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Review of  Impoliteness in Language

Reviewer: Kerry Linfoot
Book Title: Impoliteness in Language
Book Author: Derek Bousfield Miriam A. Locher
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 20.2344

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EDITORS: Bousfield, Derek; Locher, Miriam
TITLE: Impoliteness in Language
SUBTITLE: Studies on its Interplay with Power in Theory and Practice
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2008

Kerry Linfoot, Department of English and Fine Arts, United States Air Force Academy

''This collection...seeks to address the enormous imbalance that exists between
academic interest in politeness phenomena as opposed to impoliteness
phenomena...any adequate account of the dynamics of interpersonal
communication...should consider hostile as well as cooperative communication'' (1-2).

In this volume, Bousfield and Locher have collected and arranged an impressive
selection of research that inquires into the nature of the interaction between
impoliteness and power. The papers are organized thematically and offer insight
into impoliteness in a variety of contexts and situations. This is all done with
a view to offering an understanding of how such utterances shape and reveal the
construction of personal and professional relationships, and how the power
dynamics of these interactions are formed, manipulated and constrained.

While it may seem to the previously uninitiated that research into impoliteness
may be covered by that into politeness (e.g., breaking rules of
politeness=impoliteness), the editors of this volume seek to encourage and
expand research into impoliteness in its own right. And they do it admirably. By
mapping their definitions and ideas to the recognizable Brown and Levinson
(1987) framework, the authors create a dual-stratum distinction within which the
studies in the volume are set:

i. First order approaches to impoliteness research studies instances of
impoliteness (including 'rudeness') from the perspective of the actors
themselves who are interacting within their speech community's discursive norms.

ii. Second order approaches consider the concepts of impoliteness, rudeness,
etc., on a theoretical level that may be informed by observations made in first
order investigations.

In order to undertake their research, the authors understand that it is first
necessary to offer a working definition of the concept of impoliteness:
''Impoliteness is behaviour that is face-aggravating in a particular context'' (3,
emphasis removed). Whilst recognizing that there may be different categories of
impolite behavior (including, for example, rudeness, linguistic aggressiveness),
the authors and other contributors employ and refine this definition to
establish and describe the local norms and situational variations of
impoliteness, and the effects that impolite utterances may have on power
dynamics between speakers.

The focus on power is an important choice and offers a Critical Discourse
Analysis aspect to the scope of the text. The authors describe and research how
individuals utilize power in the workplace, in legal environments, in politics,
and in bilingual and online communities. The editors, in their introduction,
state that ''impoliteness is an exercise of power as it has arguably always in
some way an effect on one's addressees in that it alters the future
action-environment of one's interlocutors'' (8, emphasis removed). They go on to
say that ''power is not static; rather, power is highly dynamic, fluid and
negotiable. Even interactants with a hierarchically lower status can and do
exercise power through impoliteness'' (9).

Part 1 – Theoretical Aspects of Impoliteness
The second chapter of the book, by well-known politeness researcher Jonathan
Culpeper, discusses in some detail the theoretical underpinnings of studies into
impoliteness. Basing many of his ideas on previous research, Culpeper shows
nicely how ideas in this area have progressed over time and how impoliteness is
evolving into an independent arena for investigation, separate from the more
recognizable field of politeness. While there are many exciting conceptual
developments mentioned in this chapter, one of the most relevant (for the
purpose of this volume) is the discussion of how impoliteness relates to power
negotiations between interactants. Culpeper defines impoliteness by saying it
''involves communicative behaviour intending to cause the 'face loss' of a target
or perceived by the target to be so'' (36). He goes on to say that, being as this
occurrence would restrict the actions available to the target, ''impoliteness
always involves power.'' Culpeper ends his analysis by reaffirming that further
research needs to be undertaken in the field of relational work and also into
that of how experiential and social norms are built and remolded in
communicative interactions.

Chapter three of the text is provided by Marina Terkoufi and builds on the
preceding chapter. The writer aims to provide theoretical definitions of
'politeness', 'impoliteness' and 'rudeness' that may be incorporated into the
new field of impoliteness research. Terkoufi begins her analysis with an
in-depth literature review of Politeness and Face Theory, and integrates into
her proposal the notion of Face2, which adds the concept of 'intentionality' to
traditional notions of face. It is from here that her
politeness/impoliteness/rudeness distinctions emerge. In brief (and doing her
detailed and supported analyses little justice), the author identifies five
types of relevant behavior:

i. unmarked politeness – expected, often unnoticed, polite behaviors;

ii. unmarked rudeness – behavior recognized as rude by the speaker and hearer
but carrying no face-threatening intention, i.e. acceptable in this circumstance
(if the intentions are correctly understood by the hearer);

iii. marked politeness – behavior constituting the face of both the hearer and
speaker, but which is not conventionalized. An example is 'over-politeness',
which can be understood by the hearer as politeness, impoliteness or rudeness;

iv. marked rudeness (or rudeness proper) – this occurs when the speaker's
intention to deliberately threaten the addressee's face is recognized by the hearer;

v. impoliteness – may be seen as 'accidental' in that the addressee's face is
threatened by the speaker's act, but no intentionality is attributed to the speaker.

Part 2 – Political Interaction
Chapter four of this volume introduces the ideas of power and relational work in
a political environment. Researchers Locher and Watts work from a 'first order'
perspective, i.e. ''[a] negative evaluation is to be understood quite literally
as the emotional reaction of individual interactants...'' (79). In their attempts
to define guidelines for both their current study and any that may follow, the
authors specifically state that relational work (the negotiation of
relationships between interlocutors) displays a complete range of communicative
behaviors thereby creating appropriate data for research into both politeness
and impoliteness. Both practical analyses in this chapter are proof of this
assertion. In the first, Locher and Watts address mismatches in perceptions of
impoliteness as an effective and persuasive demonstration of the continual
negotiations interactants undertake to establish rules of (im)politeness. This
fluidity was also a focus of the second analysis, which discussed the realm of
the political television interview and linguistic and paralinguistic reactions
to impoliteness, as defined by social norms both inside and outside this
particular discursive environment.

In contrast to the preceding chapter, the contribution offered by María Dolores
García-Pastor utilizes a second order approach in its analysis of political
debates. This approach is understood within the study as ''a speaker's
intentional communication of face aggravation or attack to the hearer, who
perceives and/or construct the speaker's behaviour as intentionally face
aggravating or attacking'' (104). The author chooses to adopt Brown and
Levinson's (1987) notion of face as the image an interactant wants for
themselves in a particular communicative setting, and states that this is
heightened in the realm of political debate as ''a politician's image and/or its
attribution by the public is crucial for him/her to achieve his/her political
goals'' (104-105). In her analysis of more than 20 hours of face-to-face debate
that occurred in the 2000 United States presidential campaign, García-Pastor
focuses on the observation of 'negativity cycles' that she claims are used by
adversaries to limit and coerce each other, creating chains of communication
that utilize impoliteness strategies to shape both image and power dynamics.

Part 3 – Interaction with Legally Constituted Authorities
One of the volume's editors, Derek Bousfield, returns in the sixth chapter to
begin the discussion of impoliteness in legal and hierarchical settings. In
support of research in this area, the author states that ''institutional
organisations are beginning to realise the significance that aggressive
linguistic behaviour can have on the ability of individuals to work and provide
essential services'' (148). Bousfield offers support that such happenings are
increasing, thereby necessitating research in this specific communicative
domain. To establish his theoretical framework, Bousfield modifies an existing
model of impoliteness offered by Culpeper (2005) by streamlining the five
suggested categories into just two 'tactics', ''on-record politeness'' (explicit
and unambiguous face attacks) and ''off-record politeness'' (threats that require
implicature and that could be denied through explanation). Bousfield ends the
chapter by applying the model to interactions captured from two 'reality'
television shows that chronicle the lives of army recruits and the careers of
rookie police officers. His analysis highlights the fact that, although
impoliteness may be expected during such interactions it is, nonetheless, still
effective in swaying and controlling power relations.

Chapter seven of this volume comes from German researcher Holger Limberg and
addresses the use of threats in police-citizen interaction. In a lengthy, and at
times repetitive, theoretical introduction, Limberg defines the target data as
'verbal threats', specifically 'conditional threats' that allow the hearer to
assess the situation and to rethink their responses to commands. The author
states that it is a quality inherent in police-citizen interaction that behavior
may become ''heated'', and in these cases ''certain linguistic strategies are
deliberately employed which can exhibit strong (illocutionary) forces depending
on their situated usage and the effect they have on the target'' (163). Due to
the institutional power of Police, offenders may view threats uttered by
officers as inherently Impolite, in that they aim to restrict the available
''action environment'' (176). Such threats aim, ultimately, to have a coercive or
– in Limberg's terminology – 'manipulative' pragmatic effect, i.e. compliance to
police instructions. By analyzing three examples of threats in police-citizen
interaction, Limberg demonstrates clearly the institutionally sanctioned usage
of threats by police officers. The author also notes how these threats may
increase in response to offenders' rejoinders (for example, counter-threats
against officers by offenders), and how this threat elevation on the part of law
enforcement officers is institutionally sanctioned within boundaries of

In chapter eight, Dawn Elizabeth Archer combines a first and second order
approach to assess whether courtroom interactions that may threaten face are (as
many researchers have suggested, c.f. Kryk-Kastovsky 2006) inherently impolite.
The chapter begins with an elegantly crafted literature review in which Archer
situates her theoretical framework within existing impoliteness research,
criticizes previous notions and categories, and weaves in a number of pertinent
suggestions for improvements to existing models. By analyzing interactions from
historical courtrooms settings, the author suggests that impoliteness may
actually be better understood as a subset of a larger category, namely
'aggressive language'. By demonstrating through her data that utterances that
would seem impolite in other contexts are not interpreted as such in the
courtroom (and thereby creating a large hole in previous impoliteness models,
e.g. Culpeper 2005), Archer concludes that certain occupations, including
lawyers and judges, require the use of aggressive, at times face-threatening,
language that is rarely, if ever, construed as being impolite. She also clearly
illustrates how the asymmetry of relational power contributes to the
interpretation (or lack thereof) of impoliteness and suggests the establishment
of an impoliteness continuum to assess levels of impoliteness in contextually
defined communicative environments.

Part 4 – Workplace Interaction
Moving to the workplace, chapter nine of this volume discussed the use of
impoliteness in white- and blue-collar environments and the subsequent effects
of this verbal strategy on power delineation. Stephanie Schnurr, Meredith Marra,
and Janet Holmes examine data taken from a number of workplace environments and
apply a first order approach to their data. In their analyses they emphasize the
fact that ''the intersection between what counts as appropriate and inappropriate
is often far from clear, and requires a great deal of local contextual knowledge
in its interpretation'' (211). To illustrate this, the authors show two
categories of impoliteness: i) discourse that appears polite, but which carries
an impolite message, and ii) discourse that appears impolite, but which is
actually politic in the specific community of practice (Culpeper's (1996) 'mock
impoliteness'). Their results show that there may be a connection between the
overly polite and the impolite ends of Locher and Watts' (2005) impoliteness
continuum, and also how effective impoliteness can be in subverting the existing
power relations within a discourse community.

Louise Mullany, the researcher responsible for chapter ten, also focuses on a
contextually-based community of practice in her study, but incorporates the
added variable of gender to her analysis. Through the study of interaction in
workplace environments, Mullany utilizes an ethnographic approach (combined with
the use of interviews) to assess how power and gender are enacted in discourse,
and the resultant judgments by interactants. Here analysis focuses on the
infrequent instances of impoliteness uncovered during meetings at a
manufacturing company, and she competently demonstrates how impoliteness may be
manipulated to display power, despite actual hierarchical positions held within
the institution. She concludes that gender and power are fluid and changeable
concepts, and also that women in positions of authority in the workforce do not
always adhere to stereotypical 'gender behaviors'. There remains, however, a
negative evaluation of these women as they utilize traditionally 'masculine'
verbal strategies, despite their competent enactment of power in their workplace

Part 5 – Further Empirical Studies
To begin the final section of the book, American researcher Holly Cashman
considers the impact of impoliteness in bilingual situations. Her research
questions address both language choice (the selection of a language for use in
particular situations) as well as code switching (the move from one language to
another within an interaction. Using three different data sets that consist of
participant interviews, role playing exercises, and natural language use,
Cashman uses an (acknowledged) uncomfortable mixture of first and second order
approaches to impoliteness. Her analysis illuminates how language choice and
code switching may indicate power creation and maintenance, and how relational
work may be achieved through these bilingual choices. She concludes that
bilingual speakers may see ''language choice and code-switching as a resource for
doing (im)politeness as well as a cue for interpreting (im)politeness in
interaction'' (271, emphasis removed). She ends by emphasizing that her work
merely scratches the surface of an extremely complex network of relational and
linguistic choices and power maneuvers, and appeals for further research in this
new field (bilingual language use) of a new field (impoliteness).

The final chapter in this volume addresses impoliteness in the online world of
communication. Sage Lambert Graham uses an ethnographic approach to analyze
instances of conflict in an online discussion list called ChurchList. She
assesses the list's Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) manual, which is sent to
all new members as a guideline for behavior, and addresses problems that are
common in this online Community of Practice (CofP) due to the contrary,
generalized, and outdated nature of these guidelines. Graham's data examples
show that the FAQs leave newcomers to the list unsure of how to interact in the
community. For example, the guidelines state that members should not 'lurk'
(i.e. they should actively post to the list), but also state that newcomers
should take time to get to know the community practices before leaping in with
both feet and risking the wrath of established members. Graham's studies
highlight the arbitrary nature of online participants' adherence to the
guidelines, and she posits the idea of power within the community as being
related to the number of posts members have contributed, and the length of time
that they have been associated with the community. She shows also how community
members will rally against those that appear to infringe on the personal rights
of other members (that is Spencer-Oatey's (2002) 'quality face'), whereas posts
that may appear more directly impolite, but that only address community members'
outright violation of the list's guidelines (i.e. 'equity rights'), are treated
far more leniently. It is evident from Graham's analysis that there is a great
deal of material for further study into impoliteness in the ever changing and
growing field of online communication.

This book is intended for those interested in the pragmatics of power and the
new and expanding model of impoliteness as a separate entity from the familiar
domain of politeness research. A certain amount of knowledge in the area of
linguistic analysis and pragmatics is essential for readers, though each chapter
introduces its own theoretical background and situates itself well within the
existing contemporary research. The book would be extremely useful for academics
concerned with the use of power and hierarchical dynamics in any structured
organization, and for politeness researchers looking for another, perhaps more
applicable, strand of pragmatics for their own research.

Unfortunately, the requirement for each chapter to re-address this theoretical
framework can become a little tedious, though it may be unlikely that readers
will sit and read the book from end to end as this reviewer, of course,
volunteered to do. With impoliteness still being a relatively undefined concept,
these introductions remain necessary and unavoidable and will illuminate
considerations of those readers who are just sampling relevant contributions
from the volume. There is, of course, a variety in the quality of works
contained within the collection. There are none, however, that are undeserving
of perusal by any interested party. Those researchers that are well-known in the
world of politeness and pragmatics research are nicely balanced with newer
contributors, and there is a wonderful consideration of global perspectives with
chapters from an impressive variety of locations.

Overall, this volume is a very valuable contribution to a novel and developing
field of research. There are a number of important inputs that advance
understanding of the interaction between relational activity and power from a
range of institutionalized and hierarchical settings that could potentially be
tweaked and cross-applied to further situations. As an introduction to the field
of impoliteness and as a basis for further exploration in this area, the volume
is without comparison – literally! Regardless of its lack of competitors,
however, the collection is both enlightening and fascinating, and will serve as
a framework for a great deal of future research into the concept of impoliteness.

Brown, P. And Levinson, S. (1987) _Politeness: Some Universals in Language
Usage_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Culpeper, J. (1996) ''Towards an Anatomy of Impoliteness.'' _Journal of
Pragmatics_, vol. 25:3, 349-367.

Culpeper, J. (2005) ''Impoliteness and 'The Weakest Link','' _Journal of
Politeness Research_, vol. 1:1, 35-72.

Kryk-Kastovsky, B. (2006) ''Impoliteness in Early Modern English Courtroom
Discourse.'' _Journal of Historical Pragmatics_, vol. 7:2, 213-243.

Locher M. A. and Watts, R. J. (2005) ''Politeness Theory and Relational Work.''
_Journal of Politeness Research_, vol. 1:1, 9-33.

Spencer-Oatey, H. (2002) ''Managing Rapport in Talk: Using Rapport Sensitive
Incidents to Explore the Motivational Concerns Underlying the Management of
Relations.'' _Journal of Pragmatics_, vol. 34:5, 529-545.

Dr. Kerry Linfoot teaches officer-cadets at the United States Air Force Academy
in Colorado. She works on the interaction between citizens and law enforcement
officers, police interviewing techniques, and predicting resistance to authority.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 3110202662
ISBN-13: 9783110202663
Pages: 346
Prices: U.S. $ 125.00