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Pragmática Sociocultural / Sociocultural Pragmatics

Revista Internacional sobre Lingüística del Español / An International Journal of Spanish Linguistics

Ed. by Bravo, Diana

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“Will you fuck off please”. The use of please by London teenagers

“Jódete, por favor”. El uso de please (‘por favor’) por parte de los adolescentes londinenses

Karin Aijmer
Published Online: 2015-10-01 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/soprag-2014-0028

Abstract

The paper investigates how the politeness marker please is used by young people to distinguish themselves from adults and create an identity of their own. The analysis of please is based on the Bergen Corpus of London Teenage Language (COLT). The distribution and uses of please in COLT are compared with similar data from the British component of the International Corpus of English (ICE-GB). We can recognize several functions of the “impolite” please in the COLT Corpus. To begin with, it is used strategically to establish or confirm harmonious relationships between the speakers (rapport-strengthening impoliteness). Secondly, “mock impoliteness” may be understood in a positive way because it is amusing or entertaining. In young people’s circles entertainment skills are for example highly valued (entertainment impoliteness). Finally, impoliteness is used creatively in interaction by the participants who use repetition, reformulation and escalation to construct ritualized sequences of apparent insults (creative impoliteness).

Resumen

Este artículo investiga cómo los jóvenes usan el marcador de cortesía please (‘por favor’) para diferenciarse de los adultos y crear una identidad propia. El análisis se basa en el Corpus Bergen del lenguaje adolescente de Londres (COLT), y la distribución y uso de please se compara con datos similares del apartado británico del Corpus Internacional del Inglés (ICE-GB). En el corpus COLT reconocemos diferentes funciones del por favor “descortés”. En primer lugar, es usado estratégicamente para establecer o confirmar relaciones armónicas entre los hablantes (se trata de una descortesía de fortalecimiento de relaciones). En segundo lugar, la descortesía burlesca debe entenderse de forma positiva, ya que es divertida o entretenida, pues en los círculos juveniles las habilidades para crear entretenimiento están muy bien valoradas (por tanto, es una descortesía de entretenimiento). Finalmente, la descortesía es usada de forma creativa en la interacción mediante el uso de la repetición, la reformulación y la intensificación, a fin de construir secuencias ritualizadas de aparentes insultos (se trata de una descortesía creativa).

Keywords: Corpora; Mock Impoliteness; Please; Youth Language

Palabras clave: Corpus; Descortesía Burlesca; Lenguaje Juvenil; Please (‘Por Favor’)

1 Introduction

The inspiration for this study comes from the observation that please was very frequent in a corpus of teenage speech but that it was used in unexpected ways, as in the following example:

Craig

Yes I’m gonna say that and something big.

Peter

Oh bollocks.

Craig

Right that’s what I’m gonna say I’m gonna say Ross can you fuck off please and I’m gonna say Jock you don’t mind do you?

Peter

1 I’ll just make sure I’m not in here, that’s what I’ll do.

(42001a-09-M-14-16-He-?)

Please is an expression of politeness. However, in the example above it is used together with the impolite ‘can you fuck off’ as a rude way of asking the other person to go away. Such examples are not unexpected in adolescent language. The question arises why the speakers use impolite language and why please is sometimes used with a negative or impolite meaning.

Young people seem to use rude language differently from adults. Andersen (2001) has studied how teenagers use pragmatic markers such as like in contexts which seem strange to speakers who are not in the peer group. He suggests that “more generally, it is of interest to investigate whether adolescence and adulthood are essentially different with respect to interactional and politeness principles” (Andersen, 2001, p. 307). Teenagers seem for instance to “pay less attention to politeness and phatic language than adults do.” Interruptions are frequent and they are often accompanied by “mock insults.”

The aim of the present study is to investigate how the politeness marker please is used by young people to distinguish themselves from adults and create an identity of their own. The analysis of please will be based on the Bergen Corpus of London Teenage Language (COLT),11 a corpus of half a million words of conversations among young boys and girls, mainly between 13 and 16 years of age from different London boroughs. The young people know each other well and they speak on a large number of different topics (see further Stenström et al., 2002). The recordings can be listened to but the conversations have not been prosodically transcribed. The distribution and uses of please will be compared with “adult data” from the British component of the International Corpus of English (ICE-GB) (see Nelson, Wallis and Aarts, 2002).

The structure of the paper is as follows: The theoretical frame will be discussed in Section 2. Section 3 deals with please in previous work. Section 4 compares please in the COLT Corpus with its uses in other corpora. In Section 5, I discuss the teenagers’ strategic uses of please to create a certain image or identity of themselves. In Section 6, I draw some conclusions from the data about the functions of impoliteness in teenage language.

2 Theoretical perspectives

Brown and Levinson’s influential theory of politeness (1978, 1987) relied on the notion of face: “the public self-image that every member wants to claim for himself (sic)” (Brown and Levinson, 1978, p. 66). The focus is on how speakers use special strategies to save their own or the hearer’s face if threatened. For example, if the speaker asks somebody to do something, they may use a strategy mitigating the illocutionary force of the face-threatening action.

Brown and Levinson’s model of politeness has been criticized because “it focused on harmonious interactions, and, thus, quite understandably, ignored impoliteness” (Culpeper, 2011, p. 6). Human beings do not always behave in a polite way. They use rude language such as swearing and express their annoyance or irritation both verbally and non-verbally. Other types of impoliteness in conversation are irony and banter.

Conversational impoliteness has been studied from different perspectives in pragmatics and discourse analysis. Traditionally the emphasis in pragmatics has been on the Cooperative Principle (Grice, 1975) and how it is used by the addressee to derive the speaker’s intended meaning by inferencing (“implicatures”). Leech gives the following illustration of how implicatures apply to the interpretation of an imperative (what Leech refers to as a “mand”):

For example, a primary step in pragmatically interpreting the mand “Just pay me the money you owe me” is to derive the implicature that S’s [the speaker’s] communicative goal is to get H [the hearer] to pay the money – that is, to interpret the mand (by default) as a directive. Only if H judges that this implicature is false, that is, if the Maxim of Quality is judged to be violated – will H access other interpretations, such as that S is indulging in playful banter.

Leech (2014, p. 71).

Researchers who have criticized the Gricean approach have suggested that Relevance Theory offers a better method of deriving the inferences that are necessary to evaluate the discourse as polite or impolite (as ironic, joking, etc.) (cf. Watts, 2003, p. 26).

In recent discussions of impoliteness, it has been claimed that impoliteness can be strategic and systematic and that it should be studied in its own right (Culpeper 2011). Some uses of impoliteness are, for example, conventionalised and do not depend on inferencing.

Both politeness and impoliteness can be expressed by specific conventionalised formulae and strategies which can also be used in novel ways (Culpeper, 2005, 2011). Interpretations involve “matching information encoded in the formal features of the utterance with the pragmatic context” (Culpeper, 2011, p. 166). The information encoded in the formula can however be at odds with the surrounding context, with the result that inferencing is more complex. The following example illustrates a mismatch between the context and impolite expressions:

As Francesca and John left the house, she came back to give Mum a kiss and they said goodbye in the way they often did. ‘Bye, you bitch.’ Francesca said. ‘Get out of here, go on, you bitch’, replied Mum. (From It’s in the blood: My life by Lawrence Dallaglio, former English Rugby captain. The example has been shortened.)

(Culpeper, 2011, p. 207).

In the mother’s direct speech we find an insulting vocative “you bitch” following what Culpeper (2011) refers to as a “dismissal” (get out of here). These expressions do not seem to match the situation in which they are uttered (a conversation between family members). However, in their context they signal “a strong family unit”. According to Culpeper (2011, p. 207), “[T]he recontextualisation of impoliteness in socially opposite contexts reinforces social opposite effects, namely, affectionate, intimate bonds among individuals and the identity of the group.”

In the example just given, the mismatch is external (mismatch between a lexical expression and the context). Other cases involve internal mismatches, i. e. mismatches created out of conventionalised politeness formulas in the context of an impoliteness expression (Culpeper’s 2011 paradigm example is Could you please fuck off) (See Culpeper, 2011, p. 166 and Section 5.1.)

Bernal’s study (2008) of “genuine versus non-genuine politeness” in colloquial Spanish is of interest because it deals with another language than English. Bernal (2008) observed that in Spanish society certain expressions which were used for mocking or insulting in certain contexts could have the effect of producing “an affiliative social effect, strengthening feelings of solidarity within a group and of closeness between interlocutors” (2008, p. 781). Bernal studied expressions in Peninsular Spanish which could have both impolite or negative effects (authentic impoliteness) and less conventionalized readings implying “apparent impoliteness only” (non-authentic impoliteness; Bernal, 2008, p. 782). Bernal also pointed out the importance of the interpretation a receiver makes of the situation, for example how “impoliteness can be entertaining”. The discussion is based mainly on negative expressions such as swearing. We can however assume that Spanish and other languages also use inherently polite expressions in impolite ways for mock impoliteness or banter.

Recently, we have witnessed the publications of many books and articles about impoliteness. However, we do not know enough about different types of impoliteness and how to describe them. The term banter is for example used broadly both about teasing or mocking a particular target and “to refer to insulting others in a ritualised manner” (Haugh and Bousfield, 2012, p. 4). It is therefore important to discuss the different functions of im / politeness in actual discourse in as many settings as possible (and in several different languages).

3 Previous work

Culpeper (2011, p. 130) describes please (and thanks) as “icons of English politeness” closely associated with social norms and habits in English society. You are for example supposed to say please when you ask for something at the dinner table in an English middle class family. Biber et al. (1999) mention please as an example of “primarily polite speech act formulae” occurring typically in exchanges such as “Can I have a-another two Diet Cokes please? Thank you” (Biber et al. 1999, p. 1093). The authors regard please as an “insert”, so called because it is only loosely associated with the sentence.

Wichmann’s articles on please (2004, 2005) are a contribution to the study of the association between intonation and attitudes. It is shown that please “is not always a neutral courtesy marker as suggested by Biber et al.’s analysis but, depending on its intonational realization, can convey meanings at the more emotional end of the interactional spectrum” (2005, p. 248). Perceived attitudes include interpersonal meanings such as being rude, humorous, ironic, etc. As shown by Wichmann, attitudinal meanings are not only carried by lexical and grammatical means but are also signalled non-verbally and prosodically.

Wichmann’s study is based on naturally spoken data from ICE-GB. In Section 4, I will compare the distribution and uses of please in the COLT Corpus with data from Wichmann’s analysis.

Leech (2014, p. 75) suggests that please as an isolate has a conventional meaning which can perhaps best be described performatively: “S (hereby) utters a somewhat polite directive.” It is assumed that it can be derived by pragmaticalization from the structure if it please you, if you please and that “it has reached a formulaic extremity on the scale of pragmaticalization, so that any supposition that the present-day speaker or addressee inferentially ‘works out’ its meaning from an antiquated expression such as ‘if it please you’ would be absurd” (Leech 2014, p. 76). The interpretation depends very much on the context:

At one end of the scale it is almost indispensable as a marker of routine politeness in nonsentential requests such as Tickets please or answers to offers: Would you like some more? Yes, please. At the other extreme, especially when please is pronounced with an emphatic falling intonation or is used as an isolate… it can be an insistent reinforcement of the directive

(Leech 2014, p. 162).

Sato (2008) focused on the functional equivalences of please in different positions within turn-constructional units in American English and New Zealand English. In turn-initial position, please expressed various emotions “such as the speaker’s wish, the sense of urgency, and enthusiasm” (Sato 2008, p. 1275). The medial position was closely associated with maintaining “an agreeable and cordial interaction with the participant(s)” (Sato 2008, p. 1275). The final position was shown to be “the locus in which the linkage between the speaker and the social situation is sought and acknowledged” (Sato 2008, p. 1276).22

Most attempts at defining the functions of please refer to its politeness use in connection with requests. An exception is De Felice and Murphy (2015, p. 87) who mention the possible rudeness of please (especially in American English): “However, some informal claims have been made (Trawick-Smith, 2012; Murphy, 2012) that the presence of please requests can seem less polite in American English than the equivalent request without it, emphasizing social power differences and expressing impatience.”

4 Types of utterances with please

The high frequency of please in the COLT Corpus is striking in comparison with its use in other corpora. In the London-Lund Corpus (LLC) (representing data from the 1960s and 1970s) there were 75 examples of please (Aijmer, 1996), and Wichmann (2004, p. 1529) found 84 examples of please in the more recent (spoken part of the) British Component of the International Corpus of English (ICE-GB). Table 1 compares the frequencies of please in the three corpora:

Table 1

The frequency of please in COLT, LLC and ICE-GB (The frequencies have been normalized to 100,000 words).

Please was used slightly more often by boys than by girls (boys 195 examples; girls 164 examples).44

The meaning of please depends on sentence type, the degree of directive force, and position in the utterance. Please can be inserted into many types of sentence (declarative sentences, interrogative sentences, imperatives). It can also be used alone without an explicit request.

All tokens of please co-occurred with a directive (cf. Wichmann, 2004). A basic distinction can be made between directives in the form of commands (expressing strong directive force in the form of an imperative) and (indirect) requests. Indirect requests include interrogative sentences, modal interrogatives (can you, could you), declaratives with modals (I can) and elliptical constructions. In addition, please can stand alone (including yes please and no please). See Table 2:

Table 2

Utterance types co-occurring with please in the COLT Corpus.

Indirect requests modified by please were more frequent than modified imperatives both in the COLT Corpus and in Wichmann’s data from the ICE-GB Corpus (2004, p. 1530).

In both corpora there were few syntactic constraints on please. Please was found in final, initial and medial position. Table 3 compares please in different utterance positions in indirect requests and commands:

Table 3

Utterance positions of please in requests and mitigated commands in the COLT Corpus.

In indirect requests, please was nearly always in final position (but less often in ICE-GB: 76 %, Wichmann, 2004, p. 1529). In commands, please was more frequent in final than in initial position (final 62.6 %; initial 37.5 %). In ICE-GB, commands showed a greater tendency to use please in initial than in final position (Initial 77 %).

Table 4 lists the patterns (including the imperative) mitigated by please in the COLT Corpus:

Table 4

Patterns with direct and indirect requests mitigated by please in the COLT Corpus.

Imperatives modified by please were more frequent than interrogative structures or declarative sentences. Can was preferred as a modal auxiliary in modal interrogative structures. There were 113 examples of can / could to be compared with will / would, 2 examples, and may, 1 example. The subject of can was most frequently the first or the second person. Can I modified by please was the most frequent pattern after imperatives.

According to Wichmann (2005, p. 232) can you or can I are formulaic or “emotionally neutral”. Please is said to be socially appropriate and indexed to situations where the imposition is minimal or socially sanctioned (among friends sharing a known set of rights and obligations). It was typically used in requests where the imposition was low (Can I have a glass of water please? Could we have the first question please; Wichmann, 2004, p. 1531). In the COLT Corpus it was also used when more emphasis or annoyance is involved:

Craig

good! When you go don’t forget me. Send me a card.

Peter

I’m not going!… They just send it to me, I send it back.

Craig

Oh!

Peter

Can you get off please? Pop my microphone.

Craig

You never know <unclear>

Peter

Six other people. Thirty people all over London.

Craig

That’s good! That is really good. I’m

(32905a-01-F-14-16-Ha-3)51

Please in declarative sentences illustrates “please-requests with ‘attitude’” (Wichmann, 2005, p. 244). Please expresses an appeal or a plea:

Peter

He goes, he thinks you’re, he thinks you’re so funny <unclear> I can’t <unclear> I do it in music.

Josie

No, I wanna see, I’ve never seen you do it, please?

Peter

I don’t flirt! I just, [you’ve seen me flirt!]

Josie

[<unclear>]

(32901a-02-F-14-16-Ha-?)

The high number of examples of free-standing please reflects the fact that please is typically used to express emotion. When please occurs alone (“as an isolate” Wichmann, 2004, p. 1539), it has an exclamatory quality and “[t]here is no request which it might appear to modify or reinforce”. We therefore have to see them as “complex but elliptical requests in their own right” (Wichmann, 2004). The free-standing please is illustrated in (3):

Peter_ watch with me. I wanna watch [<unclear>]

Grace

[Well], just tell them what one you want, I mean

Peter

See I wanna see Accidental Hero.

Grace

Please!

Peter

That looks good.

Grace

I know, but I mean, come on!

Peter

Well what else is on actually?

Grace

There’s the Jungle

(32503a-01-M-14-16-Ha-2)

To summarize, the COLT speakers use please more frequently than the speakers in the ICE-GB. Both groups of speakers used please more frequently to modify requests than commands. Please could be placed almost anywhere in the sentence. However, its placement depends on utterance type. In the COLT Corpus (but not in ICE-GB), there was a tendency to use please finally in commands. In the COLT Corpus, please was frequently used for exclamation and attitude (besides politeness), especially when it occurred alone.

5 The uses of please by speakers in the COLT Corpus

Please has several functions in the COLT Corpus. It is used for bantering or for irony, it is found in mock disputes, and in emotional narratives. In order to analyse what please is doing we have to look at larger stretches of discourse where the impoliteness only becomes evident in the on-going interactions.

5.1 Verbal formula mismatches

In the following example from the COLT data the polite interpretation of please is not tenable. Will you please is a polite, mitigated request which co-occurs with the impolite fuck off:

Josie

Go on

Craig

<shouting> Ross </>

Ross

No, don’t. You bastards.

Craig

<nv> laugh </nv>…

Ross

Yeah?

Craig

Will you fuck off please?

Ross

You don’t even know what I said to her last night [do you?]

Craig

[Fuck off.] Fuck off.

Ross

I got you off

(42003a-09-M-14-16-He-?-)

Culpeper discusses similar “impoliteness events” (Culpeper, 2011, p. 166) characterized by a mismatch between polite and impolite items. Go to hell please, said to get rid of somebody, might well be considered interpersonally negative, despite the fact that a conventional politeness marker has been used. In fact, this particular utterance achieves its power, because politeness is part of the conventionalised meaning of please. Leech (2013, p. 238) refers to “attitude clashes”: “an attitude clash is a case where the overt ‘polite’ meaning and the ‘impolite’ meaning of irony occur side by side in the same piece of language.”

In (5) the use of please and the impolite command can you pack yourself off in the same utterance is characteristic of non-genuine impoliteness, i. e., both speakers are aware that no real rudeness or aggression is intended in the context. The lack of politeness is used strategically to emphasise values such as solidarity and intimacy.

Peter

It’s on two tapes…. It’s a bit boring though. Boring…. (5)

Cassie

Right, can I have these sets of sheets back, please and can you pack away now! The next two Mondays we’re not gonna have humanities because we’re off!

(32803a-04-F-?????-Ha)

5.2 Banter or mock impoliteness

A banter can for example involve an insult which is not to be taken seriously. However, banter can also be understood more broadly. Culpeper (2011, p. 208) considers mock impoliteness [banter] as involving the cancelling of impoliteness perlocutionary effects flowing from a conventionalised impoliteness formula when an obvious mismatch emerges with the context it is used in. Requests with please which are apparently impolite can be used in a humorous way for teasing or ‘banter’.

In example (6) Peter asks for a pen (give me your pen please). Please conveys the expectation that the hearer will comply with the request in a positive way. However the hearer responds in a rude manner (fuck off). The banter is complex since it depends on what is said in the next turn:

Peter

In the science thing. <unclear> who is it, then.

Anthony

Cyper and Sid, with the first that came to school….

Peter

Kate give me your pen please.

Richard

Fuck off.

Peter

<nv> laugh </nv>

Richard

I gave you the little pen.

Peter

Who bet who?

Cassie

Today the twenty fourth of the fourth of the

(34401a-01-M-14-16-Ha-3-)

It is often difficult to know if the adolescents are angry with each other or not. Richard understands Peter’s request as offensive although it contains please. He therefore responds in a rude way. However, laughter makes it clear that the exchange is non-serious.

Example (7) is similar. Please is not taken seriously since it receives a rude response:

Selum

Your rooms

Peter

What we do it

Selum

Oh you do it.

Peter

Yeah I know

Matthew

Can I give you two tomorrow then when I’ve got it changed

^many <unclear>

Matthew

Please look I can’t pay you

Peter

Shut up you fat bastard

^many <unclear>

Peter

I’ll give you two for that <unclear>

Matthew

No, I won’t, I won’t. Two for a

(41204a-18-M-14-16-He-?)

Matthew uses the polite please but gets an impolite answer in return. The rudeness is in line with the humorous and mocking character of the exchange. Real anger is not expressed although Peter reacts by shouting (shut up you fat bastard). The lack of politeness can be associated with banter and with solidarity in the peer group.

Similarly, in (8) politeness is only apparent:

Peter

<nv> laugh </nv> Oh someone give me some money Cath give me some money.

Josie

<unclear>

Peter

Hello Vicky. Catherine give me some money please.

Robert

I haven’t fucking got any…. (5) <whining> What? </>

Peter

<laughing> nothing

(33704a-01-F-14-16-Ha-3)

The hearer is not assumed to take what is said as serious but as joking on the basis of the hearer’s response to what was said, prosody, the use of please with an imperative, etc.

The episodes in this section illustrate what Kienpointner (1997) refers to as “sociable rudeness” (and I have referred to as an evaluation of what is said as mock impoliteness). Treating what is said as mock impoliteness rather than as “face-threatening” is “allowable” if participants orient to the offence as joking and “as being relationship-supportive.” In Haugh and Bousfield’s comparative study of male-male interactions among speakers of British and Australian English, mock impoliteness was for example seen as “reflective of one’s adherence to not taking oneself too seriously”, which is something positively valued by both the British and Australian speakers (Haugh and Bousfield, 2012, p. 19).

5.3 Pattern-forming impoliteness

The following example illustrates banter stretching across several conversational turns. First one person says something which leads to a rejoinder from the other speaker resulting in pattern-forming, “characterised by repetition, reformulation and escalation” (cf. Culpeper, 2011, p. 243 “pattern-forming impoliteness”):

Peter

Give me a bit of Kit Kat. Give me a bit of Kit Kat. Can I have a bit Peter darling?

Michael

Don’t you ever say please?

Peter

Please.

Michael

How rude can you get. Give me a bit of Kit Kat. How rude.

Peter

Come on fucking give some more right now Can I can I have a bit please.

Michael

<unclear> this rude English baby here <unclear>

Peter

Can I have a little bit please?

Michael

I might give you some <unclear>

Peter

<shouting> Can I have a bit please </>

Michael

Ask nicely.

Peter

Please can I have a bit of Kit Kat?

Michael

Pretty please.

Peter

Pretty please.

Michael

Sugar on top.

Peter

<laughing> sugar on top </>

Michael

With lots of sugar.

Peter

<giggling> lots of sugar </>

Michael

A cherry.

Peter

<giggling> a cherry as well </>

Michael

Not my cherry, <unclear>

Peter

<nv> laugh </nv>

Michael

Give me another please, give me another please, I’m [<unclear>]

Peter

[Please] <laughing> just fucking give me some </>

Michael

<nv> laugh </nv>

Peter

<mimicking> and after all I’ve done for you

(33704a-08-M-14-16-Ha-?-)

Peter asks for a Kit Kat not using a form with please. Michael, however, provokes him (don’t you ever say please). Peter is told to “ask nicely” and uses the polite Please can I have a bit of Kit Kat ironically or non-seriously followed by the even more polite pretty please (“an extra cute way to say please”, according to Urban Dictionary66). The conversational exchange is characterised by escalation culminating in the “impolite” Please just fucking give me some.

The exchange suggests “ritualised competition in a pretend, mock frame” (Culpeper, 2011, p. 244). Shouting, giggling, laughing and mimicking add to the humorous quality of the exchange. Moreover, the co-constructed impoliteness is associated with affection and affiliation rather than real impoliteness: “it is a way of reinforcing in-group solidarity, it is a way of saying ‘We do not need to be polite to one another: I can insult you, and you will think it is a joke. This proves what good friends we are.’” (Leech, 2014, p. 19–20).

5.4 “Mock disputes”

In a mock dispute, speakers engage in a dispute or quarrel for humorous purposes. Can I have a tiny sip please is a conventionalized request asking for something to drink. However, the answer is non-cooperative, suggesting that the exchange is a “mock dispute” or banter. The little ritual is repeated across several turns. However, the disagreement between the participants is only apparent and reflects the non-serious character of the exchange:

Peter

Boo <nv> scream </nv>

Josie

Oh no.

Peter

Do you want not want the rest then? Let me have the rest. Can I have a tiny sip please.

Josie

No.

Peter

Please, look I gave you some crisps <unclear>.

Robert

No.

(33704a-01-F-14-16-Ha-3)

The expected responsive action is an agreement. No introduces what would be analysed as a dispreferred turn in Conversation Analysis since it is associated with disagreement.

In (11), Craig makes a polite request expecting a positive answer. Peter’s no is therefore a provocation. The request is repeated. Peter’s no is this time accompanied by laughter, which suggests that the non-compliance should be taken as a jest.

Peter

<nv> scream <singing> Yeah. Thinking of you </>.

Craig

Can you keep an eye on him while I’m doing this dinner please?

Peter

No.

Craig

Please?

Peter

Mum. <laughing> No </>!

Craig

Well, ^1 I don’t want to look a=, he’s a pain in

(39601a-09-F-30-59-Ba-2)

5.5 The exclamative please

Please (free-standing or initial) expresses the speaker’s active involvement in the discourse. Please has meanings such as urgency, annoyance and irritation. These uses are compatible with the high involvement style favoured by teenagers (also reflected in swearing, taboo words and other negatively coloured words co-occurring with directives). By using please with a command, the speaker strengthens rather than weakens the impositive force of the imperative. The speaker’s behaviour can be perceived as impolite or face-threatening.

In (12), please is found in a lively narrative (and he goes). The speaker wants the truck driver to stop so that he can look at “that woman”:

Peter

ah look at that woman! Ah! Yes! Oh what a lovely body! And, and he goes no we can’t, can we stop? Please! Please! Stop! Stop! Stop! And the guy driving the truck says, no we can’t we’ve got an important meeting. Okay, so the driver says, oh my God! There she is again! She’s, she’s got this fa=, how the hell did she get in front of us? Come on, please, the driver says I know, I know, speed up, let’s test her stamina.

Grace

<nv> laugh </nv>

Peter

Stopped her dead.

(32503a-01-M-14-16-Ha-2)

Please, especially if repeated, is used for emotional intensification rather than as a politeness marker. However, the effect is playful rather than serious. This is indicated by the fact that the hearer (Grace) laughs.

Please can have the function to catch the hearer’s attention (please listen, please look, oh please, come on please, no please). Through repetition, please comes to express a higher degree of urgency:

Peter

Look, no it’s for you, [it might look, cos that’s the thing for <unclear>]

Grace

[Come on, please please please] come on

Peter

No, no, no, [screw you]

Grace

[Come on,] oh come on ^1 <shouting> No! </>

(32503a-06-M-14-16-Ha-?)

Please conveys playful and exaggerated emotions co-occurring with non-verbal signals such as laughter and with shouting. It can be repeated and may be preceded by oh (3 examples). In (14), the speaker tells a joke about a man who goes into a pub where there is a bear. Please exaggerates the danger of the situation the man is in:

Peter

</nv> And he goes, he goes to the bartender. He goes <nv> panting </nv> <nv> raspberry </nv> help me, help me please please please, get this bear away from me, please, get the bear away from me and the bear goes grrr! And the bear’s behind

(32701a-01-F-14-16-Ha-3)

In (15), please is emotional and underlines the speaker’s plea to watch Chelsea play:

Robert

Ossie, Ossie and <name> were both pissed out of their fucking faces and come in yeah, right we’re not having this bloody football on, no I just wanna watch the Chelsea, please can I just watch Chelsea, no piss off. Please just let me watch Chelsea, please, football on, no I just wanna watch the Chelsea, please can I just watch Chelsea, no piss off. Please just let me watch Chelsea, please, just once let me watch Chelsea, and they turned the telly off I said right you either turn the channel over or the telly doesn’t go (42105a-03-M-14-16-He-?-)

Different speakers are represented although the change of speakers is not marked explicitly by a reporting verb:

A

we’re not having this bloody football

B

please can I just watch football

A

piss off

In (16), please forgive me exaggerates the speaker’s emotions. Crying and laughing suggest that the apology is insincere and that the speaker is only teasing the hearer.

Peter

[Shut up <unclear>]

Craig

<nv> laugh </nv> Sorry Jock. <laughing> Forgive me </>? Please forgive me! <crying+laughing> It’s not worth dying for, please forgive me </>.

Peter

Now you’re being sad.

Craig

<nv> laugh </nv> <nv> clears throat </> I’m really jealous Jock.

(41801a-09-M-14-16-He-?-)

5.6 Please expressing negative attitudes

In addition to rudeness, please can express negative attitudes such as scornful disagreement, disapproval or disbelief. Please was used with negative imperatives (don’t do this) as well as with stop it, shut up, come on, listen which have a negative effect on the hearer (i. e., they are impolite and involve a possible conflict) (25 examples).77 Please expresses the speaker’s annoyance:

Cassie

No, I was gonna say I feel fine.

Peter

Oh! Please!

Cassie

Don’t do that please. It doesn’t hurt.

Peter

[<laughing> Yes it does hurt.]

Cassie

[<nv> laugh </nv>]

Peter

I was right </>.

Craig

Alright.

Peter

I <mimicking girlie voice> <??> choked </> you </>.

(39706a-01-M-14-16-Ba-1)

According to Culpeper, “[d]irectives, such as telling the opponent to go away or shut up are not normally mitigated by please.Stop bouncing. for example. “projects opposition as non-negotiable” (Culpeper, 2011, p. 199). Please is not mitigating but expresses anger or annoyance:

Peter

Oh! Here he goes again with his ball.

Josie

Oh stop bouncing please. Is dad here?

Robert

Yes.

Peter

Oh hold on.

Josie

[I might get some meat and that for tomorrow.]

^? [<unclear>]

(35602a-02-F-30-59-To-3)

In (19), the speakers are discussing how much they get paid an hour (for being recorded?). Josie’s reaction is a surprised exclamation when she is told that Claire gets paid more than Barry. Peter has just asked Barry how much he gets paid an hour:

Barry

Two fifty.

Peter

Two fifty? I thought you got three quid. Claire gets more than you then.

Josie

Oh please let me sit [down.]

Barrie

[Claire?]

Peter

Mm.

Barrie

How much do you get an hour?

(35802a-02-F-17-19-To-?)

In all the examples, please is not only coercive and negative but it is used in a jocular way.

5.7 Emotional narratives

Adolescents talk about what other people have said (or about their own experiences) and imitate or characterise the speakers for ridicule or humour. Please can be combined with mimicking. In (20), the speaker imitates what another person says in a singing voice (sit down please). The effect is funny because everyone has already sat down (it was well funny).

Anthony

and he goes <singing> sit down please </> <nv> laugh </nv> <laughing> did you see about half the people <unclear> sat down before he [<unclear> </>]

Cassie

[I know.] And then everyone stood up again. It was well funny.

Anthony

He goes <mimicking> now you may sit down please </>.

(42104a-05-M-14-16-He)

Mimicry is closely associated with humour (telling a joke). In (21), an American accent is imitated and the quoted person ridiculed. The effect is achieved by the polite excuse me and please together with the informal and rude park your ass (mixing polite and impolite expressions):

? one </>. <unclear> one’s in [<unclear>] ^? [<unclear>]

Josie

Excuse me, no, please, <mimicking American accent> park your ass </> <laughing> <unclear> like that </>… please.

Anthony

<mimicking> Sorry. Sorry. </>

Cassie

Here’s another

(42601a-02-M-14-16-He-?-)

“When a speaker ‘quotes’ she does not simply speak but invites her interlocutor to inspect her speech as performance; and the performance carries its own space” (Haviland, 1989, p. 302). In quoting, speakers can use please in new ways and for special effects. There were 34 examples where please was a part of the quotation (in 19 examples the reporting verb was a form of go). In (22), the polite please contrasts with the impolite command (go away, I want to go to bed with you). By adding please, the teller heightens the emotional effect of the narrative and makes it more amusing:

Robert

</> And he goes no, fuck off, get into bed you dirty little shit! ^many <nv> laugh </nv>

Peter

And he goes please! He goes no you’re <unclear> go away. No, I want to go to bed with you! <unclear> So he goes all right! Just

(32701a-01-F-14-16-Ha-3)

In (23), the speaker gives a lively description of what he is going to tell Ross when he sees him (Ross has poured water over some papers that the speaker has been writing on). Please is combined with the impolite can you fuck off:

Michael

‘ bout all you could. <unclear>

Craig

Yeah.

Michael

^1 Go do…. ^

Craig

Well what I’m gonna do is gonna say Ross can you fuck off please and if you’re in here I’m gonna say, you don’t mind do you Jock, and you’ll say no. Okay?

Peter

Oh no,

(42001a-09-M-14-16-He-?)

In (24), the polite please has been added because it makes the rest of the story more humorous (the speaker had asked politely for a ticket to Hereford but been made to pay the price for adults):

Richard

forgot to say what ticket ordered and they automatically give you an adult don’t they?

Peter

Yeah, yeah, you save yeah, I know.

Richard

And I say can I go to Hertford please and they didn’t ask me how old I was they just like, the next thing I knew I was, this six hundred quid ticket.

Peter

I know, and you don’t feel like arguing cos there’s like a massive queue behind [you.] ^7 [Yeah] and then out

(41604a-07-M-14-16-He-?-)

In (25), the mimicking of the polite request is important for getting the point of the story. The mentally handicapped person asked politely for an ice-cream (can I have an ice-cream please) and was shot by the owner of the ice-cream van (I thought they were making fun of me):

Peter

I can’t hear!

Robin

three spastics and they went to the ice- cream van. One went <mimicking mentally handicapped> can I have an ice- cream please? </> and the man shot him <unclear> died. But erm, the next one went <mimicking mentally handicapped> can I have an ice- cream please? </> and the the man hit him over the with the head with a baseball bat and he died. The other The other one goes <mimicking mentally handicapped> can I have an ice- cream please? </> and like stabbed him and he died. Policeman come over and said why did you kill all these three <unclear>, these three spastics. And he goes <mimicking mentally handicapped> I thought they were taking the micky out of me.

(32701a-23-M-10-13-Ha-?)

The high frequency of please in the stories told by the adolescents is striking. It is used for exaggeration, for humour and entertainment.

6 Conclusion

We can recognize several functions of the ‘impolite’ please in the COLT Corpus. To begin with, it is used strategically to establish or confirm harmonious relationships. According to Leech (2014, p. 239), “if two or more people find it possible to exchange insults and other impolite remarks, and at the same time to treat these as non-serious or even amusing, they share a powerful way of signalling their solidarity”. Young people do not feel threatened by the impoliteness of their peers and they do not think that impoliteness is bad (rapport-strengthening impoliteness).

Secondly, “mock impoliteness” may be understood in a positive way because it is amusing or entertaining. In young people’s circles, entertainment skills are for example highly valued (entertainment impoliteness). Please is appropriate because it lends itself to mock politeness and banter which are experienced as entertaining (as well as creating rapport). Speakers also engage in “emotional narratives” using please for more involvement and as a strategy, making the story come alive.

Finally, impoliteness is used creatively in interaction by the participants who use repetition, reformulation and escalation to construct ritualized sequences of apparent insults.

In this paper, I have drawn attention to how explicit politeness markers such as please can be used strategically for opposite effects. The study suggests that we need to study explicit politeness or impoliteness formulae in many different contexts and discourses to understand what they are doing and the norms for using them. We also need to study politeness and impoliteness markers in more languages in order to get a better understanding of how they are used and who uses them.

Appendix

SymbolComment
, . ? !

sentence-like boundaries

CAPS

sentence beginnings

,

brief pause

.

medium pause

long pause

<nv> yawn </nv>

non-verbal sound

<unclear>

unintelligible speech

[text]

single overlap

(5)

pause of five seconds

<singing> text</>

paralinguistic features

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Footnotes

  • 1

    A similar corpus is COLA (Corpus Oral de Lenguaje Adolescente), which is built up along roughly the same principles to study Spanish youth language in Madrid and in other capitals of Spanish-speaking countries (see Hofland et al. 2005). 

  • 2

    Please has also been studied in different cultures and language communities. Comparative studies are among others House (1989) English and German, Sato (2008) American and New Zealand English, Economidou-Kogetsidis (2005), English and Greek, Aijmer (2010) English and Swedish. In addition, we find the following comparative studies on English and Spanish: Reiter (2000), Dumitrescu (2006), Félix-Brasdefer (2008), Stenström and Jörgensen (2008), De Pablos-Ortega (2010) and Maíz-Arévalo (2015), among others. 

  • 4

    Girls and boys contributed roughly the same amount of text in COLT. However the gender of the speaker could not always be identified in the recordings. 

  • 1

    For transcription conventions, see Appendix. The code (32905a-01-F-14-16-Ha-3) gives the number of the conversation, the identification of the personal recruit (01), sex (F=female), age (14–16), the London borough where the school is located (Ha=Hackney), social group (3=low). For additional information, see Users’ manual to accompany The Bergen Corpus of London Teenage Language (COLT) (Stenström et al. 1998). 

  • 6

    www.urbandictionary.com 

  • 7

    In Wichmann’s data, negative commands were frequent especially in private conversation (Wichmann, 2004, p. 1534). 

About the article

Karin Aijmer

Karin Aijmer es profesora emérita de Lingüística inglesa en la Universidad de Gotemburgo, Suecia. Sus intereses de investigación se centran en la pragmática, el análisis del discurso, la modalidad, la lingüística de corpus y el análisis contrastivo. Entre sus publicaciones están Conversational routines in English: Convention and Creativity (1996), English Discourse Particles. Evidence from a Corpus (2002), The Semantic Field of Modal Certainty: a Study of Adverbs in English (with co-author) (2007) y Understanding Pragmatic Markers. A Variational Pragmatic Analysis (2013). Es coeditora de Pragmatics of Society (2011) y de A Handbook of Corpus Pragmatics (2014), así como coautora de Pragmatics. An Advanced Resource Book for Students (2012).

Karin Aijmer is professor emerita in English linguistics at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Her research interests focus on pragmatics, discourse analysis, modality, corpus linguistics and contrastive analysis. Her publications include Conversational routines in English: Convention and Creativity (1996), English Discourse Particles. Evidence from a Corpus (2002), The Semantic Field of Modal Certainty: a Study of Adverbs in English (with co-author) (2007) and Understanding Pragmatic Markers. A Variational Pragmatic Analysis (2013). She is co-editor of Pragmatics of Society (2011) and of A Handbook of Corpus Pragmatics (2014) and co-author of Pragmatics. An Advanced Resource Book for Students (2012).


Published Online: 2015-10-01

Published in Print: 2015-11-01


Citation Information: Pragmática Sociocultural / Sociocultural Pragmatics, Volume 3, Issue 2, Pages 127–149, ISSN (Online) 2194-8313, ISSN (Print) 2194-8305, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/soprag-2014-0028.

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© 2015, Karin Aijmer, published by de Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. BY-NC-ND 3.0

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