An investigation of the politeness phenomena in hotel service encounters

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An investigation of the politeness phenomena in hotel service encounters

 

Author: Yuen, Wai-ling
Title: An investigation of the politeness phenomena in hotel service encounters
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2009
Subject: Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Politeness (Linguistics)
Speech acts (Linguistics)
Hotels -- Customer services
Department: Dept. of English
Pages: x, 472 p. : ill. ; 30 cm.
InnoPac Record: http://library.polyu.edu.hk/record=b2342983
URI: http://theses.lib.polyu.edu.hk/handle/200/5346
Abstract: The hospitality industry is a service-oriented business and the provision of courteous service is its prime mission and often becomes the signature of individual institutions. The employees who are in regular contact with the guests are the gatekeepers to realize the institutional goal. When things have to be done, the use of directives, though intrinsically face-threatening acts (see Brown and Levinson 1987), are inevitable in the workplace (Vine 2004, Bilbow 1997). The interplay of social variables such as the asymmetrical relationship between employees and guests, the inherent legitimate authority of the hotel staff and the protocol of practice, are constraints on the interactions. Hotel interactions are characterized by pre-patterned and predictable sequences of moves in which the language forms and move-structures serve the different service purposes, namely checking-in, checking-out and answering enquiries, and the employees are often trained to comply with and conform to attain the institutional mission of providing quality service to meet the expectations of guests. The institutionalized usage of language serves institutional goals rather than personal ones. This study explores the politeness phenomena displayed by employees in a hotel, focusing on the delivery of directives when serving guests at the Front Desk. The study aims to 1) understand what the hotel staff as insiders perceive as courteous service in order to investigate the expected behaviors of the hotel staff, 2) analyze the move-structures of the major types of the service encounters at the Front Office in order to understand the sequential development of the routine workplace activities under study, 3) examine the linguistic forms used to give directives, including the types and frequencies of occurrence to understand how directives are employed to attain specific communicative functions at different stages of service encounters, 4) analyze the syntactic structure of directives, including the use of internal and external modifiers (Blum-Kulka et al 1989), to find out how they are used to mitigate or aggravate the inherently face-threatening directives, and 5) analyze the politeness strategies (Brown and Levinson 1987) adopted by the hotel staff to express specifically social and tact politeness at different stages of the service interactions. Naturally-occurring service encounters collected in a four-star hotel in China are transcribed and analyzed at the sentence-level and discourse-level, both quantitatively and qualitatively, to obtain a fuller and more holistic picture of the phenomena. Interviews with the hotel staff are also analyzed.The analysis of the interviews shows that the use of institutionalized language is reported to be most significant in communicating formality and courtesy and staff constrain their linguistic behavior to comply with the goals of the hospitality business. The staff are trained to conform to a standard realization of speech acts to upkeep the standard of service. It is shown that while the hotel staff have to perform the tasks of checking-in, checking-out and handling enquiries at the Front Desk, the move-structures of the interactions are unfolded in a predictable order in the opening, transactional and closing phases. Directives, though intrinsically face-threatening (Brown and Levinson 1989) are found to be the most frequently used speech acts, of which the more frequently occurring are requestives and stating requirements. They are encoded in imperatives, modal statements or interrogative and hints. Analysis also reveals that internal modifiers are more often used than external modifiers to mitigate or aggravate the directives to convey pragmatic politeness. To show social and tact politeness in the opening and transactional phases of the service encounter respectively, the analysis of the directives used, based on Brown and Levinson's (1987) politeness framework, finds that negative politeness strategies are more often used, followed by positive strategies and bald-on-record strategies. Two major conclusions are drawn. First, certain types of directives tend to be associated with certain moves and certain patterns of politeness strategies, which are institutionalized; and, second, politeness can be assessed in terms of the quantity of strategies applied, as well as the types of strategies used. The more threatening the directives, the more politeness modifiers and higher ranked strategies are used.

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