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«Impoliteness as a vehicle for humour in dramatic discourse by Rachel S Toddington A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment for the requirements for ...»

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Impoliteness as a vehicle for humour in

dramatic discourse


Rachel S Toddington

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment for the requirements for the

degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Central


March 2015


Currently there is considerable interest in the nature and realisation of linguistic impoliteness

– that is, intentional and unintentional face-threatening behaviour (see e.g., Culpeper 1996,

2005, 2011; Bousfield 2007, 2008, 2010). There is also a growing literature which argues that, far from being a marginal form of behaviour, conflictive or aggressive behaviour is ‘ubiquitous’ (see e.g., the papers in Bousfield and Locher 2008); a fact that has not been missed by television producers who are increasingly exploiting this area of human behaviour in the name of ‘entertainment’. Indeed, Culpeper (2011: 252) has noted that ‘entertaining impoliteness’ is one of ‘three key, specific functional types of impoliteness event’. Despite this observation, however, research on the nature and relationship of impoliteness as entertaining is largely uncharted territory. In particular, there has been little in the way of academic exploration into determining how far impoliteness models can be used alongside other academic approaches towards facework and the influence of pragmatic principles in order to project impolite behaviour as humorous.

This study aims to investigate the proposed complementary relationship between impoliteness (as a form of aggression), and humour (as a form of entertainment). My aim is not merely to explain why offence can be entertaining (or even funny). Rather, I will focus on the ways in which we are influenced, as viewers, so that we interpret offence as funny. I do so by incorporating what we know about Facework (Goffman 1967) and Discourse Architecture (Short 1996) into an approach which also combines humour theory and impoliteness theory.

Taking the fictional film As Good As It Gets, I draw from a number of scenes involving the main protagonist Melvin Udall. Although this character is extremely offensive to others, the film is classified as a romantic comedy. As such, it offers a good basis on which to test out my ideas regarding the proposed relationship between impoliteness and humour, and more importantly, how and why we may feel the need to laugh at what is essentially socially proscribed and disturbing behaviour. My work, then, contributes to two main academic fields of interest: with regards the field of impoliteness I demonstrate why offensiveness can be entertaining by making specific links with humour theory, and within the field of stylistics I show how a multi-disciplined approach to character analysis can offer us richer observations and interpretations of behaviour, thanwould otherwise be available through analysis of models in isolation.






Impoliteness as humour

1.1 Introduction

1.2 The relationship between humour and offence – why study it?

1.3 Aims of the thesis

1.4 Original contribution to existing research

1.5 The data

1.5.1 As Good As It Gets – A brief synopsis of the characters and plot

1.6 Outline of the thesis


Models of politeness, impoliteness and face

2.1 Brown and Levinson’s ([1978] 1987) model of Politeness and face management.......... 11 2.2 Culpeper’s (1996) model of impoliteness

2.3 Impoliteness and prosody - Culpeper, Bousfield and Wichmann (2003)

2.4 Culpeper’s (2005) model of impoliteness

2.4.1 Impoliteness or rudeness?

2.5 Bousfield’s (2008) model of impoliteness

2.6 Bousfield (2010) – a prototype approach to defining impoliteness

2.7 Culpeper’s (2011) model of impoliteness

2.8 Discussion of models – an example from the data

2.8.2 Impoliteness and verbal aggression

2.9 Face

2.9.1 Goffman’s (1967) concept of face

2.9.2 Face and identity: Spencer-Oatey’s (2009) approach

2.9.3 Ting-Toomey’s ‘facework collision’ approach to communication

2.10 Conclusion


Impoliteness as Entertainment and Humour

3.1.1 Implicational Impoliteness

3.1.2 Implicational impoliteness: Form driven

3.1.3 Implicational impoliteness: Convention-driven

iii 3.2 Entertaining impoliteness

3.3 Theories of humour

3.3.1 The Superiority Theory of Humour

3.3.2 Incongruity Theory

3.3.3 Relief/Release theory of humour

3.3.4 Freud’s (1905) theory of humour and laughter

3.3.5 Bergson’s theory of humour and laughter

3.4 Conclusion


Discourse levels: architecture and expectations

4.1 Short’s (1996) ‘Discourse Architecture’

4.2 Grice’s (1975) Cooperative Principle

4.3 Deictic Shift Theory

4.4 Possible Worlds Theory

4.4.1 Ryan’s (1991) Typology of fictional universes

4.5 Interpretation and cognitive processing

4.6 Discourse levels, expectation and perception

4.7 Conclusion


Reality Paradigms, facework intentionality and the social function of humour

5.1 Facework and Reality Paradigms

5.1.1 Harris’ (1984) ‘Perspectives of Reality’

5.1.2 Archer’s (2002, 2011a) ‘Reality Paradigms’

5.2 Archer’s (2011b) Facework Intentionality Scale

5.3 The social functions of humour

5.3.1 Ridicule

5.3.2 Tendentious and non-tendentious jokes

5.3.3 Embarrassment

5.4 Conclusion


Impression management, face and identity

6.1 Broadening the concept (and application) of face

6.1.1 Identity

6.1.2 Impression Management & Self-Presentation

6.2 Conclusion


Aspects of Multimodal analysis and a case for Failed Impoliteness

7.1 Multimodality

7.2 Explanation No 1 – Failed impoliteness due to Pragmatic Failure

7.3 Explanation No 2 – Failed impoliteness due to extreme incongruity

7.4 Conclusion


General summary

8.1 Research questions revisited

8.2 Limitations of the study

8.3 Areas for future research


–  –  –

Table 2.1.

1 Brown and Levinson’s (1987) Politeness Superstrategies page 14 Table 2.2.

2 Culpeper’s (1996/2005) impoliteness Superstrategies 15 Figure 4.1.

2 Short’s (1996) ‘prototypical’ structure of dramatic text 70 Table Jones and Pittman’s (1982) Taxonomy of Impression

–  –  –

Illustrative still-shots Figure 7.5 Visual representation of example 7.1.1 (Melvin and Nora) 166 Figure 7.6 Visual representation of example 4.2.1 (Melvin and Zoe) 168

–  –  –

My foray into academia began as an accident. In 2002 I gave up work in textiles with the intention of gaining some (recognised) qualifications in computing, as thirteen years’ experience of them was obviously not an indication of my competency (as far as future employers were concerned). I enrolled on a foundation course based around science and technology for women at the University of Huddersfield. I believed that I would finish the course, and, with my newly-gained qualification and skills acquired, walk straight into the job of my dreams. Instead, September 2003 saw me enrolling for a three year Bachelor of Arts course in English Studies, again at the University of Huddersfield. This thesis is the culmination of my time at Huddersfield (and later UCLan), and is a testament to the people who I studied and worked with and who had such a profound influence on my academic journey.

My interest in Linguistics (and subsequent undertaking of this PhD) has been influenced by many people, most of whom are members of The Poetics And Linguistics Association (PALA). They are too numerous to mention individually, however, there are two people in

particular who deserve a particular mention here:

To Professor Mick Short, for initially making the subject of Stylistics so enjoyable to study and later, for helping me out at a PALA conference in Finland in 2006 by playing the part of Othello to my Desdemona – thank you. My memory of ‘the handkerchief scene’ which we played out during my paper on Impoliteness in Othello still makes me smile to this day!

To Professor Jonathan Culpeper, whose work on linguistic impoliteness was the initial point of interest for me. Not only did this subject fascinate me from an academic perspective, it also allowed me to understand how people who were around me at the time were able to manipulate me negatively through language, and as a result of your work I became a stronger person by understanding how they did this. So thank you! Your work has had more impact than you might realise.

With regards to this thesis in particular I am indebted to the following people:

To Dr Derek Bousfield: Derek, without you this thesis would not exist. Your energy, enthusiasm and passion for teaching inspired me and made me into the student I became (and later the lecturer). You were convinced that my work was worthy of a PhD and it was you who suggested I should undertake it. So here it is. This thesis is for you and is the best way I can think of to say ‘thank you’ for all your guidance and support over the years.

To Professor Dawn Archer: Dawn, along with Derek, you have tirelessly guided, advised and proof-read my work, and on particularly bad days (for me) you have been there to banish my insecurities and convince me of the worthiness of this project. Indeed, anyone who can make a viva sound like something to look forward to has got to have special qualities- and you have. Again, thank you.

vii To Dr Claire Hardaker – Claire you are the funniest person I know, and my memories of our end-of-day ‘refreshment’ at H001 with our world-weary colleague, where we would put the academic world to rights are among the happiest during my time at UCLan. Our week in Poland at the communication conference is also something I will never forget! Claire, thank you. You were (and continue to be) an inspiration for me.

A big thank you to Gary for all your technical advice, expertise and printing of drafts (and thesis!).

And finally to Izzy, who knows better than anyone how demanding I can be sometimes, and who is the most understanding and appreciative person I know. Thank you for being such a wonderful daughter.

–  –  –

Impoliteness as humour

1.1 Introduction Academic interest and research on linguistic impoliteness - broadly defined here as ‘behaviour that is face-aggravating in a particular context’ (Locher and Bousfield 2008:3) has been minimal in comparison to that of its counterpart Politeness (i.e. the study of the way(s) in which interlocutors maintain self and others’ face during interaction: see, e.g., Brown & Levinson [1978]1987, Leech 1983, Goffman 1967). Culpeper et al (2003) have noted that, despite the paucity of research in impolite discourse, it nevertheless appears to manifest itself extensively in many different Activity Types (Levinson [1979]1992) and


Conflictive talk has been found to play a role-and often a central one-in, for example, army training discourse (Culpeper 1996), courtroom discourse (Lakoff 1989; Penman 1990), family discourse (Vuchinich 1990), adolescent discourse (Labov 1972; Goodwin and Goodwin 1990), doctor-patient discourse (Mehan 1990), therapeutic discourse (Labov and Fanshel 1977), ‘workplace’ discourse’ (Andersson and Pearson 1999), parliamentary discourse (Harris 2001), ‘everyday conversation’ (Beebe 1995), radio talk shows (Hutchby (1996) and fictional texts (Culpeper 1998; Tannen 1990) (Culpeper et al 2003: 1545-1546) Offensive behaviour, it seems, is ‘ubiquitous’ (Locher and Bousfield 2008); a fact that has not been missed by television producers who are increasingly exploiting this area of human behaviour in the name of ‘entertainment.’ As Culpeper (2005, 2011) and Lorenzo-Dus (2009) have demonstrated, intentionally communicated linguistic offence can actually have an ‘entertainment’ or ‘aesthetic’ value for some receivers. Many film and media productions specifically marketed as ‘comedies’ contain offensive behaviour, which itself alludes to the idea that offence can somehow be entertaining generally and humorous in particular. It is on this premise that the current study is based. Despite intriguing observations from Culpeper and Lorenzo-Dus above, our understanding of the nature of the relationship between humour and offence is still very much undiscovered territory.

1.2 The relationship between humour and offence – why study it?

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