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Intercultural Pragmatics

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Volume 13, Issue 4


Mock politeness and culture: Perceptions and practice in UK and Italian data

Charlotte Taylor
Published Online: 2016-11-04 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ip-2016-0021


This paper investigates the extent to which perceptions of cultural variation correspond to actual practice with reference to (national) cultures in Britain and Italy. More specifically, the aspect of im/politeness that is addressed is mock politeness, a subset of implicational impoliteness that is triggered by an im/politeness mismatch. In the first phase of the study, two sets of comparable corpora are employed to investigate perceptions of mock politeness (using search terms such as sarcastic and patronizing) in relation to cultural identities. The first pair of corpora is composed of national newspapers in England and Italy, collected in 2014, and the second set are web corpora. What emerges from this stage is a strong tendency for both the English and Italian corpora to associate (potential) mock polite behaviors such as being ironic with a British cultural identity.

In the second stage of the study, I use a corpus of conversational data from British English and Italian online discussion forums, in which mock polite behaviors have been identified and annotated, in order to investigate whether there is any evidence for the cultural assumptions found in the first phase. As will be shown, the analysis reveals both variation in cultural practice and a significant gap between perceptions and practice.

In describing and identifying this gap between perceptions and practice, I show both how (anglocentric) academic description has underestimated cultural variation, and, in contrast, how cultural variation is overestimated in lay description.

Keywords: impoliteness; mock politeness; sarcasm; irony; cross-cultural analysis; corpus pragmatics


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About the article

Charlotte Taylor

Charlotte Taylor is Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sussex. Her main area of research interest is verbal aggression, with particular reference to the two areas of linguistic impoliteness and migration discourses. She is author of Mock Politeness in English and Italian (Benjamins 2016) and co-author of Patterns and Meanings in Discourse: Theory and practice in corpus-assisted discourse studies (Benjamins 2013).

Published Online: 2016-11-04

Published in Print: 2016-11-01

Citation Information: Intercultural Pragmatics, Volume 13, Issue 4, Pages 463–498, ISSN (Online) 1613-365X, ISSN (Print) 1612-295X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ip-2016-0021.

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