LINGUIST List 2.324

Tuesday, 25 June 1991

Disc: Threats

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Directory

  1. Scott Delancey, Re: Queries
  2. "Michael Kac", Re: Queries
  3. Susan Ervin-Tripp, Re: Queries

Message 1: Re: Queries

Date: Mon, 24 Jun 1991 14:57 PDT
From: Scott Delancey <DELANCEYOREGON.UOREGON.EDU>
Subject: Re: Queries
A partial suggestion re Barbara Johnstone's query: I don't know that
it's generally true that a polite threat is more threatening than
an impolite one, but I can see an explanation for the difference
in the pair you cite. "Don't V!" is a command, but not necessarily
a threat--it doesn't imply any negative consequences for the
addressee if the command is ignored. (I could very well not
want you to V because of possible consequences to ME, for example).
But "If I were you, I wouldn't V" carries a clear message of
entailed negative consequences--I know that if I V-ed I'd be
sorry, so I wouldn't, and I am hereby suggesting that the same
is true for you ...
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Message 2: Re: Queries

Date: Mon, 24 Jun 91 20:54:39 -0500
From: "Michael Kac" <kaccs.umn.edu>
Subject: Re: Queries
I don't have an answer to Barbara Johnstone's question, but would point
out that there may be a broader phenomenon here. Consider the difference
between e.g. 'That's interesting' and 'That's not uninteresting' -- the
first damns with faint praise while the second is clearly a strong ex-
pression of interest. Similarly, 'What are you doing?' can be a mere ex-
pression of curiosity while 'What do you think you're doing?' is extremely
hostile.
Michael Kac
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Message 3: Re: Queries

Date: Mon, 24 Jun 91 20:15:02 -0700
From: Susan Ervin-Tripp <ervin-trcogsci.Berkeley.EDU>
Subject: Re: Queries
About the Barbara Johnstone query regarding polite threats. The reason
"If I were you, I don't know as I'd..." more threatening than
"don't" is first of all that "don't" is not a threat.
The real test would be between two threats, one polite and one not.
It is hard to think of a direct or explicit threat, except a very trivial
one, which is less threatening than the example.
e.g. "If I were you, I don't know as I'd,..."
vs.
"I'll cough if you ...." vs. "I'll be forced to call the police if you..."
As a matter of experience, polite threats are useless in real life.
Susan Ervin-Tripp
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