Linguistic politeness across Arabic, French, and English languages


  • Hiba Mohamad Chendeb Lebanese University



Politeness, Linguistic markers, Linguistic Pragmatics, Lexicons comparison, Stylistic devices, Connotations, Euphemisms


This is a comparative linguistic politeness study that investigates the range of linguistic choices employed by three communities of speakers to maintain sound interaction. Even though first-order politeness is common to all languages and is a cross-cultural aspect, there are language variations and linguistic characteristics that are inherent to languages and that make expressing politeness easier and simpler in certain languages as compared to others. The objective of this research study is to compare/contrast the linguistic politeness markers of three languages: Arabic, French, and English because very few studies highlighted the lingua-pragmatic variations among three linguistic repertoires of three cultures at a time. The study probes into a comparison of the linguistic features (lexical, syntactic, stylistic choices, connotations and metaphors) and the pragmatic features that reflect the different levels of politeness in the three languages. In this analysis, the study relies on Brown and Levinson’s theory of politeness and on the language parallels. When comparing these three languages, several linguistic variations were detected in the analysis of the ethos of the three languages. English lack a grammar system that codes social ranking and French and English speakers usually recur to negative politeness strategies because they keep away from transgressing the personal life and the intimacy of the interlocutors. Hence, they select linguistic devices that increase the distance between the participants in a conversation. Arabic speakers manipulate the rhythm, rhyme of words and other phonological features to distance themselves from the bad denotations of face threatening expressions by replacing them with figurative metaphorical expressions. The main factor that this research underlines is the linguistic nature and the language repertoire of the three communities of speakers. Arabic is superfluous with fixed politeness formulas. On the other hand, French and English use a wide range of stylistic and syntactic devices to express politeness. In the three languages, speakers use slang, colloquial, and vernacular language to convey words with negative connotations especially when they cooperate together in the speech exchange and when they claim to have a common ground, and this is a proof of the universality of Brown and Levinson’s theory of politeness.

Author Biography

Hiba Mohamad Chendeb, Lebanese University

Department of English Language and Literature.Assistant professor of Applied Linguistics


Al-Issa, A. S. (1998). Sociopragmatic transfer in the performance of refusals by Jordanian EFL

learners: Evidence and motivating factors. Dissertation Abstracts International, 59(02), 467A. (UMI No. 9823511).

Atawneh, A. M. A. (1991). Politeness theory and the directive speech-act in Arabic-English

bilinguals: An empirical study. Dissertation Abstracts International, 53(02) 479A. (UMI No. 9219306).

Atawneh, A., & Sridhar, N. (1993). Arabic-English bilinguals and the directive speech act.

World Englishes, 5, 279-297.

Boubendir, F. Z. (2012). Linguistic politeness in English and Arabic and its implications for

Translation. (Published MA thesis). The University of Petra, Jordan.

Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (1978). Universals in language usage: Politeness phenomena. In

E. Goody (Ed.). Questions and politeness: Strategies in social interaction (pp.56-311). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness: Some universals of language use. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.

Changing Minds. Metaphor and Politeness. Retrieved from:

Elarbi, N. (1997). Face and politeness in traditional and modern Tunisia: An application of

Brown and Levinson's politeness theory. Dissertation Abstracts International, 58 (07), 2460A. (UMI No. 9802865).

El-Shafey, F. (1990). Politeness strategies in spoken British English and spoken Egyptian

Arabic. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Cairo University, Cairo.

Farahat, S. H. (2009). Politeness Phenomena in Palestinian Arabic and Australian English. A

cross-cultural study of contemporary plays.

Grice, P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole, & J. L. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and

Semantics: Speech acts (pp. 41–58). NY: Academic Press.

Grundy, P. (2000). Doing pragmatics (2nd ed.). London: Arnold.

Gu, Y. (1990). Politeness Phenomena in Modern Chinese. Journal of Pragmatics, 1(2), 237-

Leech, G. (1983). Principles of pragmatics. London: Longman.

Lepere, Geraldine. Merde happens. Why are French People so rude? And what to do about it.

Retrieved from:

Lodge, Anthony (1999). Colloquial Vocabulary and Politeness in French. The modern language

review, vol. 94. n. 2, pp. 355-356. Modern Humanities Research Association.

Malyuga, E.N. & Orlova, S.N. (2017). Linguistic Pragmatics of Intercultural Professional and

Business Communication. Springer.

Matsumoto, Y. (1988). Reexamination of the universality of face: Politeness phenomena in

Japanese. Journal of Pragmatics. Vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 403-426.

Migdadi, F. H. (2003). Complimenting in Jordanian Arabic: A socio-pragmatic analysis.

Dissertation Abstracts International, 64(02), 485A. (UMI NO. 3080466)

Mills, S. (2003). Gender and Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ogierman, Eva (2009). Politeness and in-directness across cultures: A comparison of English,

German, Polish and Russian requests. Journal of Politeness Research Language Behavior Culture. 5(2): 189-216. DOI: 10.1515/JPLR.2009.011

Rawson, Hugh (1981). A Dictionary of Euphemisms & Other Doubletalk. New York: Crown.

Searle, J. (1969). Speech Acts: An essay in the philosophy of language. London: Cambridge


Shammas, N.A. (1995), Pragmatic Failure: Misunderstanding in Verbal Communication

Between Speakers of Arabic and English, Unpublished PhD Thesis, Loughborough University, England.

Vanderveken, D. & Kubo, S. (2002). Essays in Speech Act Theory. J. Benjamins Pub. Co.

Watts, R. J. (2003). Politeness. Cambridge: Author.

Wierzbicka, A. (2003). Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: The Semantics of Human Interaction (2nd

edn). Berlin and London: Mouton de Gruyter.

Yu, M. (2003). On the universality of face: evidence from Chinese compliment response

behavior. Journal of Pragmatics, 35, 1679–1710.

الإبدال لأبي الطيب اللغوى ، تحقيق : عز الدين التنوخي ، مطبوعات المجمع العلمى العربي بدمشق.