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1.0 Preamble

This study examines the pragmatics of comedy. Adrian Akmajian conceives of pragmatics as a term that “covers the study of language use, and in particular the study of linguistic communication, in relation to language structure and context of utterance.”(361)When Charles Morris proposed his famous trichotomy of syntax, semantics and pragmatics, he defined the last as “the study of the relation of signs to interpreters” (6). But he soon generalized this to “the relation of signs to their users” (29). What this implies is that pragmatics interprets meaning from the angle of the speaker (i.e. speaker-intended meaning). When comedians use language, what acts are they performing? What are the issues of politeness in their language use? These are some of the questions this study will attempt to answer.

1.1   Background to the Study

The intricacies in language use have brought philosophers (first) and then linguists (later) into the study of language. Although, the first attempt made to study language was prescriptive, less technical, superficial, unprofessional, shortsighted and weak, the Greek philosophers provided the basis for which today’s linguists have made rigorous and more serious researches into the complex nature of language, its behaviour, and its workings from one society to the other or from an individual to another.

Language may be studied from different perspectives. If the substance of language is the focus of language study, then it is referred to as phonetics/phonology and graphology. The former deals with the phonics (sound) of a language and the latter deals with the graphs or the written letters of the language. If the aspect of word formation or word behaviour or word arrangement is the focus of language study, it is referred to as morphology/syntax. However, if the context of language and its function are the focus of study, then the study is placed within semantic/pragmatic fields. This present study is situated in the area of pragmatics.

Although semantics and pragmatics both study meaning, there has been a number of attempts to fairly separate them. Leech observes that “once meaning has been admitted to a central place in language, it is notoriously difficult to exclude the way meaning varies from context to context, and so semantics spills into pragmatics… Semanticists found they had bitten more than they could chew” (2). However, linguists have succeeded in delineating these two subfields. In doing this, Adegbite dichotomizes them from the perspective of whole-to-part and parts-to-whole. He claims that if semantics is given a wide coverage- cognitive, social and contextual meaning, then pragmatics will be seen as part of semantics (whole-to-part). But if it is given a narrow coverage- cognitive meaning, then they are different parts that constitute the study of meaning as whole (parts-to-whole). It is in line with this that pragmatics is seen as covering those areas uncovered by semantics.

Scholars generally conceive of Pragmatics as the study of meaning in context from the angle of the speaker. It centres on how meaning varies from one context to another despite sameness of expressions. It may also be seen as the study of the speaker-intended meaning as against the sentence meaning so that a sentence may mean one thing but the speaker has made it to have another meaning conforming to his or her thought. This is why the listener or the audience continuously searches for the speaker meaning from the speaker’s utterances. This causes him or her to ask questions like: Why did he say so? Does he mean that …? and so on bearing in mind that it is the meaning in the speaker’s mind that prompts the utterance. Pragmatics has a wide coverage of language use ranging from speech acts, cooperative principles, sequencing, to politeness principles and so on. Speech acts and Politeness principles which are parts of the most discussed pragmatic subjects constitute the focus of this study.

In speech act, language is used to perform a variegated number of functions. It is used to socialise or to desocialise, to organise or disorganise, to cause affection or disaffection, to start war or to maintain peace, to foster harmony or disharmony, and so on. In the words of Parikh, “When we use language, we typically use it to communicate information. The two dimensions of communication and aboutness correspond to two constraints, communicative and informational. These two constraints interconnect and jointly enable us to use language to communicate information” (3). Perhaps, Parikh’s two language indices, communicative and informational, mean more than they appear. Language is used to communicate our intentions, feelings, thoughts, agreements, disagreements, and so on but the way language is used probably relays communicativeness more than the language content itself. Consider ‘sorry’ made with a soft tone and the one made with a harsh tone. Whereas the content of the expression in the two instances remains the same, the communicativeness in either varies. More so, whereas the basis of language is to use it to share information, among many other things, language may as well lose its informative power if it is not well situated within its appropriate context or if the audience or other interlocutors do share the same background knowledge. The idea that language is used to do a lot of things, and that the meaning of forms used to accomplish such acts is highly dependent on socio-cultural context, was introduced into the discussion of linguistic meaning by Malinowski (1923) and Firth (1968). During this time, sociologists and sociolinguists have been particularly concerned with the use of language to negotiate role-relationship, peer-solidarity, the exchange of turns and the saving of face in conversation (Ayodabo 132). Speech act theory which examines the use of language to perform a variety of functions is an aspect of pragmatic study. With regard to the language of comedy, one wonders what comedians are doing with words especially in their creation of humour. This study will try to examine the place of speech acts in the language of comedy.

Maintaining proper etiquette and speaking properly to a person without offending him or her is what is referred to in linguistics as politeness. Some define politeness as “being nice” to the other party, and argue that when another says “I think I’m a good teacher; what do you think?” Polite people respond “You’re great”, even if they don’t think so. In this view, agreeing with another’s self-praise is considered one of the “most fundamental rules of politeness” (Nass 36). Yet while agreeableness may often accompany politeness, it does not define it if one can be both agreeably impolite and politely disagreeable. One can politely refuse, beg to differ, respectfully object and humbly criticize, that is, disagree but still be polite. Conversely, one can give charity to others yet be impolite, that is, be kind but rude, (Whitworth & Liu 208).

To be polite also means, one must not be rude or offensive. One must use proper words to convey something. Foul language can put off a person. Also, one has to be choosy about words while conveying something. Whatever has to be conveyed has to be conveyed in a subtle manner ( However, with regard to the language of comedy, one wonders if politeness can ever find its way to the ways comedians manipulate language to elicit perlocution from their audience. It is not uncommon to find comedians ‘cracking jokes’ that may elicit negative reactions from the audience. This is usually the case when people tag such jokes as “expensive” as they can be rude, impolite, crude, or inconsiderate of the feelings of the audience. This was the situation when the former First Lady of Nigeria, Dame Patience Jonathan, was at logger head with veteran comedian, Ali Baba, for making an “expensive” joke about the First Lady. Still, there are situations where the audience responds positively to such “expensive” jokes especially when one considers the sociology of language from the perspective of male-female talk or sexist language. Here, the researcher means that even when the males make impolite or negative comments about the females, they (females) tend to appreciate it.This is another form of linguistic violence against women.

According to Adetunji, linguistic violence (LV) is a concept used to capture the psychological and social use of any instance of language to abuse, offend, or hurt somebody or people. It emphasizes the linguistic situation of two people or groups symmetrically along the lines of power or status, whereby one person or group occupies a higher, and therefore, oppressive position in relation to the other (20). Gay has classified LV into three broad types-subtle, abusive, and grievous-in a continuum stretching from the minimally intensive to the maximally intensive. Subtle LV concerns an unconscious use of language by persons or groups to subjugate other persons or groups. McGhee submits that men from early childhood have the greater tendency than women to use humour oppressively: boys learn to tell aggressive or face-threatening, especially sexual jokes and girls grow up to just laugh and be amused (Cited in Ugbabe 22). Thus, impoliteness in the language of comedy can be another form of sexist language or gender bias especially if it is used by the males to consciously or unconsciously oppress the females. This work prefers to look at the place of politeness in the language of comedy as an aspect of pragmatic study.

1.2 Aim and Objectives of the Study

The aim of this study is to describe the language of comedy from a pragmatic approach. The objectives of the study are:

i. to describe the pragmatic features of the language of comedy

ii. to discuss politeness issues in the language of comedy

iii. to discuss the acts performed in the language of comedy.

1.3 Significance of the Study                                                                                                            This study focuses on the pragmatics of comedy. The study is significant in the following ways:

i. It describes the language of comedy from a pragmatic approach, which to the knowledge of

this researcher, has not been done before.

ii. It examines issues of politeness in the language of comedy.

iii. It examines the acts performed in the language of comedy.

iv. It will describe the linguistic features of the language of comedy.

v. It will serve as a resource material for students, teachers and future researchers who may want to carry out similar research in pragmatics.

vi. The study is also significant for its contribution to knowledge in the field of pragmatics.

1.4 Problem Statement

This study is an analysis of the pragmatics of comedy. It is not uncommon knowledge about the role of comedy in society. Comedians manipulate language to create humour to make people laugh and this creates medicinal, physical and psychological effects on the audience. However, perhaps, the language of comedy, as known to this researcher, is one that has been barely described by linguists in the past, let alone from a pragmatic perspective; this research sets out to describe the language of comedy from a pragmatic approach using Bovi and Basket Mouth as case studies. The problem to be resolved in this research is covered in the research questions below.

1.5 Research Methodology

This study is a descriptive analysis of the language of comedy from a pragmatic approach. The study adopts politeness principles and the speech act theory in its discussion of the language of comedy. The data is limited to selected comedies of Bovi and Basket Mouth streamed on YouTube and the responses (comments) of viewers. This means that the internet will provide a useful source of data for this study as primary data, while linguistic textbooks, journal articles, magazines and periodicals will serve as the secondary sources of information.

1.6 Scope and Limitation

This study comes under the purview of pragmatics. However, pragmatics is a broad field which covers a lot of subfields or subjects. This study is limited to the areas of politeness principles and speech acts in describing the language of comedy.

1.7 Research Questions

The study shall be guided by the following research questions:

i. What are the pragmatic features of the language of comedy?

ii. Are there politeness issues in the language of comedy?

iii. What are the types of acts performed in the language of comedy?

1.8 Motivation of the Study                                                                                     

Comedians have manipulated language to create humour for the interest of their audience. Their role in society cannot be over emphasized. However, to the best of this researcher’s knowledge, linguists have paid little or no attention to the description of the language of comedians especially from a pragmatic standpoint. One wonders what act they perform whenever they use language and what are the issues of politeness that describe their language use? These questions motivated this study.



2.0   Introduction

This chapter reviews past literature in pragmatics. It discusses, among other things, issues of politeness in pragmatics, speech act theory, the place of humour in pragmatics, pragmatics in the media, and the biographies of Bovi and Basket Mouth.

2.1 Pragmatics: An Overview

Norrick (4) conceives of pragmatics as the study of the context-dependent aspects of meaning which are systematically abstracted away from in the construction of logical form. In the semiotic trichotomy developed by Morris, Carnap, and Peirce in the 1930’s, syntax addresses the formal relations of signs to one another, semantics the relation of signs to what they denote, and pragmatics the relation of signs to their users and interpreters.

According to Wolfram and Norrick (2), even though its roots can be traced back to early classical traditions of rhetoric and stylistics, to Immanuel Kant’s conception of pragmatics as empirical and purposive and to William James, who pointed out its practical nature, modern pragmatics is a fairly recent discipline. Its inauguration as an independent field of study within semiotics took place early in the 20th Century by C. Morris, R. Carnap and ultimately C.S. Peirce. The classic division between syntax, semantics, and pragmatics goes back to Morris, who distinguished three separate “dimensions of semiosis” within his science of signs. According to Morris (21-22), one may study the relations of signs to the objects to which the signs are applicable. This relation will be called the semantical dimension of semiosis, symbolized by the sign ‘DSEM’; the study of this dimension will be called semantics. Or the subject of study may be the relation of signs to interpreters. This relation will be called the pragmatical dimension of semiosis, symbolized by the sign ‘DP’; the study of this dimension will be named pragmatics. One important relation of signs has not yet been introduced: the formal relations of signs to one another. […] This third dimension will be called the syntactical dimension of semiosis, symbolized by the sign ‘DSYN’, and the study of this dimension will be named syntactics.

Morris attempts to separate semantics, pragmatics and syntax in the evaluation of linguistic meaning by also noting their point of convergence. According to Norrick (2), syntax studies the relations signs bear to other signs, semantics the relation between signs and objects, and pragmatics the relation between signs and their interpreters. Of course, there were and are differences of opinion on where exactly to draw the line between semantics and pragmatics. Some thirty years elapsed before pragmatics finally made its way into modern linguistics in the late 1960s, when linguists began to explore the performance phenomena. To this end, they adopted ideas developed and advanced by L. Wittgenstein, G. Ryle, P. Strawson, J.L. Austin and other eminent (ordinary or natural) language philosophers. It seems safe to claim that the ensuing ‘pragmatic turn’ was most notably induced by J.L. Austin, J.R. Searle and H.P. Grice, who were interested in utterance meaning rather than sentence or word meaning, i.e. in studying unique historical events created by actual speakers to perform linguistic acts in actual situational contexts in order to accomplish specific goals. Other scientific movements that nourished pragmatics include anthropology (B. Malinowski, P. Wegener, A. Gardiner), contextualism (J.R. Firth), functionalism (K. Buhler, R. Jakobson, D. Hymes), ethnomethodology (H. Garfinkel, E. Goffman, H. Sacks) and European sociology (J. Habermas). Since the pragmatic turn, pragmatics has developed more rapidly and diversely as a linguistic discipline. Since the 1970s, the early Anglo-American framework of pragmatic-linguistic study has been immensely expanded and enhanced by research in Continental Europe and elsewhere. With historiographic hindsight, it can be seen that the broadening, i.e. the interdisciplinary expansion, of the field of pragmatics has been a cumulative process; the broader conception of pragmatics chronologically (and

causally) followed the narrower one.

Despite its scientific acclaim, the notion of pragmatics remains somewhat enigmatic and is still difficult to define. This holds for its readings in everyday discourse as well as in scholarly contexts. Nonetheless, when people refer to attitudes and modes of behaviour as pragmatic, they mean that they have a factual kind of orientation in common. People who act pragmatically or take a pragmatic perspective generally have a preference for a practical, matter of fact and realistic rather than a theoretical, speculative and idealistic way of approaching imminent problems and handling everyday affairs. To put it differently, they share a concrete, situation-dependent approach geared to action and usage rather than an abstract, situation-indespendent and system-related point of view. To assume a pragmatic stance in everyday social encounters as well as in political, historical and related kinds of discourse, means to handle the related affairs in a goal-directed and object-directed, common-sense and down to earth kind of way. Such an understanding of pragmatics as an attitude in non-scientific discourse has obviously left its traces in scientific definitions of the term. By and large, one can say that in semiotics and philosophy, pragmatic characterizes those theoretical and methodological approaches that are oriented toward use and context rather than toward some system, and that they regard use and context as creating a high degree of analytical surplus.

While essentially the same is true for linguistics in general, there is no commonly accepted definition of pragmatics in linguistics which would refer to a single, unified and homogeneous field of study. In contemporary linguistics, scholars can identify a narrow and a broad way of delineating pragmatics (of which the former is sometimes allocated to an “Anglo-American” and the latter to a “Continental [European]” tradition of pragmatics, (Huang, xi). According to the narrow view, Wolfram and Norrick (2) observe that pragmatics is understood as the systematic investigation of what and how people mean when they use language as a vehicle of action in a particular context and with a particular goal in mind. Thus, the context-dependency of utterance meaning is the central component of more narrowly defined accounts of pragmatics, which focus on a few key issues that can be juxtaposed with related issues in other modules of language theory such as grammar and semantics. Those issues include indexicality/deixis (versus anaphora), presuppositions, implicatures (versus entailments) and speech acts (versus types of sentences), to name only the most conspicuous topics.

According to Wolfram and Norrick (4), in a much broader point of view, pragmatics is the scientific study of all aspects of linguistic behaviour. In particular, pragmatics includes patterns of linguistic actions, language functions, types of inferences, principles of communication, frames of knowledge, attitude and belief, as well as organizational principles of text and discourse. Wolfram (3) summarizes the thrust of pragmatics as a discipline which deals with meaning-in-context, which for analytical purposes can be viewed from different perspectives (that of the speaker, the recipient, the analyst, etc.). It bridges the gap between the system side of language and the use side, and relates both of them at the same time.

2.2 Speech Act Pragmatics

Pragmatic theory has drawn inspiration from logic. It draws mainly upon philosophy of language and ‘the theory of speech act’ in particular, as well as the analysis of conversations and of cultural differences in verbal interaction. Just as the rules governing semantic interpretation respect the classes of syntactic structure, the operation that turns discourse into acts might also be called a pragmatic interpretation of utterances (van Dijk cited in Ayodabo 133).

Blakemore (18) is cited as saying that pragmatic theory is concerned with the mental structure underlying the ability to interpret utterances in context. The suggestion that pragmatic theory involves abstracting away from the particular properties of the situation in which it is put to use is not meant to conflict with the generally accepted view that pragmatics is the study of utterances or sentences in use. The whole point of pragmatic theory is to explain how the context is used in the interpretation of an utterance (Ayodabo 133).

According to Kempson (561), pragmatics is the study of the general cognitive principles involved in the retrieval of information from an uttered sequence of words. Lawal sees pragmatics as evolving as a result of the limitations of structural semantics to capture satisfactorily the sociological and other non-linguistic dimensions of verbal communication. What is usually meant by saying that we do something when we make an utterance is that we accomplish some specific social acts (for example, making a promise, request, giving advice, etc.) usually called speech acts (Dijk 195), or more specifically, illocutionary acts. He adds that a global differentiation between the various kinds of acts involved is made by the distinction between a locutionary act, a propositional act, and an illocutionary act, and in some cases, a perlocutionary act (Ayodabo 196).

Speech act theorists have classified speech acts in different ways. Austin (1962), the forerunner of this field, classified them into five categories of ‘verdictives,’ ‘exercitives’, ‘commissives’, ‘behabitives’ and ‘expositives’. Searle’s (1969) categories is based on the argument that Austin’s classification is deficient, in that there was too much overlap in Austin’s (1962) classification; based on that observation and some others, Searle (1969) came up with the classes of assertives, directives, commissives, expressives and declaratives, with various sub-categories and definitions (Ayodabo 134).

In Sadock’s view, the most straight-forward way in which our intended locution can be communicated is to mention directly what we are doing in making a particular utterance. He adds that the factors that determine whether a particular illocutionary act succeeds are termed felicity conditions, maintaining that in the majority of cases, the illocutionary force of an utterance is not signaled by a perfomative formula.

Bach and Harnish (197) criticized certain aspects of earlier theories, claiming that intention and inference are basic elements to understanding. They also came up with the notion of presumption. In their opinion, both linguistic and communication circumstances are presumed. They recognized two main categories of illocutionary acts: communicative, with four main categories of constatives, directives, commissives and acknowledgements, and non-communicative class with two subcategories of effectiveness and verdictives.

Trauggot and Pratt classified illocutionary acts into Representatives, Expressives, Verdictives, Directives, Commissives, and Declaratives, the sub-categories of which they also defined and explained. The centre-point of their theory as noted by Ayodabo is that a speaker’s communicative competence includes not just knowledge of what illocutionary acts can be performed in the language, but also, how, when, where and by whom they can be performed (134).

Adegbija’s major grouse with previous speech act theories is that they relegated the pragmatics of a situation of social interaction to the background. He states that at every stage of discourse, both speaker(s) and hearer(s) have to mobilize appropriate areas of the pragmatic, social, syntactic, semantic, and lexical competencies in order to be able to participate effectively in the interaction at hand (Cited in Ayodabo 134). Leech (183), writing under ‘varieties of illocutionary function’, classifies illocutionary functions into four types of competitive, convivial, collaborative and conflictive. To leech, a perlocutionary act is performed by saying something.

Allan, relying heavily on the works of Austin (1962), Searle (1969), and Bach and Harnish (1979), observes that language comes into existence only because someone performs an act of speaking or writing. He presents a scheme for analyzing the meaning of a speech act, in which there is a hierarchy among the acts, that is, the perlocutionary act presupposes a denotational act which presupposes a locutionary act which presupposes an utterance act. Allan’s (1986) classification follows Bach and Harnish’s (1979) work in terms of identifying ‘interpersonal acts’ and ‘declaratory acts’. Allan, however, justifies the major category distinction between interpersonal and declaratory acts by sub-classifying interpersonal acts into constatives, predictive, commissives, acknowledgements, directives, authoritative; and declaratory acts into effective and verdictives, totaling eight categories of speech act, as against five found in Austin (1962), six in Searle (1975), and four of Bach and Harnish (1979).

Lawal (192) identifies the pragmatic mappings of general factual knowledge of the world, local factual knowledge, socio-cultural knowledge, and knowledge of context as useful for constructing meaning out of an utterance. He adds that an understanding of the mapping helps to illustrate that a pragmatic interpretation of utterances goes beyond the meaning of lexical components and the structural semantic relations among them. Lawal’s (1995) ‘Aspects of Pragmatic Theory’ focuses on both the surface structure of an utterance as well as the background structure.

Ayodabo’s work was able to espouse the aspects of pragmatic theory captured by Lawal and how these can be applied to texts. Ayodabo noted that illocutionary acts, typically, do not come alone. They are part of a sequence of actions in general, or of a sequence of speech acts in particular. This sequence must satisfy the usual conditions for action sequence. Thus, it may be required that the final state of some speech act is a necessary condition for the success of a following act. In this sense, an illocutionary act may be an auxiliary act (135).

Just like another in general, Dijk (238) opines that speech act sequencing requires planning and interpretation. In other words, certain sequence of various speech acts may be intended and understood, and hence function socially, as one speech act. Such a speech act performed by a sequence of speech acts is called a “global speech act” or “macro speech act”

(Ayodabo 136).

Sequences in monologue or dialogue conversations may be assigned a global speech act through some conditions. Firstly, as Dijk says, by “deleting irrelevant or predictable information” (239). For such speech acts as well as for actions in general, this would mean that preparatory and auxiliary speech acts may be deleted, as well as those component speech acts which, taken together, desire the essential component of the resulting global speech acts. Similarly, Dijk adds that expressions of mental states and context descriptions may be deleted, although they may determine the acceptability of the speech act. Finally, the speech acts establishing, maintaining and concluding the sequence, that is, the communicative interaction in general, may also be dropped in macro-interpretation.

2.3 Humour in Pragmatics

The tendency of some particular cognitive experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement can be termed humour. The term derived from the humoral medicine of the ancient Greeks, which taught that the balance of fluids in the human body, known as humours (from Latin – body fluid) controlled human health and emotion. Most people are able to experience humour  ̶  be amused, smile or laugh at something funny  ̶  and thus are considered to have a sense of humour. The hypothetical person lacking a sense of humour would likely find the behaviour induced by humour to be inexplicable, strange or even irrational. Though intimately decided by personal taste, the extent to which a person finds something humorous depends on a host of variables, including geographical location, culture, maturity, level of education, intelligence and context. For instance, young children may favour puppet shows or cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, whose physical nature makes it accessible to them. By contrast, sophisticated forms of humour such as satire require an understanding of its social meaning and context and thus tend to appeal to the mature audience.

Many theories exist about what humour is and what social function it serves. The prevailing types of theories attempting to account for the existence of humour include psychological theories, the vast majority of which consider humour-induced behaviour to be very healthy; spiritual theories, which may for instance, consider humour to be a “gift from God”; and theories which consider humour to be an unexplainable mystery, very much like a mystical experience (Raymond Smullyan, 1).

The benign-violation theory, endorsed by Peter McGraw, attempts to explain humour’s existence. The theory says that humour only occurs when something seems wrong, unsettling, or threatening, but simultaneously seems okay, acceptable or safe (2). Humour can be used as a method to easily engage in social interaction by taking away that awkward, uncomfortable or uneasy feeling of social interactions. Others believe that the appropriate use of humour can facilitate social interactions. Humour is a ubiquitous, highly ingrained and largely meaningful aspect of human experience and is therefore decidedly relevant in organizational contexts, such as the work place. The significant role that laughter and fun play in organizational life has been seen as a sociological phenomenon and has increasingly been recognized as also creating a sense of involvement among workers (Wikipedia 2014). Sharing humour at work not only offers a relief from boredom, but can also build relationships, improve camaraderie between colleagues and create positive effect. It may also relieve tension and can be used as a coping strategy. Sharing a laugh with a few colleagues may improve moods and bring out quality of work.

Humour has a medicinal effect of decreasing stress, reducing tensions, killing boredoms and prolonging people’s life span. The financial benefit of humour is an understatement. Rich comedians are making a living off cracking jokes in Nigeria today among which Bovi and Basket Mouth have made names for themselves. Humour can be made out of the most serious events or situations. For instance, Nigerian standup comedians today make jokes out of national situations or ridicules public figures to create jokes. A case in point is the former first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, whose idiosyncratic language use has provided much reference points for Nigerian comedians at all levels. However, some of the jokes created out of this language situation have not been taken likely when they are used out of context. This explains the strained relationship between the former first lady and veteran standup comedian, Ali Baba. Context in humour is vital and this is where pragmatics may come in.

In literature, humour is mostly satiric as writers try to lampoon, satirize or use sarcasm to change certain societal excesses. The driving force of every humour is language or one of the basic aspects of humour is language. Language can be manipulated for stylistic and humorous effect. However, a joke made or words spoken as humorous must be context based. Jokes and humorous statements can stir up trouble if not applied to the right context. Therefore, the place of humour in pragmatics will be the application of humorous languages in their appropriate social context.

2.4 Politeness Issues in Pragmatics and the Media

For a lay person, to be polite means, one must not be rude or offensive. One must use proper words to convey something as foul language can put off a person. Also one has to be choosy about words while conveying something. Whatever has to be conveyed has to be conveyed in a subtle manner ( Although politeness as a research area of pragmatics and sociolinguistics was initiated by Brown and Levinson more than 30 years ago, it seems to be a topic which still offers enough space for new definitions and theoretical frameworks within which researchers concentrate on various politeness strategies and also language devices used for their manifestations, often in different languages, cultures, (Válková 208), and perhaps, media. Such studies on politeness have adopted one of three views – “traditional” (Lakoff 1973, Brown and Levinson 1987[1978], Leech, 1983); “post-modern” (Eelen 2001, Mills 2003, Watts 2003); and ‘frame-based view’ (Terkourafi 2001). For instance, after the emergence of the traditional view of politeness came the postmodern and frame-based views which were all borne out of dissatisfactions with the earlier theories. Initially, emphasis was on the place of politeness in physical human interactions, gradually however, and with the advent of the internet and social media in recent time, researchers’ attentions are shifting to studying politeness in machine mediated human interactions and how perceived distance affect use of politeness among others, (Hoffmann, Krämer, Lam-chi, and Kopp, 2009).

Among such salient evolving dimension to politeness studies is the delving into its relationships with social network (media)–a computer based communications. Social network according to Redbridge Marketing (208) is an “online communities of people who typically share a common interest in activity”. Those web sites that provide opportunity for the users with such platform is called social networking sites. The sites enable users ‘to interact, allow visitors to send e – mails, post content, build web content and or take part in live chat (YALSA, 2007). Explaining the social network frontiers, Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS), The Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) and Marketing Evolution (2007) remarked that Social Networking represents: a fad, especially among the young and technologically obsessed; an unprecedented tool for keeping in touch with friends and family; a disruptive, unscripted environment; an un paralleled opportunity for brands and consumer to make real connections; and some combination of all of the above and then some. Sometimes, social networking sites allow users to set up online profile or personal home pages and develop an online Social Network, (Gbadeyan 208). Examples of social networking sites include but not limited to Facebook, Myspace, Stream, Twitter, and Google+, YouTube, etc.

The data for this study is drawn from YouTube streaming and the reactions from the viewers to elicit the perlocution. To assess politeness issues in YouTube’s social network, however, it must be defined in information terms. If politeness is “considering others”, then since different societies “consider” differently, what is polite in one culture can be rude in another, (Whitworth and Liu, 208). Given no universal “polite behaviour”, there seems to be no basis to query the politeness in social media like on YouTube. Yet while different countries have different laws, the goal of fairness that underlies the law can be attributed to every society (Rawls 201). Likewise, different cultures could have different “etiquettes”, but a common goal of politeness. Nevertheless, while each society may “implement” a different etiquette, politeness remains the common “design goal”, just as legitimacy is the “spirit” behind laws that vary in detail between societies, (Whitworth and Liu 208).

If politeness can take different forms in different societies, to ask which implementation applies online is to ask the wrong question. The right question is how to “reinvent” politeness in each specific online case, whether for chat, wiki, email or other groupware, (Whitworth and Liu 208). Just as each different physical society develop local etiquettes and laws, so different communication medium may need a different politeness implementation especially online, based on a general design “pattern”, specifying politeness in information terms (Alexander 164).

Since this study relies on data from YouTube, it is not out of place to discuss in brief, this online communication medium. Another way to interact and share personal content with others is on YouTube, the world’s largest video-sharing site (Huang et al. 210). YouTube was founded in 2005 and their vision is to “give everyone a voice, to evolve video, and to make partners and advertisers successful” (Pressroom – YouTube). More than 65,000 videos are uploaded every day and most videos uploaded are available to the public (Huang et al. 210). On YouTube users can share their own videos, comment on uploaded videos, rate them, and create video collections. The videos are characterized. By that, they are mostly short and much information can be collected by the description and the comments on the videos (Huang et al. 210).

YouTube can be a trigger for a crisis, since hundreds or thousands of people can reach it. The videos that are uploaded can also be viewed repeatedly. United Airlines is a company, which have had problem with negative videos on YouTube (González-Herrero & Smith 2008).

2.5 Politeness Theory

Attempts to give an in-depth description of how human beings understand others and how they make themselves understood have led researchers across diverse disciplines- philosophy, rhetoric, communication arts, linguistics and so on- into theorizations. For the linguist, there must be a scientific procedure leading to an empirical result in giving such a description. It is against this that Austin propounded his Speech Act Theory; Grice presented his Cooperative Principle, Leech, Brown and Levinson, Lakoff and so on dwelt on Politeness Theory, at least from a pragmatic perspective.                                                                                                     It is, however, important to mention that, more often than not, one theory of locutionary description serves as bedrock for another. While Austin approached his theory from a speech-action perspective, and Grice from speaker-listener cooperation perspective, Leech, Brown and Levinson, Lakoff and others approach their theory from direct-indirect meaning perspective. They are often concerned about why speakers sometimes consider expressing their thoughts in an indirect manner. This is what underlies politeness theory.

Just as it is applicable to almost all linguistic concepts, it has always been a trouble finding a unified definition of politeness shared by all despite the innumeracy of scholarship on the concept. This could be partly because of the labyrinth of usages the term has been put to over time. No wonder Papacharissi (204) described it as attributes that are difficult to define but somehow, ‘we know them when we see them’. The non-generality of definition of politeness notwithstanding, we can still rely on scholars’ definitions in explaining the term.

From a layman’s perspective, politeness can be seen as behaviour that is respectful or

considerate to others. This layman’s view of politeness, however, underlies many sociolinguistic definitions of the term. For instance, Lakoff maintains that “to be polite is saying the socially correct thing” (53), while in the words of Adegbija, politeness is associated with situations in which one “speaks or behaves in a way that is socially and culturally acceptable and pleasant to the hearer” (58). Both Lakoff’s and Adegbija’s definitions reveal that there must be certain cultural norms and values which people’s behaviour including their speeches must conform to. One is only seen as polite if he or she behaves or speaks the way it is stipulated within that culture. Similarly, Ide views politeness as a cover term for behaviour “without friction” (7), while Brown sees it as “saying and doing things in such a way as to take into account the other person’s feeling” (114). By ‘without friction’, Ide probably means conformity (to norms). Brown is, however, particular in his definition because he does not see politeness as general. He, therefore, maintains that politeness is observed in relation to ‘the other person’s feeling.’

Fraser and Nolen took a more general approach to defining the term ‘politeness.’ According to them, “to be polite is to abide by the rules of the relationship. The speaker becomes impolite just in cases where he (or she) violates one or more of the contractual terms” (96). Nwoye shares similar view when he observed that “being polite is … conforming to socially agreed codes of good conduct” (310) and for Watts, Ide, and Ehlich, politeness “help(s) us to achieve ‘effective social living’” (2). It is important to mention here that these scholars maintain that there may be a communication breakdown when codes of conduct of the society are not respected in speech or behaviour.

2.6 Approaches to Politeness Theory                                                                                  

Although politeness is a research area of pragmatics and sociolinguistics initiated by Brown and Levinson more than 30 years ago, it has emerged to be a topic which still offers enough space for new definitions and theoretical frameworks within which researchers concentrate on various politeness strategies and also language devices used for their manifestations, often in different languages and cultures, (Válková 208). While summarizing the theoretical approaches to politeness over the past years, Fraser (223) identified four current perspectives: the social-norm view, the conversational-maxim view, the face-saving view, and the conversational contract view. These are discussed below:

2.6.1    The Social-Norm View

The ‘social-norm view’ refers to the normative view of politeness seen as the social standards of behaviour in any society. It reflects the historical understanding of politeness as embraced by Western cultures. According to these standards, polite behaviour adheres to rules of etiquette and rude behaviour contradicts these norms. This view associates politeness with speech style, and connects a higher degree of formality to greater politeness. There is controversy in the literature regarding the status of this approach within approaches to politeness. On the one hand is the extreme view which asserts that the interpretation of politeness as the desire to be pleasant to others “has no place within pragmatics” (Thomas 150). Fraser seems to hold a similar opinion and states that this approach has few adherents in the current research on politeness. It seems, however, that this conceptualization of politeness can be seen as corresponding to another view, that of “discernment politeness”, which has been proposed as the underlying basis of politeness systems in non-Western cultures (Hill et al. 196; Ide 189)