The use of politeness strategies in email discussions about taboo topics
Computer-mediated communication, such as email, offers us a chance to understand how social relationships are built and maintained in an environment in which interlocutors not only lack the paralinguistic that are vital to face-to-face conversation, but are participating in a medium which has had little time to develop rules of conduct. According to Brown and Levinson (1987) people will use certain politeness strategies to enhance face between themselves and their interlocutors. These strategies will depend on the level of intimacy between the participants, and the seriousness of the situation. In this study I compare the politeness strategies used by 29 participants in a series of emails written to close friends and to strangers. I analyze five features of language in the emails and compare them across three taboos of high, medium and low seriousness. I then compare the findings with predictions based on Brown and Levinson’s framework. I conclude that the five language features examined all reflect different politeness strategies than would be used in person, and suggest that email itself is developing a unique set of politeness conventions.
Faculty Mentor: Susan Conrad