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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton May 4, 2011

Language in the military workplace—between hierarchy and politeness

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From the journal Text & Talk


Politeness is a pervasive aspect of communication and plays an important part in all our interactions (see, e.g., Brown and Levinson, Politeness: Some universals in language usage, Cambridge University Press, 1987). Communication in the military is no exception. The differences which exist are examined in this article by observing interactions in a US army battalion. The main focus is the language used in office situations based on a questionnaire filled out by members of the battalion, interviews, and several days of field study. The interpretation and analysis of these data detail how military personnel is supposed to and does deal with both superiors and subordinates in a variety of speech act situations, such as how directives and complaints are formulated, how criticism is voiced, and how advice is given to superiors, peers, and subordinates. The results show that respectful behavior, on the one hand, is prescribed by regulations and institutions and, on the other hand, it is shaped by the individual's creativity and an informal and familiar style. Thus, the military in non-combat office situations has its peculiarities in language use in such areas as rank, but also makes use of typical features of workplace talk such as the mitigation of directives.

Address for correspondence: FB II Anglistik, Universität Trier, 54286 Trier, Germany

Published Online: 2011-05-04
Published in Print: 2011-May

© 2011 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/New York

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