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Routine politeness in American and British English requests: use and non-use of please

M. Lynne Murphy and Rachele De Felice

Abstract

This paper looks at the use and non-use of please in American and British English requests. The analysis is based on request data from two comparable workplace email corpora, which have been pragmatically annotated to enable retrieval of all request speech acts regardless of formulation. 675 requests are extracted from each of the two corpora; the behaviour of please is analyzed with regard to factors such as imposition level, sentence mood, and modal verb type. Differences in use of please between the two varieties of English can be accounted for by viewing this as a marker of conventional politeness rather than face-threat mitigation in British English and as a marker of relationship asymmetry in American English.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Emma Moreton for access to the COBEC data and to the editor and anonymous reviewers for their comments.

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Appendix: Action types for utterance classification

Imposition level

Example requests

act type

High imposition

document preparation

- Please amend the newsflash

- Could you please translate the following for me.

favour

- I would like to seek a bit of advice.

- I would appreciate your guidance on whom I should involve.

find info

- Could you please chase N as per email below.

- Can you find me bios of these folks?

go someplace

- Can you attend an audio conference?

- Can you leave early enough today to pick up a sleeping bag?

influence

- Can you persuade [NAME] to part with the cash?

- Could you use your contacts with [COMPANY] to get on the phone with [NAMES] to jump start this thing?

meeting

- Could we meet on any of the above dates?

- Can we visit in advance of your meeting?

read

- Please read this for your information.

- Take a look at the competitor data.

secretarial tasks

- Could you print 4 copies of this for us

- Can you provide us with a desk and phone for the 3 days?

take responsibility

- Can you please arrange for it to be paid immediately.

- Can you take this on?

think-work

- Please comment on/amend this proposal before I send it to R.

- Can you plan your detailed discussions with the architect?

Medium imposition

collaborate

- Perhaps we can talk then?

- Can we discuss these possibilities further?

elaborate

- Can you clarify their role & duration of the arrangements.

- Can you explain what is the impact of this new name on what we agreed?

help

- Could you please assist with the following request?

- Can you help?

interact (with third party)

- Please can you ask K what the sum relates to and who authorised it.

- When you get a chance can you talk to him about this.

prevent

- Please do not deviate from this statement.

- Please do not tell P I have forwarded his letter.

Low imposition

contact

- Please contact J as soon as possible if you require tickets.

- Please call for further clarification.

endorse

- Can you please provide funding authorization for these two items today?

- Would you please sign a copy of each for C?

extend politeness

- I am sure you will want to thank B.

- Please join me in welcoming W to [COMPANY]

hold doc

- Can you please save copies of your plans as Project 98 file.

- Write it down and keep it somewhere safe.

hold info

- Please note that…

- Keep in mind that the situation remains extremely fluid

inform

- Please confirm ASAP

- Please let me know your preference.

nominate

- L can you identify people for the areas I listed you under.

- I would appreciate it if you would nominate a Recruitment champion for each of these territories.

receive document

- Please find attached two documents.

schedule

- Can I suggest Tuesday 12 at 13:00 when K will also be in [PLACE]?

- Can we make it at 2pm?

transmit

- Would you please cascade this information within your area.

- Can you please forward this to A.

wait

- Until we’ve had a chance to talk, could you wait before forwarding my name?

No imposition (offer)

offer

- If you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

- Feel free to question my estimates.

receive politeness

- Please accept my appreciation for sparing your time and apologies for the fact that we cannot consider you further.

Received: 2016-06-23
Accepted: 2017-01-25
Published Online: 2019-02-07
Published in Print: 2019-02-04

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston