Face Work in Spanish Language Service Encounters between Native and Nonnative Speakers in the United States

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Book Chapter

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Palgrave Macmillan


Linguistic politeness plays an important role in the opinions people form of one another, especially when it offers one of the few clues an individual may have of his or her interlocutor’s disposition, as is the case in anonymous, first-time service encounters. Face is a fundamental con- cept in politeness theory. To borrow a summary from Callahan (2011):

Positive face refers to the desire to be liked and appreciated, while negative face refers to the desire to be unimpeded (Brown and Levinson 1987). Positive and negative face are often characterized as corresponding to the dichotomies of involvement vs. independ- ence, intimacy vs. distance, and solidarity vs. deference (Scollon and Scollon 2001). An action or utterance that goes against one’s need for appreciation, in the case of positive face, or autonomy, in the case of negative face, is said to constitute a face-threatening act, or FTA (Brown and Levinson 1987). [...] Speech acts as well as non-linguistic actions that attend to the addressee’s as well as the speaker’s own face, both positive and negative, are described as face work.1 Face work attenuates, or mitigates, the force of face-threatening acts. (28)

Chapter of

Spanish and Portuguese across Time, Place, and Borders: Studies in Honor of Milton M. Azevedo


Laura Callahan