of the use of positive politeness in the majority of cases in the first encounter conversations.

97Furthermore, it should be emphasised that bald on record techniques has been employed to the same extent as negative politeness strategies (for overall statistics see Appendix F and G). Thus, it can be held that two of the hypotheses have been totally and the third one partially proved. In addition, four possible combinations of the strategies have been found, which contradicts one of Brown and Levinson’s claims.

98However, the present investigation has been restricted to the analysis of first encounter conversations only. Moreover, due to the limited scope of the paper, a thorough analysis of the combinations has been impossible to carry out.

99There are still questions that would require further research, e.g. it would be important to see the distribution of strategies in other situations (e.g. job interviews, favour asking, etc.) or compare other languages, as well as investigate the frequency and some particular tendencies of various combinations of politeness strategies.

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Reference books

Ballesteros Martín F. J., “La cortesía española frente a la cortesía inglesa. Estudio pragmalingüístico de las exhortaciones impositivas”, Estudios Ingleses de la Universidad Complutense, Vol. 9, 2001: 171-207.

Brown P. & Levinson S. C., Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Brinton L. J., “Review of Aijmer. K. 2002. English Discourse Particles: evidence from a corpus”, Studies in Corpus Linguistics 10, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, John Benjamin. ICAME Journal, Vol. 28, 2004: 95-99.

Contreras Fernández J., El uso de la cortesía y las sodreposiciones en las conversaciones. Un análisis contrastivo alemán-español, Valencia, Servei de Publicacions, 2005

Cutting J., Pragmatics and Discourse: A Resource Book for Students, Routledge, 2002: 44-45, 48-51.

Goldschmidt M. M., “Do me a favor: a descriptive analysis of favor asking sequences in American English”, Journal of Pragmatics, Vol. 29, 1998: 129-153.

Heinemann T., “‘Will you or can’t you?’: Displaying entitlement in interrogative requests”, Journal of Pragmatics, Vol. 38, 2006: 1081-1104.

Hickey L. & Stewart M. (eds.), Politeness in Europe, Multilingual Matters LTD, 2005: 116-129; 317-330.

Hobbs P., “The medium is the message: Politeness strategies in men’s and women’s voice mail messages”, Journal of Pragmatics, Vol. 35, 2003: 243-262.

Holmes J., Women, Men and Politeness, London and New York, Longman, 1995: 8-24.

Leech G. N., Principles of Pragmatics, London, Longman, 1983.

Macaulay M., “Tough talk: Indirectness and gender in requests for information”, Journal of Pragmatics, Vol. 33, 2001: 293-316.

Placencia M. E. & García C. (eds.), Research on Politeness in the Spanish-Speaking World, Routledge, 2006: 21-34.

Sánchez Lobato J. & García Fernández N., Español 2000. Gramática, SGEL Educación., 1999.

Watts R. J., Politeness, Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Dictionaries & glossaries

VOX Diccionario de uso del español de America y España, Barcelona: Larousse Editorial, S.L., 2006.

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Negative politeness (LA)

Negative politeness (LA)

Negative politeness (VASQNEP)

Negative politeness (VASQNEP)

Positive politeness (LA)

Positive politeness (LA)

Positive politeness (VASQNEP)

Positive politeness (VASQNEP)

Combined politeness strategies in LA and VASQNEP

Combined politeness strategies in LA and VASQNEP

LA on record politeness strategies

LA on record politeness strategies

VASQNEP on record politeness strategies

VASQNEP on record politeness strategies
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1 Nobody is Perfect (English title).

2 When you is used in a polite form in 3rd person singular (Sp. Usted) and 3rd person plurar (Sp. Ustedes), 3rd p. sg. and 3rd p. pl. is indicated in parenthesis, respectively.

3 The translation of this and subsequent utterances has been made by the author of the present paper.

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List of illustrations

Title Negative politeness (LA)
File image/png, 29k
Title Negative politeness (VASQNEP)
File image/png, 32k
Title Positive politeness (LA)
File image/png, 34k
Title Positive politeness (VASQNEP)
File image/png, 35k
Title Combined politeness strategies in LA and VASQNEP
File image/png, 41k
Title LA on record politeness strategies
File image/png, 28k
Title VASQNEP on record politeness strategies
File image/png, 26k
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Electronic reference

Valerija Sinkevičiūtė, A Comparative Analysis of Politeness in First Encounter Conversations in British English Film and Peninsular Spanish FilmLexis [Online], HS 2 | 2010, Online since 06 September 2010, connection on 22 March 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Valerija Sinkevičiūtė

Department of English Philology, Vilnius University, Lithuania

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