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Book: Gender Matters

Chapter: 11. Class, gender and politeness

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.19774


This essay challenges the assumption that politeness is the same for all groups within society. Politeness is associated with the linguistic and non-linguistic behaviour of certain class and gender groups in Britain at a stereotypical level, so that middle-class white women are considered to be more polite than men (even though this only refers to negative politeness behaviour, such as deference and apologising). However, rather than assuming that negative politeness is somehow better than any other forms of politeness, as some linguists have, we need to question the perspective from which linguists analyse politeness, which is often a firmly middle-class one. Working-class people often find these negative politeness norms distancing and do not value them. This is not to suggest that each class only uses one type of politeness (negative for middle classes, positive for working classes) but rather to suggest that there might be different associations and different evaluations of certain politeness forms and that these depend on how one locates oneself in relation to class, gender and race. Furthermore, politeness should be seen as playing a crucial role in the maintenance of class and other distinctions. 

Chapter Contributors

  • Sara Mills ( - book-auth-461) 'Sheffield Hallam University'