Research Seminars

Research seminars

Wednesday 25th January 2016

Language, Offence and Social Control

Jim O'Driscoll (UNIVERSITY OF Huddersfield)

This talk has a technical aspect and a social aspect. The former is about how we talk about language which is commonly regarded as unacceptable in ‘polite’ society (known as ‘bad language’, ‘swearing’, ‘taboo words’ etc etc). How do we circumscribe it? What part of language is it that is regarded this way in particular instances? The latter aspect, on which this talk concentrates, is about ‘language incidents’ – cases of language use which have got their producers into varying kinds of substantive hot water. Such incidents in public and working life are increasing these days, so there is a need to find some principled way of distinguishing what is merely embarrassing from what is reprehensible from what is censurable from what – maybe – should be criminal from what is better shuddered off as just plain nasty. It is reasonable to suppose that linguistics should have a substantial contribution to make in this effort. The aim here is basically the same as with the technical aspect: to investigate just what it is about these instances of language use that provoke institutions to apply sanctions against their producers and to assess whether these reactions are justifiable. Towards this end, a small number of cases will be examined with the help of speech act theory (Searle 1969), the notion of participation framework (Goffman 1981) and impoliteness theory (e.g. Culpeper 2011).The two aspects of this talk could be treated entirely separately. But an argument will be made that there is a link and that it is important this link is established.