Face-Threatening Act (example)

Here is an example of an FTA to help you understand the concept. It is a non political example.

Imagine the following situation:

  • You walk toward a Big Issue seller in downtown Coventry who establishes eye contact with you. You cannot pass her by before she says:

“Come on my friend! Buy the Big Issue.”


What is the FTA here?

The first FTA is the threat of asking someone to buy something. This is a threat to the seller’s face and your face. The act of asking someone to do something (e.g. buy something) is an FTA.

But now let’s say you don’t want to buy one. You have to refuse. To refuse is also an FTA. So this is the second FTA and it is a threat to your face and the sellers.

  • So you say:

I’m terribly sorry, I don’t have any money at the moment and I’m in a bit of a hurry.

Look at the difference in language

FTA: requesting to buy
FTA: refusing a request

Language: “Come on my friend. Buy the big issue”

Language: “I’m terribly sorry, I don’t have any money at the moment and I’m in a bit of a hurry.”

Notice how the seller’s language was quite informal and friendly. She is selecting language that appeals to the positive face of the hearer (you). Even though requesting someone to buy something is an FTA, she has had much experience in buying and selling on the streets. She uses language which makes the request difficult to refuse. She appeals to your positive face even though she doesn’t know you: ‘friend’. She also use a ‘bald on record’ strategy: ‘buy the big issue’ which makes the request feel more urgent.

You on the other hand do not have much experience of buying and selling on the street. Your refusal appeals much more to the negative face of the hearer (the big issue seller). ‘I’m terribly sorry’ is negative politeness appealing to the negative face of the seller. Also providing a reason why you cannot furnish the request: ‘I’m in a bit of a hurry’. In fact, many customers on the street don’t have the strategies to hand to refuse something so they often avoid the FTA. They buy the big issue in order to avoid refusing!

That is why a good seller will always make some sales. They have the linguistic skills to overcome the FTAs they need to make. The poor customers do not have the same skills to refuse.

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