Zurück zum Tagungsprogramm

- Jenny Arendholz (Universität Augsburg)

“You sound very talented” –

Negotiating face and doing facework in online message boards

Discussions about appropriate models which help us to describe notoriously fuzzy phenomena such as (im)politeness in computer-mediated as well as in face-to-face communication usually cannot forbear to (re)consider the underlying notion of face. The most prominent and well-received approaches are still the two almost antithetical concepts proposed by Goffman (1967) and Brown/Levinson (1978). The latter two researchers perceive face as a rather static concept, composed of a positive and a negative face, which reflect the two basic human needs for association and dissociation (cf. O’Driscoll 1996). Since they are inherent in every participant of conversation, they are not subject to negotiation in communicative exchanges. Then again Goffman’s model proffers a social and hence dynamic perspective which mirrors the realistic assumption that face is negotiated cooperatively among interlocutors.

Although recent research tends to sideline Brown/Levinson’s approach in favour of a return to the older Goffmanian model, this paper advocates the opinion that we can actually capitalize on the advantages of both approaches. For that reason, a combined model of face is introduced (Arendholz under revision), one that unites the “best of both worlds” by acknowledging Brown/Levinson’s face dualism and integrating it into Goffman’s dynamic model for face negotiation. Based on this model, this paper conducts a qualitative analysis of selected contributions, i.e. so called posts, in the English online message board The Student Room in order to shed light on the following questions:

What kinds of (non)verbal, medium specific strategies are used by speakers (i.e. contributors) and hearers (i.e. commentators) in The Student Room...

o ... to constitute and negotiate their face claims?

o ... to initiate and accomplish processes of facework?

This set of research questions is intriguing and highly relevant insofar as message boards – as one type of computer-mediated communication (CMC) and in contrast to face-to-face conversations – feature different technological and social communicative prerequisites. Consequently, users at both sides of the communicative dyad find themselves confronted with new possibilities and tools for the presentation of lines and the constitution and negotiation of faces as well as novel strategies to do facework. Accordingly, this paper sets out to identify and illustrate the medium-specific mechanisms used in The Student Room for dynamic online processes surrounding the notions of face and facework.


Arendholz, J. (under revision) (In)Appropriate Online Behavior – A Pragmatic Analysis of Message Board Relations. Amsterdam [et al.]: Benjamins.

Brown, P. & S.C. Levinson (1978) “Universals in Language Usage: Politeness Phenomena” In: Goody, E. N. (ed.) Questions and Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 56-289.

Goffman, E. (1967) “On Face-Work: An Analysis of Ritual Elements in Social Interaction” In: Goffman, E. (ed.) Interaction Ritual. Essays on Face-to-Face Behaviour. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 5-46.

O’Driscoll, J. (1996) “About Face: A Defence and Elaboration of Universal Dualism” In: Journal of Pragmatics 25, 1-32.