Симон Анжелика Викторовна
Московский политехнический университет

Данная статься посвящена анализу стратегий коммуникации, используемых героями пьес «Идеальный муж» Оскара Уайльда и «Вишневый сад» Антона Чехова, в которых отображено общество девятнадцатого века. Текстовый корпус рассматривается с позиций теории принципов кооперации Грайса, теорий вежливости Лича и Брауна и Левинсона, а также теории речевых актов.

Ключевые слова: косвенный речевой акт, прямой речевой акт, теория вежливости, теория принципов кооперации


Simon Anzhelika Viktorovna
Moscow Polytechnic University

This article deals with the analysis of the communicative strategies in the plays An Ideal Husband by an English dramatist Oscar Wilde and The Cherry Orchard a Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov, in which the societies of 19th Century Great Britain and Russia are depicted. The data was examined in terms of Grice's Cooperative Principle, Brown and Levinson's Politeness Theory, Leech's Politeness Theory and Speech Act Theory.

Рубрика: Лингвистика

Библиографическая ссылка на статью:
Симон А.В. The comparative study of communication peculiarities of English and Russian societies of the 19th century // Гуманитарные научные исследования. 2017. № 3 [Электронный ресурс]. URL: https://human.snauka.ru/2017/03/23062 (дата обращения: 14.05.2024).

In this article we intend to verify the existing stereotype that the English are more polite and reserved in their communication style than the Russian. According to linguistic theory, this implies that Englishmen are inclined to violate the maxim of Quantity according to Grice’s Cooperative Principle [1, 41-58] less, that they use politeness mechanisms and hedges more often, and that they are more indirect during the discussion.

The main objective of this research is to find out whether the members of Russian and English societies follow the principles and the maxims concerning Grice’s Cooperative Principle, Speech Act Theory and Politeness theory differently. If it is so, the aim will be to distinguish peculiar characteristic of communication which are common to members of each culture, in particular, which maxims they tend to violate or flout, which politeness strategy they follow in general, and how direct or indirect their speech is.

The data was collected and analysed applying the quantitative method. Thus, two different plays of 19th century Russia and Great Britain were chosen. Furthermore, more than 120 cues were extracted from each of them. The data was examined in terms of Grice’s Cooperative Principle [1], Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Theory [2], Leech’s Politeness Theory [3] and Speech Act Theory [4], the results were counted and presented in the form of tables and their discussion.

In his book Brian Paltridge emphasized that “the context of situation of what someone says is crucial to understanding and interpreting the meaning of what is being said. This includes the physical context and the mental worlds and roles of the people involved in the interaction” [5, p.53-54]. Consequently, we would like to initiate this research by giving some information about the participants of the conversations and the surroundings where they take place.

The first play to analyse was An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wild [6]. In the extract which was examined the action takes place at a dinner party at Sir Robert Chiltern’s house in London’s fashionable Grosvenor Square. The guests are family friends, except for Mrs. Cheveley who is brought by Lady Markby. It is important to note that all the speakers are of comparatively equal social status, consequently there is no obligatory power relationship between them. Only Sir Robert Chiltern and Lady Chiltern possess a wide range of rights since they are the hosts of the dinner. However, by the end of an extract Mrs. Cheveley occupies a position dominating over Sir Robert Chiltern due to the fact that she is in possession of a letter, which can destroy his image of an honourable man, what she uses to blackmail him into entering another political affair.

Furthermore, we would like to give a similar description to the situation and characters of the second play, The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov [7]. The action takes place at Ranevsky’s estate which is going to be sold. The party is organised for family and close friends, servants are also present. The latter is significant due to the fact that it established power relationship between the nobility and the servants. Lubov Ranevsky as an owner of the estate possesses more rights than her guests and children.

As it was mentioned before this research paper is based on several pragmatic theories. The first one is Grice’s Cooperative Principle, the main concept of which is defined by George Yule as: “Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged” [8, p.37]. The principle consists of four maxims: Quantity, Quality, Relevance and Manner; following of which makes communication successful, while violation of them can lead to communicative fail or wrong interpretations by both speakers.

Leech’s Politeness theory was adopted as the second means of analysis. Leech proposed six maxims, following which is supposed to make interaction polite. They are Tact, Generosity, Approbation, Modesty, Agreement and Sympathy maxims [3].

The third considerable part of the theoretical basis of this research is Brown and Levinson’s Politeness theory. The concept of politeness was first studied in depth by Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson [2, p.61]. They introduced the idea “that humans routinely perform speech acts that threaten one another’s face” [9, p.65].  The notion of “face” was derived from that of Goffman [10] and from the English folk term, which ties face up with notions of being embarrassed or humiliated, or “loosing face” [2, p.61].  The image of face is divided into two parts: positive and negative. The latter is determined as “the want of every “competent adult member” that his actions be unimpeded by others”, while positive face is described as “the want of every member that his wants be desirable to at least some others” [2, p.62]. Furthermore, they pointed out acts that threaten each of faces belonging to a speaker and a hearer as well and suggested a set of strategies for doing these acts. Primarily they are divided into “Do the FTA” and “Don´t do the FTA” with the first one being subdivided into two sections more: “off-record” and “on-record”. The latter includes strategies “without redressive action, baldly” and “with redressive action”. Depending on the particular kind of redressive action the final the further division takes place and results into “positive politeness” and “negative politeness” strategies. It is clear that the final two strategies appear to be polite in case when they are applied correctly to the relevant face. Thus, friendly interaction presupposes the usage of positive politeness, while in communication between members of different social group who are not on familiar terms negative politeness may be a more common case.

Finally, the forth work to which we refer to in this article is Speech Act Theory proposed by Austin and Searle. Austin suggested that there are three kinds of acts: the locutionary act (literal meaning of the actual words), the illocutionary act (speaker’s intention in uttering the words) and the perlocutionary act (the effect this utterance has on the thoughts or actions of the other person) [5, p.55]. Searle divided speech acts in several categories according to the function, which they are supposed to fulfil; they are: declarations, representatives, expressives, directives and comissives. Since words uttered by a person and function they convey are not always the same, they can be direct or indirect depending on the condition whether locutionary and illocutionary acts coincide.

Firstly, the analysis according to Grice’s Cooperative Principle was made. Furthermore, the following step was to count cases of floutings and violations of maxims for each of them. The results are shown in the table 1.

Table 1 –Speech Act Theory









Violation Flouting Violation Flouting Violation Flouting Violation Flouting


















The table 1 emphasises the most evident peculiarities of English and Russian Cooperativeness. The biggest percentage is 31,4 % which represents the frequency of violations of Quantity and Relevance maxims by the characters from the Russian play. Moreover, it is noticeable that the Russian people tend to violate Quantity and Relevance maxims much more frequently than flout them.  As for the English the highest percentage in the table signifies that they are more inclined to violating of Quality maxim, which is followed by violation of Quantity maxim. Consequently, we can observe that Quantity maxim is generally violated by the Russian and the English people, though the former do it more often.

There are also cases when speakers use hedges in order to avoid violating certain maxims. Thus in the beginning of the English extract Lady Basildon uses “I suppose so”, instead of giving a precise answer, so as not to violate the maxim of Quality. Later Lady Chiltern says “I don’t think…” and later on Mabel Chiltern says “I think… “, which are the sign of hedging their statements with the aim to indicate that they might violate Quality maxim as well.  While examining the extract I noticed that hedges are applied by English women and are ignored by men. Russian people seem to use hedges with the same purpose, but unlike the English they are used by male and female representatives. Thus, Lubov and Trofimov use “I suppose” or “I seem to have”.

Furthermore, we conducted an analysis of the data in accordance with Leech’s Politeness Theory and obtained gave the following results (Table 2).

Table 2 – Leech’s Politeness Theory


























As we see the most frequently violated maxim is the Approbation maxim. Here the Russians and the English appear to commit comparatively equal number of violations, which constitute 53,1% and 43,8%. This phenomenon demonstrated the critical and judgemental attitude of characters toward each other and may represent one of the most peculiar characteristics of the 19th century society.  The percent of violation of Generosity and Sympathy maxims in the extract from An Ideal Husband is 0%, though I suppose that it happened due to the narrowness and lack of data since it seems to be impossible that members of society are able to avoid violations of this kind all the time. To give general conclusion to this section we would like to state that according to the percentage in the table English and Russian people violate politeness maxims in a similar way.

However, the analysis of the extracts according to Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Theory appeared to have yielded the results which deviate from those of the previous section (Table 3).

Table 3 – Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Theory







Bald on-record



Positive politeness



Negative politeness



Obviously English and Russian people follow different strategies. Thus, if we omit the part where Mrs. Cheveley blackmails Sir Robert Chiltern, the number of times that Englishmen apply bald on-record strategy lowers to zero while the percentage of bald on-record strategy application by the Russians is 44,8% in ordinary interaction. Consequently, we can make a conclusion that this strategy prevails in communication between Russian people and is used only in particular situation, like blackmailing, by Englishmen. The latter tend to follow positive politeness strategy, however, we should keep in mind the fact that those characters socialise on friendly terms, which are determined by previous acquaintance, already built relationships and by the friendly tone of the dinner party. The peculiarities of relationship between characters in the Russian play should be considered as well, since the characters are either members of the Ranevsky family, or their close friends, or their servants. The case when a nobleman addresses a servant using bald on-record strategy can not be viewed as the display of rudeness, since it is a usual phenomenon, the justified way of 19th century to interact with people of lower social and economical position. The excessive application of politeness mechanisms in given circumstance would be abnormal. Thus, we can observe how Varya gives orders to Epikhodov: “Get out of here! This minute!” She follows bald on-record strategy, while he applies negative politeness in his answer: “I must ask you to express yourself more delicately”.

Positive politeness appears to be common frequently applied strategy for the English and the Russian. In the play An Ideal Husband it is generally utilized in the conversation between Lady Basildon and Mrs. Marchmont, Vicomte de Nanjak and Mrs. Cheveley, who are obviously friends, and in the interaction between Lord Goring and Mabel Chiltern, which is quite specific since it is based mostly on flirting. These characters use particular for of address, such as first names, “dear”; complementing each other or demonstrating affection (“Have you missed me?” “Awfully!”) while conversing. Characters from The Cherry Orchard are inclined to alternating positive politeness strategy with bald on-record strategy. To achieve the former the use diminutive forms of their first names (Dashenka) or adding “dear” to them, complementing and also demonstrating affection (“Delightful, Charlotte Ivanovna…I’m simply in love…”).

We suppose that it is vital for this work to mention that there is an interpersonal conflict in the extract taken from the play An Ideal Husband, since as it was stated by A. Van Dijk “Interpersonal conflict is a ubiquitous experience – sometimes stimulating and constructive, but potentially painful and threatening…it is an activity we engage in directly, something we do with other people” [11, p.9]. Consequently, it can be suggested that the conversation between conflicting sides will differ from casual talks, which happen during social events. Thus, in this particular extract we can observe the case of blackmailing taking place between Mrs. Cheveley and Sir Robert Chiltern. This conversation is peculiar for the way politeness mechanisms and Gricean maxims are employed. It is noticeable that Mrs, Cheveley prefers to use bald on-record politeness strategy (she applies it 9 times), sometimes changing it for off-record strategy (3 times). She reinforces her statements and demands by the first strategy and makes some hints concerning her possessing considerable information by applying the second one. Sir Robert, who appears to be the victim of blackmailing makes attempts to end this conversation or minimize imposition on him by using negative (2 times) and positive (1 time) politeness strategies, but when he realises that they do not work he also switches to bald on-record one (6 times).

The percentage in the table 4 demonstrates that there are no many cases in which indirect speech acts are applied. They constitute only 2% of all the cues which were examined. You can observe some examples beneath:

1. “Mrs. Cheveley? I seem to know the name”. (Sir Robert Chiltern) The character here uses Expressive utterance while his true intention is to ask for further information (Directive).

2. “Here’s a pack of cards, think of any one card you like.” (Charlotte)

“I’ve thought of one.” (Pischin)

Pischin uses Expressive as well, but in this case the illocutionary force is to question Charlotte on what he has to do after thinking of a card.

3. “Can you love?” (Charlotte)

This utterance is presented in the form of a question when its illocutionary force is not to question something. She rather states the fact that Pischin is not capable of such feeling as love.

Table 4 – Direct and Indirect Speech Acts











The primary aim of this article was to come to understanding whether members of English and Russian high societies depicted in the play An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde [6] and in the play The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov [7] communicate differently according to Grice’s Cooperative Principle [1], Leech’s Politeness Theory [3], Brown and Levinson’s Politeness theory [2] and Speech Act Theory [4]. The result justified that it is so. First of all, they tend to violate different Gricean maxims: the English most frequently infringe upon the maxim of Quality, the Russian violate the maxims of Quantity and Relevance. Analysis of the extracts according to Leech’s Politeness Theory proved that characters of both plays more or less coincide in the following the maxims of this theory; usually violating Approbation maxim. Concerning Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Theory we discovered that Russian people are inclined to apply bald on-record strategy, while Englishmen tend to use positive politeness strategy. We also encountered the problem of contextual influence at this point, since the percentage indicated that the characters of Oscar Wilde’s play apply bald on-record strategy in most cases, while it was utilized only by two characters in the extraordinary situation: blackmail. Speech Act Theory appeared to be difficult to apply due to the fact that characters usually discussed different matters and did not try to affect reality with their utterances. This factor influenced on the results of the survey dramatically: only 2% of the utterances can be considered indirect in both plays. 

Several limitations and problems were encountered throughout the analysis of the extracts. Firstly, the speakers are not the real people but the characters of the plays. This fact draws a boundary line, because participants of conversation do not speak freely, but are created by the author with the aim to represent some particular image. They are forced to use their utterance in order to present their system of beliefs and model of behaviour to the reader. Consequently, the primary aim here is not communication but the reflection of reality through dialogues. Secondly, the problem of social inequality stands in the way, since the characters of An Ideal Husband can be considered equals, while there are servants (Dunyasha, Fiers) in The Cherry Orchard. This factor is an obstacle if our goal is to compare the way of socialising of people of a certain social group. At the same time it is difficult to search for two plays where all the characters are of the same period and social status.

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  2. Brown P. Levinson S.C. Politeness. Some universals in language usage. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  3. Leech G. Principles of Pragmatics. New York: Longman Singapore Publishing, 1983.
  4. Austin, John L., How to Do Things with Words. Oxford, 1962.
  5. Paltridge, B. Discourse Analysis: An Introduction. London: Continuum, 2006.
  6. Wilde O. An Ideal Husband. L. Smithers and Company, 1899.
  7. Chekhov A. The Cherry Orchard // Plays by Anton Tchekoff. New York, Scribner’s, 1917.
  8. Yule G. Pragmatics. Oxford, 1996.
  9. Delin, J. The language of everyday life: an introduction. London: SAGE Publications Ltd., 2006.
  10. Goffman E. On face-work: an analysis of ritual elements in social interaction. Guilford Publications, 1955.
  11. Van Dijk T. A. Handbook of discourse analysis. Vol.4. Discourse analysis in society, London: Academic Press, 1985.

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