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Politeness and Interaction

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  1. Social relationships, social distance, and social closeness, have an influence not only on what we say, but also on how we are interpreted
  2. Yule and Lakoff definitions of politeness
  3. Politeness is also used to minimize attribution of responsibility
  4. When discussing social closeness, one can approach its other side and say that camaraderie can be conventional

When discussing social relationships, we must also refer to social distance and closeness, and the factors that influence them. External factors involve "the relative status of the participants based on social values, tied to factors such as age or power" (Yule 59). Speakers, who see themselves as having a lower status in English-speaking contexts, tend to maintain a social distance between themselves and speakers of a higher status by using forms of address such as the title and last name, but not the first name (e.g. Dr. Brown, Mr Clinton, Mrs White). In other words, these forms of address are used to show respect to the person we are talking to (e.g. Excuse me, Dr. Brown, but can I talk to you for a minute?). Other factors, such as the amount of imposition or degree of friendliness, are internal to interaction and "can result in the initial changing of the social distance and being recognized as inferior, or superior, during its course" (Yule 59). For example, participants may move from the title-plus-last name format, to a first-name basis within a conversation. The last instance can also be described in terms of friendliness, camaraderie, or solidarity (e.g. Hey, Bucky, got a minute?). These internal factors are typically more relevant to participants whose social relationships are in the process of being worked out within the inter action.

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