The main purpose of this study is to establish a socio-pragmatic categorization of politeness and impoliteness activities in informal interactions. In doing this, we describe the communicative strategies related to (im) politeness phenomena and how they are used to produce certain social effects in face-to-face interaction through the ongoing negotiation of participants’ face (Goffman, 1967). This study is based on informal conversations extracted from a corpus of spoken Spanish gathered in the metropolitan area of Valencia, Spain (Briz and Val.Es.Co. Group, 2002).
Focusing on methodology, this study combines a qualitative method inspired in Conversation Analysis with a Discourse Analysis interpretative approach that analyzes communicative acts (Allwood 1995; Bravo, forthcoming). Face contents such as autonomy and affiliative face, role face, group and individual face, are a resource for analyzing what happens during interaction along with the resulting interpersonal effects. It is therefore fundamental to focus on both the speaker’s production and the receiver’s interpretation of the situation in order to determine whether communicative behavior can be evaluated as polite, impolite or neutral. The integration of the analysis of context, which includes the co-text, the situational context and the socio-cultural context (cultural settings and shared assumptions), is equally important in this study.
The empirical analysis of both the conversations and a questionnaire on impoliteness bring us to propose a series of categories of (im) politeness. In many cases, they are not closed categories, but are instead open among themselves. The categories are as follow: Strategic Politeness (within this category we find attenuating politeness and reparatory politeness), Enhancing Politeness, Group Politeness, Ritual Politeness (here we differentiate between meeting situations and visit situations) and Discoursive Politeness (we divide this category into conventional and thematic). Concerning Impoliteness, we find situations in informal conversation in which impoliteness is expected (normative impoliteness). These situations normally occur during fights, when threatening acts (reproaches, criticism, etc.) do not imply directly, per se, a negative personal effect. We next find two types of impoliteness: one produced by threats to the face of the speaker (whether to the face of personal value, the face of his role or the face of his group image in respect to his family, friends or others) which are neither mitigated nor amended and the other caused by a break from the normal rules of politeness.