June 15, 2016
This paper tests the applicability of Brown and Levinson’s concept of off-record politeness on a specific sub-set of patterned dialogues in Sophocles’ extant tragedies, i.e., those involving the participation of female speakers. Brown and Levinson’s framework still provides the most suitable model for empirical analysis, but with refinements concerning the interrelation between emic and etic politeness, the notion of face, the extension of analysis to longer stretches of conversation, and the absolute ranking of the super-strategies. The survey suggests that a strict connection between the use of off record and the mitigation of FTAs can be established quite straightforwardly and that the hearer’s reactions to off record can help to identify the valid instances of the phenomenon. Moreover, it is argued that (a) female speakers frequently resort to off record, most notably in cross-sex interactions with men invested with high power; (b) few restricted categories of male speakers, i.e., strangers and lower-status characters, do use off-record politeness towards women; (c) off record in same-sex interactions among female characters is limited to when the imposition is of extraordinary seriousness.