From good manners to facework

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Forms and conceptions of politeness vary noticeably from one society to another, and also, within a given society, from one age to another. However, it can be assumed that the treatment of politeness phenomena in terms of “facework” as advocated by Brown and Levinson (1978, 1987) might help us to shed some light on both cultural variations and diachronic variations in politeness behaviour. This assumption is tested by considering the question of “good manners” in the French classic age as they are recorded in some prescriptive and literary writings. The study reveals that the profound logic that politeness obeys is the same in all eras. I take a special interest in the “double binds” we are confronted with in the exercise of politeness, looking at, for example, compliments as a ritual activity.


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