Face-threatening act

From Glottopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search


A face-threatening act (FTA) is an act which challenges the face wants of an interlocutor. According to Brown and Levinson (1987 [1978]), face-threatening acts may threaten either the speaker's face or the hearer's face, and they may threaten either positive face or negative face.

Types of FTAs

(cf. Brown and Levinson 1987 {1978])

A distinction can be made between (i) FTAs which threaten positive face and those which threaten negative face, and (ii) FTAs which threaten the hearer’s face and FTAs which threaten the speaker’s face.

FTAs Threatening the Hearer’s Face

Positive Face

FTAs threatening the hearer’s self-image include (i) expressions negatively evaluating the hearer’s positive face, e.g. disapproval, criticism, complaints, accusations, contradictions, disagreements etc., as well as (ii) expressions which show that the speaker does not care about H’s positive face, e.g. expressions of violent emotions, taboo topics, bad news, emotional topics, interruptions etc.


  • Criticism: “I think your report was not concise enough.” -> The hearer’s positive face is threatened because s/he is blamed for having done sth. badly, i.e. his/her self-image is negatively evaluated.
  • Expression of emotions: "You’re feeling sad because of your ex-boyfriend, aren’t you?” -> The speaker addresses a topic which involves a state of emotional weakness on the part of the hearer, i.e. the speaker does not care about the 'public self-image' of the hearer, thus threatening his/her face.

Negative Face

FTAs restricting the hearer’s personal freedom include (i) acts predicating a future act of the hearer, e.g. orders/requests, suggestions/advice, reminding, threats/warnings/dares, (ii) acts predicating a future act of the speaker towards the hearer, e.g. offers/promises, and (iii) acts expressing a desire of the speaker towards the hearer or his/her goods, e.g. compliments, expressions of emotions.


  • Order: “Please give me that book.” -> The speaker expresses an anticipation of some future action of the hearer and thereby restricts his/her personal freedom.
  • Promise: “I promise I will come by tomorrow.” -> The speaker states a future action in which the hearer should be involved.
  • Compliment: “I really like you.” -> The speaker expresses positive emotions towards the hearer which may involve an anticipation of a positive reaction by the hearer (giving thanks/expressing positive emotions towards the speaker).

FTAs Threatening the Speaker’s Face

Positive Face

FTAs threatening the speaker’s self-image include apologies, acceptance of a compliment, breakdown of physical/emotional control, self-humiliation, confession etc.


  • Apology: “I think I made a huge mistake.” -> The speaker makes a statement about his/her own shortcomings, thereby 'damaging' his/her own positive self-image/face.

Negative Face

FTAs threatening the speaker’s personal freedom include theexpresion of thanks, acceptance of thanks/offers/compliments, apologies, excuses etc.


  • Expression of thanks: “Thank you so much for your help.” -> The speaker expresses thanks because he/she feels obliged to do so. His freedom of action is thus threatened in the moment of speaking.


  • Brown, Penelope and Stephen C. Levinson (1987 [1978]). Politeness: Some Universals in Laguage Usage. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Eeelen, Gino (2001). A Critique of Politeness Theories. Manchester: St Jerome.
  • Janney, Richard W. and Horst Arndt (1993). Universality and Relativity in Cross-cultural Politeness Research: A Historical Perspective. Multilingua 12.1: 13-50.
  • Locher, Mriam A. and Richard J. Watts (2005). Politeness Theory and Relational Work. Journal of Politeness Research 1.5: 9-33.
  • O’Driscoll, Jim (2007). What’s in an FTA? Reflections on a Chance Meeting with Claudine. Journal of Politeness Research 3.7: 243-268.


Wikipedia Wikipedia: Politeness_theory#Face-Threatening_Acts (English)