Politeness and impoliteness (reading suggestions)

17/06/2016

Reading time: 3 minutes

This reading list is designed to guide teachers towards further reading related to the digest on Jonathan Culpeper’s article ‘Impoliteness and entertainment in the television quiz show The Weakest Link.

There has been a large amount of work on politeness and impoliteness since Brown and Levinson’s influential work which made use of Erving Goffman’s ideas about ‘face’. As indicated in the digest article posted here previously, more recent work has included new ideas about the nature of face, about the pervasiveness of ‘facework’ (seeing questions about face as relevant to all interaction rather than only in certain utterances or behaviours) and in considering impoliteness as well as politeness. This last development has led to the use of the term ‘im/politeness’ by many researchers.

There is a considerable literature on politeness and impoliteness, added to regularly by publications in journals such as the Journal of Pragmatics, Language and Literature, Pragmatics, Pragmatics and Society, and the specialised Journal of Politeness Research. This vast literature can look daunting. Here are some suggestions for places where you can begin to find out more about recent developments.

  1. Impoliteness: Using and understanding the language of offence

An accessible website on impoliteness, made possible by an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) fellowship. It contains helpful definitions and a large bibliography.

http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fass/projects/impoliteness/index.htm

  1. Politeness by Richard J. Watts

Richard J. Watts. 2003. Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

A useful discussion of work which developed in the years following Brown and Levinson’s important work in this area. An engaging survey of a range of ideas about politeness and impoliteness as realised in social interaction.

  1. Gender and Politeness by Sara Mills

Sara Mills. 2003. Gender and Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

An accessible discussion of how ideas about politeness interact with gender in language and communication. The discussion also makes use of the notion of ‘community of practice’, originating in the work of the cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in 1991, which focuses on how people work together around particular tasks and how working together contributes to the construction of identities and understanding of ourselves and others.

  1. Power and Politeness in the Workplace by Janet Holmes and Maria Stubbe

Janet Holmes and Maria Stubbe. 2015. Power and Politeness in the Workplace, 2nd edition. London: Routledge.

This book considers how behaviour and interaction construct power and politeness in work environments, exploring a number of strategies we use to do this. The book suggests a number of ways of exploring this, some of them lending themselves to interesting classroom activities. Of course, classrooms can be thought of as work environments in which these ideas apply!

  1. Impoliteness: Using Language to Cause Offence by Jonathan Culpeper

Jonathan Culpeper. 2011. Impoliteness: Using Language to Cause Offence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

An easy-to-read overview of work on impoliteness, covering a wide range of contexts and behaviours, based on naturally occurring examples.

  1. Impoliteness in Interaction by Derek Bousfield

Derek Bousfield. 2008. Impoliteness in Interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

This is an important publication in the development of work on impoliteness. It develops some key ideas in extending ideas about politeness to consider impoliteness as well. It is written in a lively and accessible style.

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