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VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI
UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGE AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
FACULTY OF POST-GRADUATE STUDIES
*******************

NGUYỄN THỊ PHƢƠNG ANH

A STUDY ON POLITENESS STRATEGIES
TO MAKE REQUESTS USED IN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENCES
WRITTEN BY AMERICANS
NGHIÊN CỨU CÁC CHIẾN LƢỢC LỊCH SỰ
KHI ĐƢA RA YÊU CẦU TRONG THƢ TÍN KINH DOANH ĐƢỢC VIẾT
BỞI NGƢỜI MỸ

M.A. MINOR PROGRAMME THESIS

Field: English Linguistics
Code: 60220201

HANOI - 2017



VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI
UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGE AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
FACULTY OF POST-GRADUATE STUDIES
*******************

NGUYỄN THỊ PHƢƠNG ANH

A STUDY ON POLITENESS STRATEGIES
TO MAKE REQUESTS USED IN ENGLISH BUSINESS
CORRESPONDENCE WRITTEN BY AMERICANS
NGHIÊN CỨU CÁC CHIẾN LƢỢC LỊCH SỰ
KHI ĐƢA RA YÊU CẦU TRONG THƢ TÍN KINH DOANH
ĐƢỢC VIẾT BỞI NGƢỜI MỸ

M.A. MINOR PROGRAMME THESIS

Field: English Linguistics
Code: 60220201
Supervior: Assos. Prof. Dr Ngô Hữu Hoàng

HANOI - 2017


DECLARATION
I hereby certify that this thesis is entirely my own work. I have provided fully
documented references to the others‟ work. The material in this thesis has not been
submitted for assessment in any other formal course. I also accept all the
requirements of ULIS relating to the retention and use of M.A Graduation Thesis
deposited in the library.

Hanoi, 2017

Nguyễn Thị Phƣơng Anh

i


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT


This thesis would not be fulfilled without the help of some people, and in
some ways, I would like to thank everyone who has taught me, inspired me,
challenged me, and supported me throughout the realization of this thesis.
I would like to express my deepest thanks to my beloved supervisor,
Assoc.Prof.Dr Ngo Huu Hoang, , for his whole-hearted assistance, encouragement
as well as his profound guidance he gave me while I was doing my research.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all lecturers in
Faculty of Post-graduate Studies, University of Languages and International
Studies, Vietnam National University, Hanoi for their interesting lectures which
have inspired me to conduct this thesis.
I would also like to express my thanks to my colleagues -teachers of English,
who encourage me, and help me during the project.
Last but not least, I am most thankful to my relatives who have always
inspired and encouraged me to complete this study.
Hanoi, May 2017

Nguyễn Thị Phương Anh

ii


ABSTRACT
This thesis is to raise the competence of pragmatics in business writing for
language learners when the needs of communications among people in the world
are increasing much more and more. However, it is obviously indicated that English
learners seems not to have understandings about pragmatics and essential issues in
linguistics that makes them difficult in learning foreign language effectively. The
researcher would like to show the importance of politeness strategies in requestings
in native English speakers, in order to help learners avoid the FTAs when writing.
In the thesis, the material is used : seventeen letters from Americans, which support
the researchers carry out the research. They are letters of customers to suppliers and
vice versa, to ask information of price, products, shipment. By the deductive
method, the research is carried out based on the theory of politeness strategies of
Brown and Levison, then the data is descriptive, emumerated and analysed which
the most frequent politeness strategies to make requests in writing mode and the
trend of use these strategies in American business letters. It aims at giving full
awareness of politeness strategies, the roles of pragmatics in commmunicating.

iii


TABLE OF CONTENT

DECLARATION .............................................................................................. i
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT .............................................................................. ii
ABSTRACT .................................................................................................... iii
PART A: INTRODUCTION.......................................................................... 1
1.1 Rationale...................................................................................................... 1
1.2 Aims of the study ........................................................................................ 1
1.3 The research questions ................................................................................ 2
1.4 The scope of research .................................................................................. 2
1.5 Significance of the study ............................................................................. 2
1.6 Design of study ........................................................................................... 2
PART B. DEVELOPMENT ........................................................................... 4
CHAPTER 1: THEORETICAL BACKGROUND ..................................... 4
1.1 The pragmatic scope of the study ............................................................... 4
1.1.1 The speech act theory ............................................................................... 4
1.1.2 Requesting as a speech act ....................................................................... 5
1.2 Theoretical background of politeness ......................................................... 7
1.2.1 Brown and Levison‟s theory of politeness............................................... 8
1.2.1.1 Face ....................................................................................................... 8
1.2.1.2 Face-threatening acts ( FTAs) ............................................................... 9
CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW.................................................... 14
2.1 Research on politeness to make requests in written language .................. 14
2.2 Business letters and making requests ........................................................ 15
2.2.1 Business letters ....................................................................................... 15
2.2.2 Making requests in English business letters .......................................... 16
2.2.3 Some research on business letters .......................................................... 16
CHAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY.............................................................. 18
3.1 Research method ....................................................................................... 18
3.2 Data collections ......................................................................................... 18
3.3 Data analysis ............................................................................................. 19

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3.4 Research procedures.................................................................................. 20
3.5 Summary ................................................................................................... 20
CHAPTER 4: FINDING AND DISCUSSION .......................................... 22
4.1 Frequency of occurrence of politeness strategies to make request in
business letters composed by Americans ........................................................ 22
4.1.1 Requests from customers to suppliers ................................................... 22
4.1.1.1 Positive politeness strategies ............................................................... 22
4.1.1.2 Negative politeness strategies ............................................................. 25
4.1.Requests from supplier to customers ........................................................ 29
4.1.2.1 Positive politeness strategies ............................................................... 29
4.1.2.2 Negative politeness strategies ............................................................. 30
4.1.3 Results .................................................................................................... 33
4.2 Comparison of using politeness strategies to make request between
customers and suppliers. ................................................................................. 35
4.2.1 Positive politeness strategies to make requests from customers and
supplier ............................................................................................................ 35
4.2.2 Negative politeness strategies to make requests from customers and
supplier ............................................................................................................ 36
PART C: CONCLUSION............................................................................. 38
1. Summary ..................................................................................................... 38
2. Recapitulation.............................................................................................. 38
3. Limitations .................................................................................................. 39
4. Implications ................................................................................................. 39
5. Suggestion for further research ................................................................... 40
REFERENCES .............................................................................................. 41
APPENDIXES .................................................................................................. I

v


ABBREVIATION

FTA: Face-threatening act
FSA: Face- saving act
S:

Speaker

H:

Hearer

EFL: Engish as Foreign Langague

vi


LIST OF FIGURES, TABLES, AND CHARTS
FIGURE
Figure 1. Face-threatening acts(Meier, 1995) ....................................................... 9
Figure 2. Social factors affects the speaker‟s strategies in communication ...................11
Figure 3. Possible strategies for doing face-threatening acts(Brown & Levinson,
1987) ................................................................................................................ 11

TABLE
Table 1. The frequency of occurrence of politeness strategies in business letters
from customers to suppliers ............................................................................... 33
Table 2: Politeness strategies to make requests in letters from suppliers to customers.. 34
CHART
Chart 1:

Positive politeness strategies to make requests from customers and
suppliers ..............................................................................................36

Chart 2:

Negative politeness strategies to make requests from customers and
supplier ............................................................................................... 37

vii


PART A: INTRODUCTION
1.1 Rationale
Studying pragmatics is one interesting aspect in linguistics because of its practical
features on communicating activities of people around the world. Politeness strategy is
one considerable topic in pragmatics. Using and having competence of politeness
strategies brings many advantages for communicating effectively, because it has effects
on result of communication between people and people. According to Brown and
Levinson (1987)Politeness is the expression of the speakers' intention to mitigate face
threats carried by certain face threatening acts toward the listener. Another definition is
"a battery of social skills whose goal is to ensure everyone feels affirmed in a social
interaction"(Mills, 2003). Therefore, being polite can be an attempt for the speaker to
save their own face or the face of who he or she is talking to.
These days, means of communication do not limit on direct communication
because of development of technology. Therefore, doing business is much easier
than before, businesspeople can use letters sent via Internet to discuss, transactions
what they need. Within communicating activities, requesting that can threaten the
addressee‟ face most. Normally, it is studied in spoken language more than written
language such as business letters. Meanwhile, the exchange of information between
businesspeople is mostly continuous every day, especially via e-mails, including
asking for information and ordering. Therefore, the present study would like to
analyze requesting in business letters written by American. It can bring a clear
finding about the politeness strategies to make requests in written mode. It can help
learners who learn English as a second language/ foreign language be competent the
pragmatics, politeness strategies in making requests.
1.2 Aims of the study
The main purposes of the study are to examine which kind of politeness
strategies to make requests in business letters from Americans. And, the second
purpose is to find out the factors that affect choosing their politeness strategies in
different business situations.
1


With the above aims, the objectives of this study are as follows:
- To explore what politeness strategies are often used to make request in
business letters composed by Americans.
- To find out what roles of the factors around to the effectiveness of requests
1.3 The research questions
In order to achieve the aims stated, the study is meant to find out the answer
to 2 following research questions
1. What are the most frequent politeness strategies to make requests in
business letters from Americans?
2. Are there differences on choosing the strategies in American business letters?
1.4 The scope of research
This study focuses on the politeness strategies in making request used in
English business letters from Americans. Requesting in business letters is various,
however, because of the limitation of time and data, the research just focuses on
some specific requests between clients and suppliers.
The researcher chooses 17 letters, which composed by Americans which are
collected from reliable sources. Ethical issues have also been considered in this
study. Some of these letters are downloaded from the Internet and some others were
collected from real American letters.
1.5 Significance of the study
The study has been conducted with the expectations that English learners in
Vietnam will have more competences of pragmatics, especially politeness strategies
to make requests used in English letters, which brings them benefits to gain the
most effective communication with their international business partners.
Meanwhile, the research hopes to help students be more aware of American written
styles in business letters, how they use language to show their attitude to others.
1.6 Design of study
The study consists of three parts
Part A, Introduction presents the rationale of the study, the aims, the research
questions, the significances, the scope, the methodology and the design of study.

2


Part B, Development includes
Chapter I, Theoretical background: In this chapter, theoretical knowledge
of politeness strategies and business letters is presented.
Chapter II, Literature review: it deals with the literature review of some
previous studies on the similar issue.
Chapter III, Methodology of research: Methodology, in which the
researcher will restate the research questions and show how the researcher applied
data collection instruments and process of conducting the study. Data analysis, in
which the research used both qualitative and quantitative method to study and
analyze the figure and information collected.
Chapter IV, Finding and discussion: in this chapter, the research represents
the result from analyzing data, then discusses the result toward the theory to give
the findings after doing the research.
Part C, Conclusion, which summarizes all findings explored and bring out
useful suggestions for the teachers to apply in teaching writing and for learners to
improve in learning how to write English business letter effectively. An overall
picture of what has been done in this study and suggestions for the further studies
are also employed in this part.

3


PART B. DEVELOPMENT

CHAPTER 1: THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
1.1 The pragmatic scope of the study
Pragmatics is not too strange in linguistics studies in the last decades; it seems
to be a hot trend which many linguists have concerns about.
There are many arguments on defining what the pragmatics is, however, the
researcher highly appreciates the view of Leiwo et al (1992:17), he emphasizes the
language use in context and interaction, the user-oriented opinion is interested in
how these elements are used in a specific context. It means that not all extralinguistic factors can be excluded from a pragmatic evaluation. Pragmatics asks the
reason why people use language as they do and what they achieve by it. This
emphasis lies in the use and function of language. Besides, the Halliday‟s functional
view of language contributes significantly into identify the function of language in
pragmatics. The first is the interpersonal function, which means the conveying of
attitude and emotion, and the creation and maintenance of interpersonal
relationships. The second function includes the non-linguistics factors in language
use(Halliday, 1970). Pragmatics can study any feature of language, its structure,
words, even tones of voice(Verschueren, 1995). It can explain features of language
use that other disciplines cannot account for. It would be impossible to explain
politeness without having some competence of the pioneering works concerning
language use. The works of Austin and Grice are still considered fundamental to the
theory and research in pragmatics. Their theories will be discussed briefly in the
following.
1.1.1 The speech act theory
Based on Austin‟s speech act theory, the idea of speech acts as follows: all
clauses are linguistic actions which are used to present information (stating), to
acquire information (asking) or to make someone do something (ordering) etc. The
meaning of an utterance has three aspects:

4


+ The locution is the basic act of an utterance or produces a meaningful
linguistic expression.
+ The illocution is force of the utterance, its function. People do not create a
meaningful sentence without any purpose.
+ The perlocutionary is the effect the utterance has on the hearer. An utterance
such as “It’s hot in here” can mean a request to open the window or a complaint
about forgetting the air conditioning.
Besides, Searle (1975, pp. 59-61) develops Austin‟s theory further and makes
a distinction between direct and indirect speech acts. Speech acts are direct when
the syntactic form of sentence matches with its function.
Thus declaratives are used to make assertions, interrogatives to ask questions,
and imperatives to make orders or requests. However, the form and the function do
not often match, and the concept of indirect speech act is needed. The illocution of
an utterance is different from its syntactic form. The speech act theory indicates that
language use is often indirect but it did not show clearly how people manage to
interpret indirectness.
1.1.2 Requesting as a speech act
Request is defined by Hornby and Wehmeier (1995, p. 996) that an act of
politely asking for something”, belongs to the category of Directives. By means of
an utterance, the speaker expects the hearer to do something as he or she wants.
According to Assoc.Prof, Dr Nguyen Van Do( 2000,2004), there are some contents
of requests used by English and Vietnamese:
 Request to get the information
 Request to get the help
 Request to get the protection of God
 Request someone ( the addressee) to do something
Although it has an assembly of the four contents in English and Vietnamese, it
still has some different points because of the influence of different culture.

5


According to Searle (1969), there are five categories of speech acts, and
requesting is defined as “an act of politely asking for something” belonged to the
category of Directives. By means of an utterance, the speaker expects the hearer to
do something as he or she wants. For example:
“Won’t you kiss me goodbye”- ask for a kiss goodbye.
“Will you leave me alone, will you” –ask the hearer to leave him/her alone.
(Hornby & Wehmeier, 1995)
Like many other speech acts, requesting can be made direct or indirect.
According to Brown and Levinson (1987), requesting is a face-threatening speech
act. Therefore, the speaker prefers an indirect way to make a request in order to
keep a good public self image for the hearer. One of the common indirect requests
is in the form of a question, typically that of the hearer‟s ability (“can you?”,
“could you?”) or future possibility (“will you?”, “would you?”). These are very
commonly accepted not only in English but also in other languages. The advantage
of indirect requesting is that it makes the speaker more polite in the eyes of the
hearer and it gives the hearer a freedom to choose his behavior.
As usual, a request includes two main parts, a head act and additional elements
which consist of Alerter, Perspective and the Modification. The Head Act is the
minimal unit which is the core of the request sequence. Alerter is an element whose
function is to draw H‟s attention to what is uttering. Eg: Mrs, Ms, …Perspective is
inferred as a choice made by the speaker whose want or wish is emphasized or
dominant in the requesting and it is coded as follow:
(1). Hearer perspective: Can you show me your driving license, please.
(2). Speaker perspective: Could I see your driving license, please?
(3). Inclusive: Could we swap cars?
(4). Impersonal: Can one ask for a little quiet?
(Blum-Kulka, House, & Kasper, 1989)
In conclusion, requesting is one kind of speech acts used variously and widely
in human interactions. Depending on the particular purpose, different requesting is

6


made and it is represented in different styles. However, in each requesting, the
speaker often tries to increase his/her politeness in various ways.
1.2 Theoretical background of politeness
As mentioned in the previous chapter, indirectness has received a lot of
attention

in

research

on

pragmatics.

Although

indirectness

may cause

misunderstandings, linguists would like to find out why language is so often used
indirectly. Moreover, the social nature of language use is often seen as the main
reason for paying more attention to interpersonal aspects of communication than
clarity of the message. Thomas (1983, pp. 143-145) found politeness to be one of
the major reasons for indirectness, but it should be noted that politeness does not
consist exclusively of indirect language use.
Politeness in language is a very complicated and controversial phenomenon.
We need to separate the term politeness as a pragmatic phenomenon with the
common view of politeness, polite behavior such as thanking or greeting.
Politeness has developed into a sub-discipline of pragmatics for the past
decades. Piirainen-Marsh (1995, p. 22) mention two central concepts that are
helpful when explaining politeness. The first is the communicative goal which
refers to the effects that a speaker wants to achieve by a certain utterance. The
second concept is strategies which are the means for achieving the communicative
goals. Some studies on politeness in pragmatics focus on the social nature of the
phenomenon, goal- oriented communication. There assumptions of politeness
contribute to the definition of politeness which is accepted by most linguists and
which is used in the present study. In the most important theories linguistic,
politeness is seen as strategic conflict avoidance (see Kasper 1990, Thomas 1995,
Fraser,1990).
According to Piirainen-Marsh (1995), he concludes that the central ideas of
politeness that are generally upon: politeness is one of the dimensions of language
use which is oriented to the establishment and maintenance of interpersonal
relations. Politeness is as a tool to avoid offence and to achieve or keep cooperation

7


or successful communication. When people communicate with others, they try to
choose the most suitable way to say what they want or mean, it depends on
particular situation. Therefore, politeness is regard as one of the underlying forces
which influence human interaction and interpersonal communication.
1.2.1

Brown and Levison‟s theory of politeness

As mentioned in the previous part, the Grice‟s framework is accept as
essentially correct and the Cooperative Principle as unmarked framework for
communication. Politeness is considered as the reason for not following strictly the
conversational maxims in everyday speech. They share the same idea as Leech
about that politeness is the main motivation for violating the maxims. They also
state that linguistic politeness has to be communicated; it means the speaker has to
show his/her intention to be polite. The failure to convey the intention may be
interpreted as absence of polite behavior. Comparing two utterances below:
“ Be quiet, please” – a request with the intention to be polite
“Quiet!”- a request without polite intention.
However, this conclusion does not occur in variety of contexts and cultures,
because indirectness is not the only way of conveying polite intentions.
1.2.1.1 Face
Face is the essential property of a member of a society, and it is considered to
be the main concept of Brown and Levison‟s theory. They expand the original idea
of Goffman (1967) about Face. It is something that can be lost, damaged,
maintained, or enhanced and must be constantly attended to during interaction. Face
is further divided into negative and positive faces.
Positive face: Positive face employs a person‟s wish to be approved.
Negative face: it means a person‟s wish to have freedom of action and
freedom from imposition.
These aspects of face are normal expectations which a member of a society
has and knows other members to have, thus there is a mutual interest to save each
other‟s face. People can be expected to defend their faces if threatened, and while
defending their own faces they are likely to threaten other people‟s faces in return.
Therefore, it assumes that everyone‟s best interest maintain each other‟s face and

8


also show their intention to be polite. The speaker maintains the addressee‟s face
unless s/he can get the addressee to maintain the speaker‟s face without
recompense(Brown & Levinson, 1987, pp. 60-62).
According to Brown and Levison( 1987:13), they state that face is a universal
property. They also show the effect of cultural variation on face. There are
differences between cultures as to what kinds of acts are considered facethreatening and who have special rights to face-protection.
To be clear about their theory of politeness, the researcher will give more
details of the main ideas in Brown and Levison about politeness in the following.
Namely, Face-threatening acts and politeness strategies with Brown and Levison‟
views are presented in detail. Then, some criticism about their views of politeness
and earlier previous studies on the issue would be employed.
1.2.1.2 Face-threatening acts ( FTAs)
FTAs which occur regularly in everyday interaction are softened by means of
politeness. Politeness can be expressed through “positive politeness” ( e.g “ please”,
to try to make the other like you) or “negative politeness” ( e.g “I know this is a
terrible imposition”, try to give the other person some space and not impose). Face
is constantly threatened by certain linguistic acts, face-threatening acts(
FTA)(Brown & Levinson, 1987, p. 65). They also give a classification of FTAs,
which is summarized in figure 1

Figure 1. Face-threatening acts(Meier, 1995)

9


Meier (1995)indicates that both of speaker‟s face and addressee‟s face are
maybe threatened. Also, positive and negative face can be exposed to threat. The
negative face of hearer can be threatened by requesting, ordering or offering.
Meanwhile, the addressee‟s positive face can be caused by the negative face of
speaker, including acts of disapproving, criticizing, and disagreeing. The negative
face of speaker can be threatened by thanking or accepting an offer, and his/her
positive face by such acts as apologizing, or accepting compliment. It is clear that
these categories cover, because certain FTAs, such as complaints and interruption,
threaten both positive and negative face. This view suggests that in fact all linguistic
acts can be face-threatening. Even these acts are considered as “polite acts”, such as
offers or expressions of thanks, can be seen to limit the addressee‟s freedom of
action. (Piirainen-Marsh, 1995).
In order to avoid FTAs or minimize the threat participants use strategies which
is considered as “politeness strategies” when communicating. The strategies have
two functions:
+ They are used to mitigate the threat when communicating to others
+ The strategies are used to communicate the speaker‟s polite intention.
Brown and Levinson (1987, p. 85) state that for the most part strategies are
not conscious. However, they seem to be consciously used when participants try
to control others. There are three social factors that affect the speaker‟s strategies
in communication. To choose an appropriate strategy the speaker understands
clearly the degree of face risk involved in doing a particular act. Because some
acts are more risky than others and require different amount of redress. The first
factor is social distance, which presents the degree of familiarity and solidarity
between participants. The second is ranking of impositions considering the
seriousness of a particular act in a particular culture. The last is relative power,
which accounts for the power of the speaker with respect to the hearer. It is an
asymmetrical social relation.

10


Figure 2. Social factors affects the speaker‟s strategies in communication
The degree of distance and power is received and evaluated subjectively by
the participants. These dimensions are culture-specific and are sensitive to complex
situational and cultural variation. (Brown & Levinson, 1987). The strategies and the
choices the speaker has to make are performed in Figure 3

Figure 3. Possible strategies for doing face-threatening acts(Brown &
Levinson, 1987)
Positive politeness, which includes the use of redressive action directed to
the addressee‟s positive face. According Nguyen Quang (2006), positive
politeness is any communicative act( verbal and/or non-verbal) that is
intentionally and appropriately meant to show the speaker‟s concern to the
addressee, thus enhancing the sense of solidarity between them. For example of
using a positive politeness strategy in Vietnamese and English showing the
notice or attend to the addressee:

11


Situation: you are talking to a colleague of yours in your office
Vietnamese: “ Chắc là cậu khát lắm nhỉ. Làm tí nước cam nhé?
English

: “You must be thirsty. How about some orange juice ?”

(Nguyen Quang, 2006)
Negative politeness: This uses the redressive action directed to the
addressee‟s negative face. Whereas positive politeness is free-ranging, negative
politeness is specific and focused; it minimizes a particular FTAs. It is used to
convey the speaker‟s intention not to impose on the addressee but to leave him/her
freedom of action. In western countries, negative politeness is the most elaborate
and provides the most conventionalized set of linguistic strategies for minimizing a
face threat. A example of negative politeness strategy in English and Vietnamese –
be conventionally indirect strategy
Situation: you are talking to a colleague of yours in your office
English: “Why for God’s sake are you painting your house purple?”
Vietnamese: “ Đang yên đang lành sao lại đi sơn nhà màu tím thế này?”
(Nguyen Quang, 2006)
To perform an act off-record means that it is done very indirectly. An
utterance can be interpreted in many ways and it is left to the addressee to decide
what the speaker means. In this way, the speaker can even refuse making a certain
act. Also the addressee can choose not to recognize the speaker‟s real intention.
There are 15 off-record strategies in Brown and Levison‟s theory.
Although Brown and Levison‟s theory of politeness is considered as a
fundamental literature of other researches, it also has received criticisms from
linguists in the world. Some linguists indicate the limitation of the theory, such as
Asian researchers who argue that the theory has not been able to avoid
ethnocentricity (Ide, 1989; Matsumoto, 1988). And other researches show that
Brown and Levison just focus on the particular western view of interaction and that
their theory is too culture-bound to be applicable to non-western politeness(Janney
& Arndt, 1993). Most of the linguists recognize the differences between eastern and

12


western cultures, and the limitations of theory of Brown and Levison such as in
western cultures the emphasis is on the individual‟s independence and territory,
whereas in the Japanese culture the relative position of a member to others in a
group is the basic concept in interaction(Matsumoto, 1988). Ide (1989) also
indicates a neglected aspect in Brown and Levison‟s theory in which they are the
distinction between politeness as the strategic conflict avoidance and social
indexing.
In spite of the criticism the research is still carried out based on Brown and
Levison‟s theory of politeness as the fundamental issue. Most of the criticism has
been made long after the theory was published, so it is obvious that extensive
research has provided a broader understanding of politeness, and indicated aspects
where the theory needs refinement. However, it is sure that so far the Brown and
Levison‟s theory still has a significant effect on researches on politeness because of
the basic values in theory.
The present study investigates the face-threatening acts: requesting, which
threatens the addressee‟s negative face. Politeness is considered as an aspect of
pragmatics which is relevant for the present study. While other studies on
interlanguage have focused on describing the differences between the way in which
learners and native speakers perform specific speech acts(Ellis, 1994a).Crosscultural research has identified both similarities and systematic variation in speech
acts across language and culture.

13


CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 Research on politeness to make requests in written language
Many studies on spoken language mostly use Brown and Levison‟s theory as a
component of analysis. It is showed that requesting strategies are classified into
three broad categories according to their level of directness.
+ First, using the imperatives or performatives. It is the most direct requesting
strategies. Eg: I am asking you to close the door.
+ Second, conventional indirect strategies, an utterance asking the addressee‟s
ability or willingness to do X. Eg: Could you type the document?.
+ Third, non-conventional indirect expression, such as hints. Eg: This room is
too dark to read. It means that the speaker wants the addressee to open the window.
These categories have equivalents in Brown and Levison‟s theory; the direct
requesting strategies are comparable to bald on record, conventional indirectness to
negative politeness strategies, and non-conventional strategies to off-record
strategies.
In the Cross-cultural Speech Act Realization Project, the researchers observe
that conventionally indirect strategies in requests were the most frequently used in
the language studied(Blum-Kulka & Olshtain, 1984). Learners are able to
distinguish different degrees of politeness of different linguistic forms, but their
perceptions do not always agree with those of native speakers. (Kasper & BlumKulka, 1993). According to Ellis (1994b), the learners at the advanced level do not
experience many problems in recognizing a distinction between polite and less
polite forms. However, learners at all levels experience problems in producing
situationally appropriate speech acts.
It is not paid attention as in spoken language, politeness strategies in written
language seem to be concerned in recent time when researchers expand the aspect to
different written genres. Most of these studies on politeness strategies in written
mode are followed the Brown and Levison‟s theory.
Myers (1989) studies

the scientific documents, pronoun we is a positive

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politeness strategy used to stress solidarity. Even, to soften claims the passive
voice and impersonal constructions are used as negative politeness strategies in
scientific writing.
Some studies have made use of business letters. Yeung (1997) carries out a
quantitative analysis on English and Chinese business letter to see if power, distance
or the size of an imposition could predict a linguistic choice in making requests. The
result is that the size of an imposition had statistical importance. When carrying out
study on requests in authentic business letters written by native English speakers to
native readers, Pilegaard (1997) finds that the changes of strategies depending on
the stages of relationship between addressees and writers. If at the early stages,
positive and negative politeness strategies are used equally, but once the
relationship had been set up, negative politeness dominates. Strategies were used to
prepare ground for the request, to redness the FTA and to round off the letter.
Overall, study on politeness strategies in spoken are more paid attention than
written mode. As an important part of communication, using politeness strategies to
make requests in business letters is an interesting topic of pragmatics, which the
researcher would like to explore deeply in the present research.
2.2

Business letters and making requests

2.2.1 Business letters
Business letters are formal paper communications between, to or from
businesses and usually sent through the Post Office or sometimes by courier. Letters
are written from a person/group, known as the sender to a person/group, known in
business as the recipient. Here are some examples of senders and recipients:


business «» business



business «» consumer



job applicant «» company



citizen «» government official



employer «» employee

15




staff member «» staff member

(Lougheed, 2003)
Various purposes to write the letters: to persuade, to inform, to invite, to
apologize, to request, to remind, to introduce a product or a person...., therefore, in
order to be appropriate, the learner needs to identify what kind of letter , what
purpose of the letter they will write to the recipient. (Lougheed, 2003)
In this study, making requests in English business letters is analyzed in the
scope of pragmatics: politeness strategies. In the next section, making requests in
English business letters is represented in detail.
2.2.2 Making requests in English business letters
Requests in English business letters is various, it can come from the customer
to the supplier or vice versa, from the business to business, employer to employee,
so it is alternative to suit the purpose of the letters and the subject of the letters. This
is one of primary contends in business transactions, however, it does not seem as
the other social relations such as relatives, friends, etc, because it serves the benefit
for two partners involved in. Therefore, making requests to their business contacts
should be careful.
2.2.3

Some research on business letters

After studying on some previous analysis about business letter, it is clear that
the researchers seem to focus on lexical discourse and grammatical structures than
pragmatics like politeness strategies. Nhung (2007) analyzes the cohesive device in
English business letters of enquiry, and she finds that repetition is the most cohesive
device used frequently in enquiry letters. Cohesive device in business letters of
enquiry is a crucial aspect to bring the value of communicating indirectly.
According to Huyen(2011), she finds that grammatical metaphor is used to
construct the writer‟s messages.
Conclusion, studies on politeness strategies in business letters in general, and
politeness strategies in making request in business letters in particular are not much.
Researchers seem to focus other aspects of linguistics than politeness strategies in

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