Politeness, gender, and English-medium Facebook communication

Marta Dąbrowska

Institute of English Studies

Jagiellonian University, Cracow

E-mail: marta.b.dabrowska@uj.edu.pl

Abstract: Computer Mediated Communication has made it possible for its users to interact freely with each other despite physical distance. Social networking sites, notably Facebook, particularly encourage informal contacts between their users, which are not infrequently maintained in English as a language of international communication. The purpose of Facebook-mediated interaction is to exchange information on a variety of subjects, but what appears to be its overriding aim is to sustain contacts and good relations with one’s friends and acquaintances, as well as enhance one’s own, usually positive, image. The phatic function of language appears therefore to be one of the chief traits of Facebook communication. The primary aim of the paper, inspired by my research of the use of English as the first, second and foreign language, represented in the study by numerically parallel groups of British, Indian, and Polish Facebook users (cf. Dąbrowska 2013) [1], is therefore to evaluate the character of the strategies of politeness recorded in the collected material. The study focuses on the identification of particular intentionally polite speech acts (cf. Watts 2003) [2] expressed in the posts generated by the three aforementioned groups of users, and their discussion within the framework of Brown and Levinson’s (1978/1987) [3] classical division into positive and negative politeness, their frequency as well as the form of the language shaped by conventions of online politeness. Moreover, the discussion examines examples of emotive language (cf. Janney and Arndt 2005) [4] which additionally broaden the scope as well as reinforce the strength of polite meanings. The analysis is carried out with respect to both the cultural and linguistic background of the authors of the posts and, primarily, the users’ gender, which, as will be demonstrated, proves to be the major factor influencing the frequencies of use of a variety of polite meanings, with women invariably taking the lead in this respect, regardless of their diverse cultural and linguistic background.

Keywords: politeness, genderlects, English as a global language, Computer Mediated Communication, Facebook.

Rhetoric and Communications Journal, Issue 40, July 2019

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