Linguistic Politeness in Written Communication

18 Apr

Being polite is undertaken through various ways and the three of them are attitude, behavior, and utterance. Polite or impolite attitude cannot be judged directly by eyesight but it will reflect to our behavior. It is clearly seen whether our behavior is considered polite or not (although it culturally depends). However, through the third way, utterance, we can measure the rate of politeness from the sentence structure, word choice, tone, intonation, and also facial expression. Those are the reasons for the uniqueness of politeness through utterance. To refer to this kind of politeness, Holmes called it as “linguistic politeness” (Holmes, 2001).

According to Holmes (2001), politeness in the way people behave is different among various communities. The rules of being polite in Sweden, for example, are not the same as the rules in Indonesia. There are even many differences of what is considered polite amid several ethnicities in the same country. Also, we can still find some distinct expressions of politeness there. Especially through language, being polite or impolite can be seen either in a formal or informal utterance. To speak a formal language is not always meant speaking politely. Similarly, speaking informally is not meant that it is impolite. Holmes (2001) also claimed that making decisions about what is or is not considered polite in any community therefore involves assessing social relationship along the dimensions of social distance or solidarity, and relative power or status (p.268). The considerations of the closeness of social relationship really work in Indonesian community. People should speak differently to older people, those who are of higher status, and those who have a far social distance relationship. We have to be more respectful to them than to the other. When it comes to spoken language, we can judge whether it is polite or not by paying attention to the facial expression, tone of the voice, intonation, the form of the sentence, the structure, and word choice.

Since we live in the world where technology is getting more advanced and sophisticated day by day, people get more addicted to it. What we acknowledge from it is that technology has now been inseparable from the contemporary society. Certainly, it influences the way people socialize and communicate with others. Due to the practicality and effectiveness, most people prefer the modern way of communicating such as SMS, email, online chatting, social networking, blogging, etc. Those tools commonly involve people in written communication rather than spoken one.

Bergs (2006) said that language variation in online communities, particularly with younger speaker-writers, seems to play a different role than in face-to-face interaction. The difference between spoken and written communication is on the sound and expression. People can directly hear the tone and intonation or see the facial expression of the speaker when they have an oral conversation. Unfortunately, they cannot do that in written conversation. It is difficult to say whether it is polite or impolite because of the absence of the speaker. Yet, as people do not see directly the person they communicate with in written communication, they usually tend to ignore the rules of politeness.

The main point is that politeness is important in both spoken and written communication. Although the way people speak in written communication is different from the way they speak in spoken communication, they still need to maintain a sense of politeness because they socialize with others. Since childhood, people were usually taught to behave and speak politely to others for they should show respects to anyone despite the age or who the person is. Therefore, they have to pay attention with whom they communicate and the situation or context when the communication happens. 

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Posted by on April 18, 2011 in Language, Opinion Article


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