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Discourse Analysis Politeness In Ionescos The Lesson English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2650 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This article is concentrating on the linguistic strategies of politeness presented in drama text. The text chosen for analysis is Ionesco’s The Lesson, a play which would virtually demand a politeness analysis. the discourse model which has been selected for the analysis is one which should enable me to explore ,in a systematic way, the relation between language use and the social relation of the speakers. The present study will examine literary text from a discourse oriented perspective because the subject of the analysis is the drama dialogue. The choice of the dialogues is further justified when one notice that the drama dialogue selected for analysis represents a particular kind of discourse situation ;a lesson. a discourse stylistic analysis should examine the interaction between the fictional characters in the play as well as encompassing the interaction between writer/playwright and reader /audience. This echoes the embedded nature of drama discourse. Generally a discourse stylistic analysis should highlight the role of the writer and reader as conversationalists in realtime speech events, pointing particularly the former’s ability to exploit the conversations of language use for stylistic effect and latter’s ability to recognize these exploitations and motivations behind it.

Politeness and Interactions

Much of what we say and a greater deal of what we communicate is determined by our social relationships. A linguistic interaction is necessarily a social interaction. In order to make sense of what is said in an interaction we have to look at various factors which relate to social distance and closeness. Some of these factors are external ,they involve the relative status of the participants ,based on social values, such as age and power. However here are also internal factors such as amount of imposition and degree of friendliness. It might accord with what Foucault talked about power and relation. He said that power is not something to be seized it is exercised from different points of an interplay in a mobile non-egalitarian relation. Both types of factors have an influence over not only what we say but on how we are interpreted. In order to understand the meaning of politeness in an interaction we need the concept of face. As a technical term, face means the public self-image of a person .it refers to emotional and social sense of self that everyone has and expects the others to recognize it .politeness in an interaction can then be defined as the means employed to show awareness of another person’s face. Within their everyday social infraction people generally behave as if their expectation concerning their public self-image, or their face wants, will be respected. If a speaker say something that represents a threat to another individual’s expectations regarding self-image, it is described as a face threatening act ..Alternatively given the possibility that some action might be interpreted as a threat to another’s face, the speaker can say something to lesson the possible threat. This is called a face saving act. We also have negative and positive face. a person’s negative face is the need to be independent, to have freedom of action ,and not to be imposed on by others. The word negative here doesn’t mean bad it ‘s just the opposite pole of positive. a person’s positive face is the need to be accepted ,even liked ,by others ,to be treated as the member of the same group, and to know that his and her wants are shared by the others. In short negative face is the need to be independent and positive face is the need to be connected.

There are also various forms of face threatening act. Depending on the social relationship of the speakers and the amount of imposition which the face threatening act entails.

For example if you say ‘ closed the door ‘ it is a face threatening act that has been done baldly, without redress. In fact a bald non redressive act is one that adheres to four conversational maxim introduced by a philosopher called Grice. It is maximally efficient in so far as it is non-spurious (quality maxim), it does not say more or less than is required ( quantity),it is relevant(relation) and it avoids ambiguity and obscurity (manner). There are a number of alternatives to perform face threatening act. If you say your request not directly and the other partner can also behave as if the statement has not been heard, this is technically described as being off record. In general ,linguistic realization of off-record strategies include metaphor and irony, rhetorical questions ,understatement ,tautologies and all kinds of indirect hints .but if you directly address the other partner as a means of expressing your need like the example above this is described as being on-record .in the face saving act we have positive politeness and negative politeness. Positive politeness is like being on-record more risky. This can be used in more friendly and close relations.

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In negative politeness the request is most typically performed via a question like may I ask you ….? Or could you lend me your pen?.the tendency to use positive politeness forms ,emphasizing closeness between speaker and hearer ,can be seen as solidarity strategy. Such a strategy will include personal information, use of nicknames even use of abusive terms. The tendency to use negative politeness forms, emphasizing the hearer’s right to freedom, can be seen as a deference strategy. This strategy can be performed through using hedges, indicating deference, minimizing the imposition, indicating pessimism, apologizing, impersonalizing , etc…

The Analysis

In The Lesson the central event is a private lesson involving an ageing professor and an eighteen year old pupil. The specific aim of the lesson is never made clear ;the pupil, it seems ,wishes to undertake ‘all the doctorate’ ,yet the professor directs most of his pedagogical energy toward ridiculously elementary arithmetic .at the start of the play the professor is nervous and difficult while the pupil is vivacious and dynamic .the professor gradually loses his timidity ,becoming increasingly domineering and aggressive, whereas the pupil grows more and more passive. finally in the storm of verbal abuse the professor murders the pupil with what can only be described as an imaginary knife. The play concludes with the revelation that not only is this the professor’s fortieth victim of the play but also he had planned subsequent ‘lesson’ of a similar nature. The professor’s transition from diffidence to dominance, and the pupil’s decline into passivity is a gradual and almost imperceptible process. the shift in the interactive roles of the two characters is reflected by subtle changes in their linguistic behavior. To account for this three short extracts have been taken from key stages in the play development.

The opening encounter between the professor and the pupil;

Professor; Good morning, good morning …….you are…..err…..I suppose you are really….err….the new pupil?

(The pupil turns round briskly and easily, very much the young lady; she gets up and goes toward the professor ,holding out her hand)

Pupil; yes ,sir. Good morning, sir. You see I came at the right time . i didn’t want to be late.

Professor Good .yes , that’s very good. Thank you. But you shouldn’t have hurried too much ,you know don’t know quite how to apologize to you for having you kept waiting….. I was just finishing….you understand ,I was just…err…..i do beg your pardon …..i hope you will forgive me…

Pupil; oh, but you mustn’t sir it’s perfectly all right, sir.

Professor; my apologies…..

the professor’s first remarks are clearly phatic.it is noticeable that he repeats the phrase good morning, possibly this repetition revealing some anxiety in the early stage of the encounter. Then the professor goes on to make the first threatening act of the interaction he requires information concerning the identity of his interlocutor..first he begins with a declarative sentence which will function as a request for confirmation from the pupil .this is followed by a hedging particle.

In addition to the particle ‘err’ hedges are achieved by the phrases ‘I suppose’ and ‘ really’ .the use of ‘I suppose’ makes more tentative assumption in the professor’s request, while ‘ really’ functions to weaken the force of the request. Actually the professor’s opening gambit is a good example of negative politeness phenomena.

The pupil’s use of the ‘ honorific sir’ communicates deference, her linguistic strategy conveys confidence and self- determination. She is eager to play merit for her punctuality, not letting this possible feature of her behavior escape her interlocutor.

She also response to the professor’s earlier phatic initiation in a calm and equanimous. The pupil’s non verbal behavior here is also significant and displays considerable confidence on her part. The professor’s second speech begins with some positive feedback concerning the pupil’s punctuality, but then he moves into an extraordinary sequence of negative politeness. It should be noted here that the professor has kept the pupil waiting for no more that a few seconds. It is completely clear that he considers himself to have made some immense imposition on her interlocutor. He declares his inability to apologies this first indicates his deference .secondly ,he draws on the apologize strategy , or rather claims his inability to apologize. He supplements this by utilizing a specific sub strategy of apologize; he admits the impingement , by explicitly referring to the imposition caused to the addressee. After some hesitation he proceeds with more negative politeness, he attempts to state the overwhelming reasons which lead him to perform the face threatening act. Then after this and he attempts a more hedge version of the same sub strategy, with a complete lack of success. Then he moves to beg forgiveness strategy, which also incorporates the pessimistic strategy in its use of ‘I hope’.

This elaborate display of politeness strategy is in reality a relatively trivial imposition the professor minimally impinged on the negative face of the addressee ,on the other hand he persist with a gratuitous build up of repair strategy ,there is in fact a kind of pragmatic’ mismatch ‘ here .so this shows that the politeness strategies he uses are vastly out of proportion to the actual imposition he makes on the hearer.

The pupil’s injection is well timed, what is more significant is that the pupil grants the forgiveness requested by the professor with her remark ‘ it’s perfectly all right sir ‘ .indeed on the basis of this exchange ,it seems as if it is the pupil not the professor who is more powerful of the interaction. The pupil’s persistent use of the honorific ‘ sir ‘ is incongruous.

The second extract is taken from the middle of the play;

Professor; what is four? Greater or smaller that three?

Pupil; smaller ….. no greater.

Professor; excellent answer. How many units are missing between three and four?

….. or between four and three if you’d rather?

Pupil; there aren’t any units sir, between three and four. Four comes immediately after three; there is nothing at all between three and four!

Professor; I can’t have made myself understood properly .it’s doubtless my own fault .i haven’t been clear enough.

Pupil ; oh no sir the fault is entirely mine .

Professor; listen .here are three matches .and here is another one . that makes four. Now watch carefully….

In this conversation the characters are competing with one another in their use of negative politeness strategies .the trade in ‘ deference’ phenomena would suggest that a more symmetrical power relation exists between the two characters at this point in the play .these face threatening act ,which impose upon the negative face of the addressee by demanding a particular service ,have been done baldly. They are impolite , in fact these bald non repressive face threatening act are the first suggestion that the professor is becoming not only more powerful but less concerned with being polite to his interlocutor.. it is also noticeable that nowhere in this extract the professor used his hedging particle ‘ err’ which was used so frequently in the first conversation..There is generally a change in professor’s linguistic behavior..There are signs that the professor is beginning to assume a position of high relative power.

The third extract is taken from near the end of the play .it occurs shortly before the professor murders the pupil with the invisible knife. This act can be considered the ultimate face threatening act.

Professor; every language mademoiselle- note this carefully and remember it till the day you die

Pupil; oh !yes sir till the day I die …. Yes sir …

Professor ; … and again , this is another fundamental principle , every language is in fact only a manner of speaking , which inevitably implies that it is a made up of sounds , or …

Pupil; phonemes ….

Professor; I was just about to say so . Don’t show off , airing your knowledge !you’d better just listen .

Pupil ; very well sir .yes sir .

Professor; sounds mademoiselle, should be caught in flight by their wings so that they do not fall on deaf ears..consequently when you have made up your mind to articulate ,you are recommended , in so far as possible ,to stretch your neck and your chin well up , and stand righty on the tips of your toes ,look now ,like this ,you see …..

Pupil; yes, sir.

Professor; be quite. don’t interrupt ….

the conversation here has changed to an extended nonsensical monologue from the professor .considering the professor’s opening speech ,which is the beginning of a disoriented proclamation of language .it is not only a bald ,non-repressive face threatening demanding careful attention from the pupil but there is a sinister threatening quality to this face threatening act.

.the pupil’s reaction on the other hand is a display of genuine deference.

Here the use of the honorific ‘ sir ‘ is not incongruous but it is a term of address used by an inferior to a superior .when the pupil is eager to participate in the interaction this draws admonition from the professor in the form of another threatening ,bald, non -redressive face threatening act. At last the professor gives three unmitigated command which illustrate how the professor’s politeness strategies have completely vanished . it is also significant that one of these face threatening acts is intended to restrict the physical movement of the addressee .thus the pupil who was able to move confidently in the first extract ,is now confined powerless to her chair.

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In three passages from the lesson , when compared to one another ,show a marked reversal in the interactive relation of the two characters ,during the course of the play the reversal is gradually achieved and it is difficult to isolate a specific point at which a character gains or loses power .one thing that is clear is that the transition in interactive roles is signaled by the subtle variations in the linguistic strategies which these characters use to one another .


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