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Pragmatic and Cross-Cultural Competences

Focus on Politeness

Edited By Thomas Szende and George Alao

The L2 speaker is able to function in the target culture only when s/he is able to understand, anticipate and produce the choices that the said society makes. Being polite therefore means: knowing how to draw on the conventions of a society, taking into account the expectations of an interlocutor regarding social relations at any given point, and is based on the appropriate language register to the communication situation; being able to balance standard and non-standard features and to adjust one’s speech by moving it towards more or less familiarity, or formality. The learner therefore needs to be aware of the pragmatic flexibility of speakers – native and experts – who move from one register to another and juggle between respect and caution, first degree meaning and irony, exuberance and excess, with difference in levels, nature and degrees of politeness.


This volume contains contributions whose theoretical reflections, field work experiences and authentic data from diverse African, Asian and European languages, literatures and cultures as well as a variety of corpora shed new light on politeness as a central phenomenon in pragmatics, and on what is at stake when teaching or learning the subject. It also opens up a conceptual dialogue with a whole range of domains likely to enrich the debate: sociolinguistics, literature, translation studies, semiotics, cultural anthropology, social psychology, etc.

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Chapter XI: Should impoliteness be taught? (Marijana Petrović)


Chapter XI

Should impoliteness be taught?

Marijana Petrović



As a language teacher, I have often happened to be in a situation when, at the beginning of a grammar lesson, a student would ask me what such or such a word – a swear word – meant. I would be ill-at-ease because of the feeling those kinds of words should not be used in a formal context, just as they shouldn’t be in a classroom. How was I to react as a teacher? As a woman? As a native speaker? As a guide to the language community’s unwritten rules and customs? Or, as what anthropologists call an “entry”? How was I to manage all these shifts, and react? How could I answer with the kindest of regards and in the most pedagogical of ways, faced with an almost grown-up adult, without being vulgar? Indeed, my musings on politeness and impoliteness arose in a classroom.

The language involved is BCMS: an acronym whose letters mean Bosnian – Croatian – Montenegrin – Serbian. Room is lacking here to explain all the sociolinguistic and linguistic ins and outs underlying the acronym, but to put it in few words, this designation is due to the fact that the Republics of Yugoslavia split up and gave birth to several countries, among them Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, where Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serbian are spoken respectively. Each country or each person has the...

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