An analysis of the use of politeness strategies in letters of complaint and letters of adjustment in a Hong Kong English newspaper

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An analysis of the use of politeness strategies in letters of complaint and letters of adjustment in a Hong Kong English newspaper

 

Author: Lau, Mei-kuen Janet
Title: An analysis of the use of politeness strategies in letters of complaint and letters of adjustment in a Hong Kong English newspaper
Degree: M.A.
Year: 2001
Subject: Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Letter writing -- China -- Hong Kong
English newspapers -- China -- Hong Kong
Complaint letters -- China -- Hong Kong
Department: Dept. of English
Pages: [6], 125, [191] leaves ; 30 cm
Language: English
InnoPac Record: http://library.polyu.edu.hk/record=b1608273
URI: http://theses.lib.polyu.edu.hk/handle/200/4983
Abstract: Research in politeness in the past two decades has been fruitful but incomplete: much attention has been paid to oral interaction and the discussion is often based on unnatural data. Much room has been left for the application of politeness theory in studies of written language and language for specific purposes. This study takes a look at the use of politeness strategies in letters of complaint and adjustment published in the "letters to the editor" column in a Hong Kong English newspaper This study attempts to outline the recurring politeness patterns in the two kinds of letter, explore the relationship between face-threatening acts and face-saving devices, and compare the politeness strategies employed by different kinds of organization. Given the highly interactive nature of letters of complaint and adjustment, this study also examines the effectiveness of the politeness strategies employed in the two kinds of letter The analysis makes use of the strategies identified by Brown and Levinson (1987), the three politeness systems proposed by Scollon and Scollon (1995), and genre analysis theories. Common politeness strategies/patterns are identified in both letters of complaint and adjustment. There is an abundant use of bald on record strategies in letters of complaint while negative politeness is found to be the obligatory politeness strategy in letters of adjustment. Politeness strategies are found to be useful to genre analysis. The use of politeness strategies is found to be related to the imposition. The relationship between face-threatening act and face-saving device is that the more threatening the letters of complaint, the greater the use of negative politeness strategies, or the less threatening the letters of complaint, the greater the use of positive strategies. However, it is found that restoration of power equilibrium could only be achieved by the use of positive politeness strategies, even when the threat posed by the letters of complaint is very great. The profit-making corporations are found to be more customer-oriented than the nonprofit-making ones because the former pays more attention to the feelings of the complainers in the letters of adjustment. The government, the government-funded public bodies and the private corporations make good use of the adjustment letters to project a responsible image for themselves while the profit-making public utilities seize every opportunity to boost their commitment before the general readers. An adjustment letter is found to be an effective tool to save the corporate face of the organizations being complained about. However, its effectiveness depends very much on the appropriate use of the politeness strategies. It is not only the choice of politeness strategies/sub-strategies that matters, their combination, sequence and suitability under certain circumstances also count. Appropriate politeness strategies must meet the needs/expectations of the complainers. In addition, adjustment letters that have attracted subsequent letters of complaint are found to be less effective.

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