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  • 2023samoliverPhD

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A corpus-based approach to (im)politeness metalanguage: The case of Shakespeare's plays

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date17/05/2023
Number of pages301
Awarding Institution
Award date17/05/2023
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In their criticisms of traditional theories of politeness, Watts et al. (2005 [1992]) and Eelen (2001) call for first-order approaches to (im)politeness, i.e. those that focus on how ordinary speakers conceptualise (im)politeness, as opposed to a second-order approach in which an analyst presumes their own understanding of (im)politeness and what counts as (im)polite. While their discursive approach has faced its own criticisms, one useful strand which has emerged from this research is a focus on how (im)politeness is evaluated and discussed. However, compared to other approaches to (im)politeness, such language has received little attention. Studies on (im)politeness metalanguage also often preselect lexical items for analysis, for instance ‘polite’, ‘rude’, and ‘courtesy’. Likewise, there is still a near vacuum in historical and stylistic aspects of (im)politeness metalanguage. This thesis contributes to (im)politeness (meta)pragmatics by establishing a method for inductively locating (im)politeness metalinguistic items in a corpus, specifically employing a corpus of Shakespeare’s plays, and in doing so locates a total of 234 (im)politeness metalinguistic items with a collective total of 4,023 instances in a corpus of 1 million words. This study then identifies semantic patterns in how these terms are used by arranging them into five second-order categories, reflecting on previous (im)politeness literature. It examines how (im)politeness metalanguage and these five categories interact with metaphor, as well as the social dimensions of social status, gender, and religion. Finally, it tests the correlation between the (im)politeness metalanguage lexicon and the speech act of insults, locating 1,446 conventionalised insults in 11 different syntactic patterns across the corpus. I annotate a sample of these insults in depth to show that (im)politeness metalanguage is used infrequently to respond to insults, and typically in response to impoliteness events rather than specific speech acts.