According to the social-norm approach, certain standards of behaviour exist in every society and in every age and on the basis of these defined norms, an utterance or behaviour of a particular kind is judged to be polite or impolite. In this regard, Fraser is of the opinion that these standards of behaviour are usually attached with certain speech styles, in that it is noticed that a higher level of formality involves greater politeness (Watts et al. 1992: 4). Thus, the social-norm view is, somewhat, identical with the kind of politeness termed as ‘discernment’. In fact, this way of conceptualizing politeness, more or less, is associated with what Watts (2003) calls first-order politeness – a layman’s conception– that has been raised to the position of second-order politeness with the emergence of modern theories in this area. Some scholars have criticized the social norm view for its inadequate guidelines in investigating linguistic politeness. That is why, Bousfield (2008a) agrees with Fraser’s view that ‘the view of the social norms has few adherents among current researchers’ (Fraser, quoted in Bousfield 2008a: 45). The social-norm approach has declined in popularity though many scholars accept that some of the approaches to politeness still rely on social norms, at least to some extent. For instance, in Brown and Levinson’s model, there are some strategies, which propose that speakers should avoid raising or mitigating the effect of a topic that is conventionally considered painful or threatening to the hearer. This reasoning, in some way, resembles the social-norm approach.
An appealing initiative to understand the fundamental principles in the day-to-day conversation has been made by H. P. Grice (1975), whose work comes under the category of philosophical linguistics wherein a theory of conversation has been developed by philosophers – Austin, Searle, and Grice – not by linguists themselves. Since philosophers have given the theories of conversation, it reflects their natural obsession with certain philosophical issues like meaning, sense, reference and the truth or falsity of propositions. For that reason, their investigations in the area of conversation have contributed a lot to the development of linguistics, pragmatics in particular.
It is known that Grice’s contribution to the ‘pragmatic revolution’ was initiated many years before the publication of the article ‘Meaning’ in 1957, which he expanded later under the title ‘Utterer’s meaning and intention’ in 1969. In this paper, he postulates that any verbal utterance has two levels of meaning recognized as denotative (probably also connotative) meaning offered by the semantics of the language and the other being the speaker’s intention behind the creation of an utterance. The first type of meaning is closely associated with truth conditions and thus it is identified as propositional meaning or truth-conditional meaning. The second type, on the other hand, has close relation with speech act notions, like illocutionary act and illocutionary force. In speech act analysis, thus, the speaker’s intentions have been treated with special attention.
Before 1969, there was a marked dearth of systematic theoretical foundations for politeness that could contribute to the understanding of the meanings of an utterance with respect to politeness. Later in 1969, during a series of lectures delivered at Harvard by William James, Grice emerged as a pioneering figure for suggesting a well-defined framework for the study of politeness in everyday interaction. While discussing ‘Logic and conversation’ during these lectures, Grice talked of a ‘cooperative principle’ for conversation that involved dual-levels of meaning interpretation in interaction.