Brown and Levinson's (1978 ) politeness theory has frequently been criticized (e. g., by Culpeper 1996, 2005; Eelen 2001; Bousfield 2006) on the grounds of its apparent failure to account for impoliteness. The primary purpose of this article is to explore whether impoliteness can indeed be accommodated within their model. The article examines a corpus of naturally-occurring spoken French where speakers, on the whole, share a rapport challenge orientation (Spencer-Oatey 2000) towards each other. It explores how speakers exploit ambivalence inherent in authentic spoken discourse as a face protective device largely aimed at protecting their own face against not only potential threats from their addressee but from ratified auditors. I supplement their frame with Goffman's (1981) and Linell's (1994) views on footing and alignment and with Chilton's (2004) views on the strategic use of language in interaction to show that face protection may be part of a strategy to coerce, de-legitimize and ensure that one's own representation of a situation prevails; an approach that may, in the subjective judgement of the addressee or others present, be deemed to be impolite. I argue that where face-protective strategies are involved in interaction, Brown and Levinson's model can provide a useful framework within which to consider impoliteness.
© Walter de Gruyter