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Journal of Politeness Research

Language, Behaviour, Culture

Ed. by Grainger, Karen

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

M. Lynne Murphy / Rachele De Felice
Published Online: 2019-02-07 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/pr-2016-0027


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.

Keywords: politeness strategies; requests; pragmatic variation; English; please


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About the article

M. Lynne Murphy

Is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sussex, specializing in lexicology with a pragmatic bent. Her books include Semantic Relations and the Lexicon (Cambridge UP, 2003) and Lexical Meaning (Cambridge UP, 2010). Since 2006, she has written the Separated by a Common Language blog on the relationships between British and American English.

Rachele De Felice

Is a Senior Teaching Fellow at University College London. Her research focuses on corpus linguistics and pragmatics, and the intersection between these two disciplines. Particular areas of interest are speech act use across different varieties of English, and politeness behaviours in workplace communication.

Received: 2016-06-23

Accepted: 2017-01-25

Published Online: 2019-02-07

Published in Print: 2019-02-04

Citation Information: Journal of Politeness Research, Volume 15, Issue 1, Pages 77–100, ISSN (Online) 1613-4877, ISSN (Print) 1612-5681, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/pr-2016-0027.

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