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Strategic Politeness in Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables

Dialogue has been studied extensively not only in naturally occurring conversation but in written literary discourse as well. Besides, pragmatic analysis of literature, as one of the vital areas in literary studies, has been justified and called for by a number of linguists and scholars, namely, Pratt (1977), Burton (1980), Leech and Short (1981), Short (1989), Petrey (1990) and Culpeper (2001). Politeness theory, as a pragmatic aspect, has also been the focus of many studies among which Short (1981), Brown and Gilman (1989), Simpson (1989), Rossen-Knill(1995), Culpeper (1996), Buck (1997), Bennison(1998), Rudanko(2006), Bouchara(2009), Chun and Yun (2010) and others.

This sort of relationship between the two disciplines, literature and pragmatics, has become a motivation for the researcher to conduct a similar study in an attempt to explore how linguistic elements can assist in the interpretation of literary texts. Accordingly, and in spite of its being a bit problematic, Brown and Levinson’s pragmatic theory of politeness (1987) has been selected and applied to Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables as it suits the direction and intention of the present study in examining fictional characters’ verbal interactions, mainly that of Anne Shirley, and the ways in which politeness in these interactions are read as linguistic or verbal manifestations of her character to create her identity as Anne of Green Gables and to achieve a harmonious social life and friendly relationships with other people in Avonlea.

To be more specific, the researcher intends to apply Brown and Levinson’s (1987) five linguistic strategies supplemented by Rossen-Knill’s model(1995) to ensure the classification of directives, as a linguistic realization of such strategies, depending on the ‘discourse goal’ which is defined as “the speaker’s attempt to get the hearer to do some act” (Searle, 1979). Spencer-Oatey’s rapport management (2002) is also implemented to account for Anne’s efforts in establishing her social identity. The next section will provide a brief review of the pragmatic theory of politeness as proposed by its founders, Brown and Levinson, and as modified by some later critics. Then, some of the conceptual framework of this theory will be applied to one speech event from Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables which is that of having the new Minister’s wife to tea.

In spite of the considerable amount of criticism, today’s large body of research on politeness continues to find its inspiration in Brown and Levinson’s pioneering work. It is also believed that the core concepts of the theory of politeness, as originally proposed (1978) and then revised (1987) by Brown and Levinson are still held by many to be operationally valid despite the alleged universality of them (Ermida, 2006). Among such concepts is that of ‘face’ which has been considered as the most central component. This concept is derived from that of Goffman (1967) and from the English folk term which tied ‘face’ up with some notions of being embarrassed, humiliated, ‘losing face’ and ‘saving face’ but saving face may be achieved at the expense of our interlocutor’s face.

Face has two aspects namely, positive face and negative face. Positive face focuses on the speaker’s positive image and his desire to be liked and approved and it is the kernel of ‘familiar’ or ‘joking’ behavior. Negative face, on the other hand, refers to the speaker’s right not to be imposed upon. It is the heart of respect behavior. However, Spencer-Oatey (2002) believes it is more than this. She demonstrates that the concept of face is too individually focused on and should a social identity component be included. To her also, face is not only a personal/individual concern; it can also be a group concern.

In their attempt to relate the concept of ‘face’ to social interaction, Brown and Levinson argue that the most common place speech acts negotiated in everyday conversation, such as advising, requesting, ordering, questioning, inviting, promising, criticizing, offering, complementing, apologizing and others carry an element of risk, for they threaten the ‘public self-image’ that every member of a society wants to claim for himself (1987: 61). Such acts are called ‘face threatening acts’ (hence FTAs) as they do not satisfy the ‘face wants’ of either speaker or hearer or both.

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(Author: Nawal F. Abbas

Published by Sciedu Press)