Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 March 2020
In the wake of Brown and Levinson, negative (or non-imposition) politeness has often been described as typical of Western cultures and in particular of English. It has long been clear that this type of politeness is very culture-specific. This chapter sets out to trace its recent history in American English. The Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) serve as a data set for an investigation into several linguistic items that are taken to be diagnostic for non-imposition politeness: please, could you, can you and would you. The evidence in the COHA shows that these elements came to prominence only in the second half of the twentieth century and, therefore, much later than previously assumed, and the data in the COCA suggest that they may already be on the decline again. Several tentative explanations are offered for these developments.