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Title:Face Management and the Role of Interpersonal Politeness Variables in Euphemism Production and Comprehension
Author(s):Makin, Valerie Susan
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Brewer, William F.
Department / Program:Psychology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Language, Linguistics
Abstract:Nine experiments investigated euphemism in conversation using Brown and Levinson's (1987) politeness theory framework. In Experiments 1--3, undergraduate students read short scenarios that depicted a hypothetical, unfinished conversation between two interlocutors about a taboo topic; in Experiment 4, participants adopted the speaker's role. The addressee's relative power (age and/or job status) and social distance were manipulated as independent variables across separate experiments. Participants selected either a euphemistic or neutral phrase to complete the speaker's final utterance. In Experiment 5, scenario conversations were already completed with such phrasing, and participants evaluated how well the speaker's remarks protected either the speaker's or addressee's face. The speaker's politeness was also manipulated in Experiments 6 and 7, and participants made inferences about the addressee's relative power or social distance. In Experiment 8, participants wrote down what they would say to either a higher-power or same-power addressee in conversations about taboo topics; the responses were then rated for politeness and classified into Brown and Levinson's (1987) politeness super-strategies. Experiment 9 used the same free-response methodology to examine politeness and euphemism in conversations with young children about death. The results of these experiments demonstrate that the interpersonal politeness variables (Brown & Levinson, 1987) of power and social distance predict a speaker's use of euphemism in conversation, protecting the faces of both interlocutors. When interacting with higher-power addressees, speakers implemented higher-ranked super-strategies and added more positive politeness and euphemism to their responses, relative to conversations with same-power addressees; these utterances were separately judged to be more polite. Speakers were also less likely to commit face-threatening acts (FTAs) with higher-power addressees. These results support the theorized hierarchical structure of the politeness super-strategies. Gender differences in politeness emerged in the free-response data; utterances produced by female speakers were judged to be more polite. There were no gender stereotype effects in these politeness ratings. Finally, the politeness of speakers' responses shaped observers' social inferences about the interlocutors. Collectively, these experiments show how the interpersonal politeness variables affect language production and aspects of comprehension, thereby highlighting the importance of studying language processes in a social context.
Issue Date:2003
Description:239 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2003.
Other Identifier(s):(MiAaPQ)AAI3101914
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-25
Date Deposited:2003

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