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

M. Lynne Murphy 1  and Rachele De Felice 2
  • 1 University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, United Kingdom
  • 2 University College London, London, United Kingdom
M. Lynne Murphy
  • Corresponding author
  • University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, United Kingdom
  • Further information
  • 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.
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and Rachele De Felice
  • University College London, London, United Kingdom
  • Further information
  • 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.
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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.

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