The Expression of Gratitude in Social Networks and Virtual Correspondence (On the Material of English and Georgian Languages)

Modern technology has yielded new channels of communication. In this regard, it is interesting to study the verbal and non-verbal means serving to express gratitude in internet communication. The empirical material has been obtained from my personal correspondence, internet resources, messages in my personal chat, my friends’ timeline posts and comments.

Gratitude as Part of the Expressive Function of Language

According to G. Leech, ”language can have an expressive function: that is, it can be used to express its originator’s feelings and attitudes” [Leech, 1974:40]. 

D. Crystal notes that “the purpose of expressive use of language is to convey emotion” [Crystal, 2005:228]. 

When discussing the expressive function of language, O. Hargie mentions the following examples: “I am very happy” or “I spent a wonderful vacation” they reflect the feelings of the speaker or the writer” [Hargie, 2011:166]. 

According to a well-known Indian author and sage Sadhguru, “Gratitude is something that flows out of you when you are overwhelmed by what has been given to you” [Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev: 2019]

Thus, gratitude is one of the most significant and pleasant feelings, and the utterances and phrases related to gratitude undoubtedly serve the expressive function of language.

Gratitude as Part of the Phatic Function of Language

Expressions of gratitude also perform the phatic function. In 1936 Malinowski introduced the concept of 'phatic communion'. He explained that the term implied "free, aimless social intercourse", "inquiries about health, comments on weather and greeting formulae” [Malinowski 1936: 313]. B. Malinowski mentions that “phatic communion serves to establish bonds of personal union between people brought together by the mere need of companionship and does not serve any purpose of communicating ideas.” [ibid: 314-316]. [1]

Further, R. Jacobson used this term, naming the phatic function of language among other six functions and noting that the phatic function implies the use of language “for the sake of interaction and is therefore associated with the Contact/Channel factor. The Phatic Function can be observed in greetings and casual discussions of the weather, particularly with strangers. It also provides the keys to open, maintain, verify or close the communication channel”. [Jakobson, 1960: 366]. As the phrases of gratitude do not convey any informative meaning and serve the purpose of expressing warmth and friendship, they undoubtedly serve to perform the phatic function of language.

Gratitude as Speech Act

Before discussing the ways and examples of performing the phatic acts of gratitude in social networks, I would like to mention that the above utterances are used to perform certain speech acts. In Austin’s classification of performative utterances, the above-mentioned speech acts fall within the group of „behabitives“. According to Austin, “Behabitives include the notion of reaction to other people's behavior, … expression of attitudes… stating or describing what our feelings are” [Austin, 1962: 159]. Examples of behabitive utterances are: apologize, thank, commiserate, compliment, condole, congratulate, felicitate, sympathize, welcome, bid farewell, bless and so on.  In J. Searle’s classification, the above-mentioned utterances fall within the group of “expressives”. According to Searle, such speech acts express how the speaker feels about the situation. “Expressive verbs are 'thank', 'congratulate', 'apologize', 'condole', 'deplore', and 'welcome'” [Searle, 1976:12]. 

The Etymology of Words of Gratitude

The most widespread English phrases of gratitude are based on the verb “to thank” (variants are “thanks”, “thank you”, “thank you very much”, “many thanks” “I can’t thank you enough”). According to the online etymological dictionary, the verb “thank” takes its origin in Old English: þancian, þoncian "to give thanks, thank, to recompense, to reward," from Proto-Germanic *thankōjanan , from *thankoz "thought; gratitude," from PIE root *tong- "to think, feel", also "good thoughts, gratitude." Thus, as we see, thanking is semantically related to good thoughts and feelings. 

As for the word gratitude, it originates from Latin “grattus” meaning “thankful, pleasing” and is semantically linked to “grace”. 

The Georgian words მადლობა /madloba/ (thanks), მადლიერება /madliereba/ (gratitude), გმადლობთ /gmadlobt/ (thank you) are derived from the word მადლი which, like Latin, means grace. The verb accompanying this word in Georgian is გადახდა //gadaxda/ (to pay) მადლობას გიხდით /madlobas gixdit/ (literally  - I am paying thanks), მინდა დიდი მადლობა გადაგიხადოთ /minda didi madloba gadagixadot/ (I would like to thank you very much). Thus, semantically, these phrases imply that the speaker pays with grace for the favour he/she has received from someone. 
The Expression of Gratitude in Business Communication

The expression of gratitude forms a very important part of business communication. According to Alison Doyle, “A thank you note or email message, in addition to showing your appreciation, can boost your career, help you get a job offer and cement a relationship with a client, vendor, or networking contact. When writing business and work-related thank you messages and letters, keep in mind that every time you say thank you, you are not just showing your appreciation - you are also reminding the person you are writing to of who you are. These letters are great relationship builders” [Doyle, 2019]. [2]

Below are given the opening or conclusive phrases from several formal thank-you letters:

1. “Dear Mr. Smith,
               I want to thank you for being our loyal customer”

2. “I am grateful to you for your advice and for recommending us new potential customers. I cannot thank you enough.
             Sincerely yours…”

3. “Dear Mr. Jones,
              I am writing to thank you for the time you spent with me during the job interview 
            for the position of chief marketing manager”

4. “Dear Mrs. Thompson.
                I would like to thank you, most sincerely, for your kind assistance in the 
                marketing project. You have helped us a great deal indeed.”

As praise and recognition are very important for every employee, letters of gratitude frequently contain appraisal and compliments. Below is given a sample letter which starts with the expression of gratitude and goes on with compliments about the work being performed by the addressee of the letter.

“Dear Mr. Johnson,
Thank you for your speedy and beautiful work fixing our floors after our plumbing mishap this spring.

Although I would have preferred to meet you and your crew under different circumstances – a planned renovation, say, and not during our busiest season – I am so grateful that my neighbor recommended you.

Our floors have never looked better. Customers comment on them at least once a week, which is unusual to say the least! I always make sure to give them your information and pass along my recommendation.
Thank you, again, for fitting us in at the last minute and getting us back up and running so quickly.”[3]

Besides establishing a favourable atmosphere in communication, gratitude serves as face-saving strategy and mitigates threat to one’s face. According to O’Keefe, in certain cases there is a need for “Face-relevant elaborations” aimed at the mitigation of potential threat to one’s face [O’Keefe, 1991:102].  Phrases of gratitude serve as such face-relevant elaborations in letters of refusal. According to Write Express Corporation, “A refusal letter communicates unhappy news in a diplomatic way. You have one chance to say it right”.[4] Thus, a tactful refusal letter might start with a sentence: “I am most appreciative of your offer of employment” and end with: “Thank you for your time and consideration”. An informal example of a refusal to accept a job may contain the following expression of gratitude: “I prefer not to work at week-ends, thanks anyway, it’s sweet of you to think of me though”.  

Thus, as the above-mentioned examples have proved, the expressions of gratitude are used as face-saving strategies that soften the “bad news” and make the relationship less embarrassing.  

Another face-threatening act is a request. If it is our wish to make the request successful, we usually apply politeness strategies in order to impress the listener and avoid imposition that might irritate the latter. In Brown & Levinson’s terms, “positive politeness is an involvement-based approach made by the speaker to ratify, understand, approve of and admire the positive image of the addressee” [Brown & Levinson, 1987:75]. One of the best strategies of politeness which helps save one’s face when making a request is to express gratitude for the favour we are asking. Therefore, when performing the speech act of request, be it formal letter or informal virtual communication, we write “I’ll be very grateful to you if…”, “thank you in advance” or, in formal correspondence, “thank you in advance for your time and attention”. 

The Expression of Gratitude in Social Networks

Another important field where gratitude is expressed by verbal and non-verbal means is communication via social networks. On daily basis, users of social networks come across thousands of examples expressing gratitude in timeline posts, comments or personal messages. Below I will bring several examples.

For instance, a post of a woman whose son has entered a university: 

“უკვე სტუდენტის დედა ვარ. დიდი მადლობა ჩემი შვილის მასწავლებლებს, რომლებიც „იბრძოდნენ“ მისი წარმატებისთვის. დიდი მადლობა ყველა ჩემს მეგობარს რჩევებისა და გამხნევებისთვის“ /ukve studentis deda var. didi madloba chemi shvilis masc’avleblebs romlebic ibrdzodnen misi c’armatebistvis. didi madloba q’vela chems megobars rchevebisa da gamxnevebistvis/ (“I am a student’s mother now. I would like to thank my son’s the teachers who have “fought” for his success. I also thank my friends for their advice and encouragement”). 

Naturally, we often write personal messages to our friends and relatives thanking them for their presents or kindness. Frequently, posts of gratitude involve thanking our friends, colleagues and relatives who have congratulated us on our birthday, e.g. 

დიდი მადლობა ყველას, ვინც მომილოცა დაბადების დღე. ყველანი მიყვარხართ. /didi madloba q’velas vinc momiloca dabadebis dghe. q’velani miq’varkhart/ (Thanks to everyone who has congratulated me on my birthday. I love you all), or “Words are not enough to express my gratitude to all who remember my birthday and fill me with so much love and warmth. Thank you for your kind wishes”.

Gratitude is also expressed in comments to various posts. For instance, people write that they are thankful for the interesting article or video which a certain Facebook user has posted or shared. Photographs of events are accompanied by comments expressing gratitude to the organizers. Below the photos of parties, the guests usually express their gratitude to the host. 

In informal internet communication, the expression of gratitude is frequently accompanied by the expression of love as well as blessing phrases and compliments. ღმერთმა დაგლოცოს /ghmertma daglotsos/ (God Bless you), გაიხარე / gaixare/ (be happy), /oqro xar/ (you are made of gold), “It’s very kind of you”, “How kind of you”, “You are a star” and so on. 

Apart from the verbal means expressing gratitude, FB users frequently apply various kinds of emoji, stickers and GIFs (graphic interchange format). Suffice to mention the emoji of two folded hands, which forms part of Japanese and Indian cultures and is frequently applied by Facebook users to express gratitude. The emoji, GIFs and stickers are used in comments to various posts as well as in personal chat communication via Messenger. It is quite natural that in our hectic times, when people have no time for writing long texts to express their feelings, these means of expression of gratitude have become extremely popular. 


Gratitude is an inalienable part of politeness and a successful Face-saving strategy. Research has proved that gratitude forms part of the expressive and phatic functions of language. The analysis has also proved that the utterances expressing gratitude should be considered as speech acts belonging to the groups of Austin’s “Behabitives” and Searle’s “Expressives”. The diachronic study has proved that both English and Georgian languages have always abounded in words and phraseological units related to gratitude. These lexical units are still widely used in oral communication as well as business-correspondence and social networks. 

Lastly, it should be mentioned that gratitude is one of the most rewarding and pleasant feelings. Scientific studies have found that gratitude is associated with greater happiness, more optimism and positive emotions, lasting relationships, better health, increased generosity, empathy and numerous other benefits [Firestone: 2015].[5]  The inner urge of human beings to be grateful has also passed on to modern times and penetrated into modern technology. This fact can be proved by the abundant verbal and non-verbal means expressing gratitude so widely used in internet communication.  

[4Retrieved from (visited on 17.10.2019)

(visited on 19.10.2019)


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