Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 9 : 6 June 2009
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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M. S. Thirumalai


Politeness Strategies in Yemeni Arabic Requests

Mohammed Hasan Ahmed Alfattah, M.A.
B. K. Ravindranath, Ph.D.


This paper investigates the ways in which Yemeni Arabic speakers realize requests with special reference to politeness strategies as patterned by Blum-Kulka (1989). It provides a pragmatic analysis of the strategies of requests and politeness phenomenon in the production of request speech act by Yemeni Arabic speakers. It attempts to explore and identify the nature of politeness strategies in Yemeni Arabic focusing on the request speech act as a measuring tool in the light of Brown and Levinson's theory. It also attempts to systemize the various strategies used for the purpose of requesting from the pragmatic point of view. The paper also sheds light on the sociocultural attitudes and values of the Yemeni community.

The paper is based on the analysis of the elicited responses of 330 Yemeni Arab subjects. The data was collected by serving them a written questionnaire based on Blum-Kulka (1982) with some modifications. The questionnaire was obtained with 1320 speech acts of request. Each of the valid responses was analyzed separately to identify the type of strategy used.

The study is of a descriptive nature. Frequencies, percentages and the means of these percentages are considered. The main aim is to find out the politeness strategies used and the frequency of their usage. The prime findings of the study reveal that Yemeni Arab speakers intend to use the conventional direct strategies with constant tendency to use mood derivable request strategy with politeness markers.

Keywords: Politeness; requests; Yemeni Arabic speakers.


A request is a directive act and a pre-event which initiates the negotiation of face during a conversational interaction. Following Brown and Levinson's model of politeness, while a request may be realized by means of linguistic strategies such as on record (e.g., direct and unmitigated, or off record (e.g. hints, irony), a compromise may be reached by the speaker using indirect requests. According to Searle (1975, pp.60-61):

In indirect speech acts the speaker communicates to the hearer more than he actually says by way of relying on their mutually shared background information, both linguistic and non-linguistic, together with rational powers of rationality and inference on the part of the hearer.

The Role of Requests

Requests are among one of the many speech acts used quite frequently in every day human interaction. They have an intention of a speaker to catch the attention of the hearer and they place an imposition on the shoulders of the hearer. In Brown and Levinson's (1987) terms, requests are face-threatening acts (FTAs) which threaten the hearer's negative face. So, those who perform a request need to reduce the level of imposition created by an act being requested in order to save the hearer's face and, at the same time get his/her compliance with a request. It is here the notion of politeness comes into play (Suh, 1999). For Searle (1975) "the use of such 'requestive' sentences was a matter of 'politeness', for Leech (1983) it was a matter of 'tact'" (cited in Wierzbicka, 2006 p.32).

On Politeness and Politeness Strategies

Kitao (1987) thought of politeness in requests as a communication strategy used by the speaker to decrease imposition on the hearer. Thus, maintain a good relationship with him/her. Many researchers like Blum-Kulka, Olshtain and Meir, found that a variety of standard factors such as age, social status, familiarity, or gender played important roles in the use of politeness strategies in requests.

Suh (1999, p.196) argues :

given that requests are face-threatening acts, and that the use of politeness strategies is affected by various factors, it would not be an easy task for language learners to perform requests in linguistically, socially and culturally appropriate manners. They should not only have sufficient linguistic resources to encode a request, but also know sociocultural rules that affect their choice of politeness strategies in a given situation with taking into account a variety of situational factors.

Further he (1993, p.11) believes that:

Since the request is an unavoidable social act in human communication, there is a set of request strategies prescribed to the speakers of every language. Although these request strategies are often linguistically different on different languages, their main functions remain the same universally in demonstrating mutual and equally between human beings. (Cited in Hong, W.1996, p.139).

The task here is to determine the types of utterance and politeness strategies that are conventionally used by Yemeni Arab in requesting. It is also intended to identify the semantic strategies that each utterance reflects and to investigate the sociolinguistic or sociocultural reason behind their behavior. The data were analyzed according to a modified classification of request strategies originally presented by Blum-Kulka (1989) and included strategies used as head acts and strategies used as external modification of the head act.

Theoretical Background

In examining the structure of speech acts, requests have been frequently analyzed in terms of discourse sequences: head acts and supportive moves. According to Blum-Kulka et al. (1989), head acts refer to the request proper or the main strategy employed to make the request. Supportive moves are the peripheral elements and refer to the pre-or post-posed moves or strategies that accompany the head act. To account better for the structure of requests, request head acts are classified according to a directness continuum.

This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

Crosstalk and Communication Breakdown in Professional Interactions in English | Phonological, Grammatical and Lexical Interference in Adult Multilingual Speakers | Politeness Strategies in Yemeni Arabic Requests | Unravelling Urdu Idioms | The Roots of Linguistic Reorganization of Indian States - The Experience of Orissa as a Linguistic Province in the British Raj | Characteristic Indian Attitudes in Nissim Ezekiel's Poetry | Teaching Language through Literary Texts in the ESL Classroom | The Semantics of Haroti Postpositional-Interrogating Simple Sentences | The Politics of Survival in the Novels of Margaret Atwood - A Doctoral Dissertation | Teaching Technical Jargon through Word Formation to the Students of Engineering and Technology | Indian Spirituality and Twice-Born Nature - A Study of Eliot's Approach to World | Discourse Choices in Pluralistic Nations - A Review of Maya Khemlani David-edited Language Choices and Discourse of Malaysian Families | Exploring the Effectiveness of World Wide Web
to Improve the Communication Skills of Management Students - A Pilot Study

Mohammed Hasan Ahmed Alfattah, M.A.
Department of linguistics
University of Mysore
Mysore 570006

B. K. Ravindranath, Ph.D.
Department of Linguistics
University of Mysore
Mysore 570006

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