The Sociolinguistic Analysis of Harold Pinter’s “The Birthday Party” in terms of Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Theory

Biook Behnam, Sepideh Rafiei Sakhaei, Nesa Nabifar


This paper reports a comprehensive study of the politeness phenomenon in Pinter’s well-known play, “The Birthday party”. It aims at figuring out how politeness strategies are used by the characters and how the variables of power and distance influence the choice of politeness levels. In order to analyze the play’s text Brown and Levinson’s (1987) universal model of politeness was used. The model is characterized by three variables which are power, distance and rank extremity. Careful screening of the dialogues demonstrates that a good many of politeness strategies were used in the drama. However, different preferences were found in the use of the strategies towards the positive pole. Regarding the social distance the findings are consistent with Brown and Levinson’s theory predictions. The findings of this study suggest that the assertion of power is a complicated process which can not merely be explained by the high frequency of the use of certain strategies and an interlocutor’s power depends upon many factors like the role of the interlocutor and his/her status in the particular interaction, and in relation to the addressee.



Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory, Distance, Face work, Politeness strategies, Power, “The Birthday party” play

Full Text:



Abdesslem, H. (2001). Politeness strategies in the discourse of drama: A case study. Journal of Pragmatics, 30, 111-138.

AlQahtani, H.A. (2009). Female use of politeness strategies in the speech act of offering: A contrastive study between spoken Saudi Arabic and spoken British English (Master’s thesis). Retrived from Female _Use_of_Politeness _Strategies _in _the _Speech_Act_of_Offering_ A_Contrastive_Study_between _Spoken _Saudi _Arabic_and_ Spoken_British_English

Amou Aliakbari, S. (2007). Social interpersonal power and politeness strategies in Persian (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Sistan and Baluchestan, Iran.

Andersen, G., & Aijmer, K. (2012). Pragmatics of society. Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.

Bagheri, M.S. (1996). Application of politeness theory in English poetry. (Unpublished master’s thesis). Shiraz University, Iran.

Brown, R., & Gilman, A. (1989). Politeness theory and Shakespeare’s four major tragedies. Language in Society, 18, 159-212.

Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (1978). Universals in language usage: Politeness phenomena. In E. N. Goody (Ed.), Questions and politeness: Strategies in social interaction (pp. 56–311). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, P., & Levinson, S. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cherry, R. D. (1988). Politeness in written persuasion. Journal of pragmatics, 12(1), 63-81.

Félix-Brasdefer, J. C. (2008). Politeness in Mexico and the United States. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Goffman, E. (1967). Interaction ritual: Essays on face-to-face behaviour. New York: Doubleday.

Grice, P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In: P. Cole and J. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics: Speech acts (pp. 41-58). New York: Academic Press.

Gu, Y. (1990). Politeness phenomena in modern Chinese. Journal of Pragmatics, 14(2), 237–257.

Lakoff, R. (1973). The logic of politeness; or, minding your p’s and q’s. In C. Corum, S. Cedric & A. Weiser (Eds.), Papers from the ninth regional meeting, Chicago Linguistic Society (pp. 292–305). Chicago: Chicago Linguistics Society.

Lakoff, R. (1977). What you can do with words: Politeness, pragmatics, and performatives.In A. Rogers, B. Wall & J. Murphy (Eds.), Proceedings of the Texas conference of performatives, presuppositions and implicatures (pp. 79-105.). Arlington: Center of Applied Linguistics.

Leech, G. (1983). Principles of pragmatics. London: Longman.

Lin, H. H. (2005). Contextualizing linguistic politeness in Chinese: A socio-pragmatic approach with examples from persuasivesales talk in Taiwan ( Doctoral dissertation). Retrived from DOWNLOAD_ETD_SUB_DOC_ACCNUM:::F1501_ID:osu1109961198,attachment

Kopytko, R. (1995). Linguistic politeness strategies in Shakespeare’s plays. In A. H Jucker (Ed.), Historical pragmatics: Pragmatic development in the history of English (pp. 515-540). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Ogiermann, E. (2009). On apologising in negative and positive politeness cultures. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Pearson, B. (1988). Power and politeness in conversation: Encoding of face-threatening acts at church business meetings. Anthropological Linguistics, 30(1), 68-93.

Reiter, R. (2000). Linguistic politeness in Britain and Uruguay: A contrastive study of requests and appologies. Amesterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Sifianou, M. (1992). Politeness phenomena in England and Greece: A cross-cultural perspective.London: Oxford University Press.

Skewis, M. (2003). Mitigated directness in Honglou meng: directive speech acts and politeness in eighteenth century Chinese. Journal of Pragmatics, 35, 161-189.

Thomas, J. (1985). The language of power: Towards a dynamic pragmatics. Journal of Pragmatics, 9, 765-783.

Wanli, Z., & Aihong, D. (2008). An Investigation and analysis of politeness strategies employed in college English teachers’ classroom feedback. Retrieved from jyhy03a46.pdf

Watts, R. J. (2003). Politeness: key topics in sociolinguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Watts, R. J., Ide, S., & Ehlich, K. (2005). Politeness in language studies in its history, theory and practice. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Wolfson, N. (1983). An empirically based analysis of complimenting in American English. In N. Wolfson & E. Judd (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and language acquisition (pp. 82-95). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Xueyn, W. (2005). Politeness in English literary discourse: A diachronic study. (Master's thesis). Retrived from 201191983719429.doc.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2012-2023 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD

International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature

To make sure that you can receive messages from us, please add the journal emails into your e-mail 'safe list'. If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox', check your 'bulk mail' or 'junk mail' folders.