Politeness in WhatsApp group chats during university group projects:An evaluation of Leech’s politeness model

Pat, Kevin (2022) Politeness in WhatsApp group chats during university group projects:An evaluation of Leech’s politeness model. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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Google Scholar shows Geoffrey Leech’s (1983) Principles of Pragmatics with more than 19,000 citations. Within the field of politeness, his maxim-based politeness approach is often described as a seminal work alongside Brown and Levinson’s (1987) politeness theory. However, unlike Brown and Levinson’s politeness model, Leech’s (1983) approach has rarely been applied. This might be due to the limited explication of the approach in Leech (1983), which focused mostly on matters of general pragmatics. Leech rectified this in 2014 by publishing a book-length treatment of politeness and his updated maxim-based model. The main aim of this thesis is to evaluate Leech’s (2014) updated approach to politeness by investigating requests and congratulations in the activity type of WhatsApp group chats during university group projects. To date, little is known about how requests are realized in WhatsApp text messaging during university group projects despite the ubiquity of WhatsApp as a communication medium and the obligatory nature of group projects for university students, a cohort that has often served as research participants of pragmatics and politeness studies. Even less is known empirically about congratulations, even though it is described in Searle’s (1969, 1976) seminal classification of speech acts. Both speech acts are illustrative of Leech’s (2014) maxim-based approach to politeness. Thus, this thesis also seeks to contribute to our understanding of how requests and congratulations are realized and how they are formulated for politeness. Another contribution of this thesis is methodological. The very popular but much maligned discourse completion task is rejuvenated in this thesis by adapting it to the WhatsApp communication medium as the main data collection tool for this thesis. Additionally, this thesis takes a unique approach to verbal protocols intended to gain insight on the reasoning behind participants’ written or spoken pragmatic performance (Culpeper, Mackey & Taguchi, 2018). I deploy Google Docs as an original method for collecting the participants’ metapragmatic comments on why their requests and congratulations are polite. Collecting these participant-derived comments also answers the call to supplement top-down quantitative analysis of politeness in speech acts with a qualitative and first- order approach (Eelen, 2001; Leech, 2014). It is found that the typically seen request strategies and modifiers from other studies also occur in this thesis, although how they are specifically formulated is heavily influenced by the communicative resources of the text messaging medium. This thesis also found a similar effect on congratulations utterances and unearthed several new strategies and modifiers not previously seen. Lastly, how these requests and congratulations are realized and perceived in terms of politeness is largely accounted for by the key tenets of Leech’s (2014) politeness model. However, I argue that his recharacterization of the Tact Maxim is less explanatory than his 1983 depiction of the maxim. I also argue that Leech (2014) does not accord enough importance to the activity type as a contextual variable for politeness, which I demonstrate by applying his model to text messaging, a medium with nonlinguistic communicative resources that Leech (2014, p.44) did not specifically account for.

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Thesis (PhD)
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23 Nov 2022 11:10
Last Modified:
12 Sep 2023 00:54