Politeness and impoliteness (reading suggestions)


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.


  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.

Online Resources (reading suggestions)


Reading time: 2 minutes

‘Ling 131 – Language and Style’


This website offers a free, step-by-step introduction to stylistics. The short course was designed for undergraduate students at Lancaster University, and was then made an open resource. It is divided into thirteen topics, grouped into the three genres of poetry, prose and drama. Each topic is divided into one or two sessions, and each of these sessions is broken down into bite-sized explanations of key concepts, including literary and non-literary examples, embedded videos, tasks and suggested further reading. There is a full glossary to turn to if needed, and a set of self-assessment questions for each genre to enable students to check their understanding. The website is an invaluable resource for teachers and A-level students wanting to learn the fundamentals of stylistics. This online course is based on a really useful textbook, Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose (Longman, 1996) written by Mick Short.


‘The Living Handbook of Narratology’


This website is an open-access wiki created and edited by an international team of highly esteemed narratologists. Over thirty articles define and explain key concepts in the study of narrative, covering topics such as character, the implied reader, plot, gender, perspective and autobiography. The entries vary in length and complexity. Most include an overview of different views on particular concepts and provide references to key theoretical texts. Although pitched at an advanced level, teachers will find this a rich resource offering them detailed guidance on concepts and terms central to the study of narrative.


‘Grammar and Composition’ at about.education


Richard Nordquist is the author of this vast section of the ‘about.education’ website. His friendly, often funny guide presents clear and concise explanations of grammatical terminology (and some literary terms too), using illustrative examples and hyperlinking related terms. This guide also includes an array of excellent tips on essay writing, working up from explaining the basics of how to structure sentences and use punctuation correctly to offering advice on different styles and rhetorical techniques.  Scroll down and view the left hand side of the page to find the contents overview. The ‘Blog’ also contains lots of brief and engaging articles on some curiosities of the English language – perfect for inspiring budding linguists.

Positioning readers (reading suggestions)


Reading time: 2 minutes

This reading list is designed to guide teachers towards further reading related to the digest on Peter Stockwell’s article ‘The positioned reader’.

  1. Michael Toolan (2001)

Narrative: A Critical Linguistic Introduction, 2nd edn., London: Routledge.

This is an excellent introduction to narrative and so would be of interest to teachers generally. Chapter 3 offers an introduction to the relationship between author, reader, narrator and narratee, which would be useful for the study of Imagined worlds (A level), Views and voices (AS level).

  1. Peter Stockwell (2002)

Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction, London: Routledge.

This is the best introduction to the field of cognitive poetics, offering detailed explanations of a range of topics with suggestions for further reading. The opening chapter also explores the concept of literary reading from a stylistic perspective and offers some interesting insights on context and meaning that teachers might find useful to explore with their classes.

  1. Peter Stockwell (2009)

Texture: A Cognitive Aesthetics of Reading, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

This is a more advanced discussion of some of the topics in Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction, including an analysis using the concept of deictic braiding (chapter 4) and mind-modelling (chapter 5).

  1. Joanna Gavins (2007)

Text World Theory: An Introduction, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

 Gavins’ book is the best and most accessible introduction to Text World Theory, a model that aims to account for the ways in which readers are positioned to navigate various mental stances in the act of reading. The early chapters give a good overview of cognitive poetics and are also useful for their discussion of the role of contextual factors in various acts of communication.

  1. Marcello Giovanelli (2013)

Text World Theory and Keats’ Poetry: The Cognitive Poetics of Desire, Dreams and Nightmares, London: Bloomsbury Academic.

 This book is a detailed Text World Theory study of four of Keats’ poems. Chapters 5 and 9 in particular explore the ways that a detailed analysis of the text can demonstrate the kind of reader positioning that Stockwell argues for in his article.

Introductory reading on stylistics (reading suggestions)


Reading time: 2 minutes

Here, we give details of a recently-published research report that explores the nature of integrated lang-lit work in schools/colleges and higher education and of three books that we feel teachers would find useful and interesting as they begin to teach AQA’s specification. All of these books cover topics in stylistics generally and so would be of use to teachers working on any of the AS and A-level units.

1. Billy Clark, Marcello Giovanelli, and Andrea Macrae (2015)

‘Language and Literature: From A Level to BA: 
Student Backgrounds and First Year Content’, available here.

This report is a recently published and very useful overview that explores and compares the nature of integrated lang-lit work at Post-16 and in higher education. We completed this initially as part of research carried out for the Higher Education Academy in 2013 and before the current specification was developed and launched.

2. Paul Simpson (2014)

Stylistics: A Resource Book for Students, 2nd edn., London: Routledge.

Simpson’s book (now in its second edition) is part of the excellent Routledge English Language Introductions (series editor Peter Stockwell). It provides a thorough overview of the subject together with activities, commentaries and extracts from some key readings. This is highly recommended reading for all Post-16 teachers.

3. Geoffrey Leech and Mick Short (2007)

Style in Fiction: A Linguistic Introduction to English Fictional Prose, 2nd edn, London: Longman.

This is a classic text (again now in its second edition). There are plenty of practical examples of stylistics at work through detailed analyses of a range of prose texts. Chapter 10 offers a seminal introduction to the categorisation of speech and thought presentation, which would be really useful to teachers working on Imagined worlds (A level) and/or Views and voices (AS level).

4. Christiana Gregoriou (2012)

English Literary Stylistics, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

This is a relatively more accessible book that covers stylistics in all three literary genres, including two very good final chapters on drama. There are also dedicated ‘practice’ chapters full of tasks and commentaries, many of which could be used with AS and A level groups.