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Journal of Politeness Research

Language, Behaviour, Culture

Ed. by Grainger, Karen

IMPACT FACTOR 2018: 0.652
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 1.667

CiteScore 2018: 1.24

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.785
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 1.150

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Paedophiles and politeness in email communications: Community of practice needs that define face-threat

June Luchjenbroers / Michelle Aldridge-Waddon
Published Online: 2011-01-28 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jplr.2011.002


This paper offers an investigation into the general message structure and politeness strategies used in email communications between (now convicted) paedophiles in discussions of highly illegal practices and intent. In these emails, the interactants reveal telling characteristics of their ‘community of practice’. Consistent with the view from cognitive anthropology (Wenger, Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity, Cambridge University Press, 1998, IVEY Business Journal, 2004) and sociolinguistic research (Eckert, Linguistic variation as social practice, Blackwell, 2000; Newell-Jones, Whose reality counts? Interprofessional learning through the eyes of Participatory Rural Appraisal, Academy of Higher Education, LTSN. Academy of Higher Education, Health Sciences and Practice, 2005), the members of this speech community signal their ‘in group’ membership and values through a number of linguistic strategies, such as lexical and topic choices. Through these choices, members can not only quickly detect non-members, but can focus on those factors that are central to their community (in this case, avoiding features of talk, such as banter, sarcasm or humour, that are risky in new, internet relationships but would mark more solid relationships). The body of email data used for this research is a corpus taken from a recent paedophile case in the UK. Despite the relatively small dataset, many emails are captured in discourse ‘strings’ (i. e., multiple messages between users, embedded within single emails) and thus capture the consecutive to-and-fro of discourse between these discussants. As such we have clear evidence of the progress between contributions and it is clear how quickly members of this speech community discuss sensitive information, and how quickly they seek to ‘meet up’, despite knowing very little about each other. These data are also packed with descriptive information about the wants, deeds and desires of the email senders, making this a particularly rich corpus. We argue that facework and politeness ought to be considered in the light of the overall target social objectives, rather than how we, or members of other social groups, might perceive such discourse contributions.

Keywords:: Community of Practice; conceptual frames; forensic linguistics; paedophile; email communication

About the article

Published Online: 2011-01-28

Published in Print: 2011-02-01

Citation Information: Journal of Politeness Research. Language, Behaviour, Culture, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 21–42, ISSN (Online) 1613-4877, ISSN (Print) 1612-5681, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jplr.2011.002.

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