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Chapter 3 focuses on the uses of general extenders that are addressee-oriented and express an interpersonal function in interaction. The underlying concept is described as intersubjectivity, which is tied to an awareness of the addressee’s needs. Participants in an interaction are taken to be cooperative fellow speakers, adhering to Grice's Quality and Quantity maxims. The use of adjunctive forms to indicate common ground can also create a sense of solidarity, indicating similarity, and hence also signaling positive politeness. In other situations, speakers can use disjunctive forms to signal negative politeness, that is, a concern with potentially imposing on the addressee. When general extenders are used as part of these politeness strategies, they are often described as hedges, used to indicate possible inaccuracy or imposition and a desire to avoid such things, resulting in an association with approximation.
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.
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