ROLLS: Lynne Murphy on 'please' 25 Nov

Please join us for the final ROLLS talk in the Autumn 2015 'Variation' Series

Separated by a common politeness formula: please in American and British English

M. Lynne Murphy, University of Sussex

Wed, 25 November, 13.00 in Fulton 214

Several studies have observed that please is heard about twice as often in Britain as in America. What we don't know is whether that's just because Americans feel less need to 'act polite' or if American and British Englishes have different uses for please. Metalinguistic commentary by non-linguists gives some inkling of different uses; for example American blog commenters have mentioned that adding please to a request sounds 'bossy' rather than polite. 

This presentation summarises two recent studies on please: one speech-act driven and one lexically driven. The first (with Rachele De Felice, UCL) looks at requests in American and British email corpora to ask: in which requests does please occur or not occur in AmE and BrE? The second uses an internet corpus to look at all occurrences of please to ask: in which types of situations and with which meanings does please occur on US and UK websites?

These investigations reveal a number of different tendencies in the use of please. From a theoretical perspective, the findings give support for approaches to politeness that give centre-stage to conventions and conventionalisation (most recently, Terkourafi 2015) rather than indirectness. They also raise some questions in areas of applied linguistics, notably: what should English learners be taught about please?

Terkourafi, Marina (2015) Conventionalization: a new agenda for im/politeness research. Journal of Pragmatics 86, 11-18.


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