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Intercultural Pragmatics

Editor-in-Chief: Kecskes, Istvan

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Volume 4, Issue 4


Brown & Levinson's face: How it can—and can't—help us to understand interaction across cultures

Jim O'Driscoll
Published Online: 2007-12-04 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/IP.2007.024


This paper appraises Brown & Levinson (1987 [1978]) from a utilitarian perspective. Rather than assess the veracity, validity, or applicability of their model as a whole, or its relevance to politeness, it identifies and examines several of the claims contained in the model individually, to see which ones can help to illuminate interaction across cultures. Its main contention is that the concepts of positive face(work) and negative face(work) are particularly useful in this context, being applicable to a wider range of interactive moves than the model in which B&L cage them allows. (By way of example, one such interactive move is analyzed in detail.) This potential, however, only becomes clear when (1) these concepts are freed from the constraints of the B&L model as a whole, (2) they are defined in a manner which returns to the original inspiration for the positive-negative opposition and (3) it is understood that this opposition is just one among many aspects of face, so that it is not made to do too much, inappropriate, work. (Examples of these limits are also discussed.)

About the article

Jim O'Driscoll

He has held posts in six different countries and taught temporarily in several others. His interests range across language ideology, sociolinguistics and intercultural communication. He is currently affiliated to the University of Huddersfield, where he is involved in a conflict resolution project.

Published Online: 2007-12-04

Published in Print: 2007-11-20

Citation Information: Intercultural Pragmatics, Volume 4, Issue 4, Pages 463–492, ISSN (Online) 1613-365X, ISSN (Print) 1612-295X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/IP.2007.024.

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