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Danette Ifert Johnson
Sample size: 378
Field period: 8/14/2008-8/25/2008
This paper investigates perceptions of swearing from a politeness theory perspective. Specifically, the relationships between threats to positive face and perceptions of communicator competence (effectiveness and appropriateness) are examined when swearing messages are encountered. Results show negative relationships between degree of threat to a speaker’s positive face and perceptions of speaker communication competence but no relationships between degree of threat to a hearer’s positive face and perceptions of speaker competence. Implications for politeness theory and everyday language use are addressed.
1. Perceived threat to positive face when swearing messages are encountered will differ depending on the swearer’s goal.
2. Perceived threat to positive face when swearing messages are encountered will differ depending on the specific swearing expression used.
3. There will be a negative association between threats to positive face and perceptions of message appropriateness when swearing is encountered in interaction.
4. Perceived threat to positive face and perceived message effectiveness will be negatively related.
For the module reported in this investigation, respondents focused on hypothetically interacting with a co-worker in a formal professional setting. Sex of the co-worker (male or female), message intent (express displeasure or create a bond) and specific swearing message (“Oh, shit”, “Damn clients”, “That sucks”) varied between respondents. The specific interaction scenario read, “Imagine that you are interacting with a co-worker named Jane (Jack). You are at work and, during a formal meeting, share that, “One of our big clients has been giving us really big problems over our price increases during the past few months.” Jane (Jack) responds, “Oh, shit!” (“Damn clients!”, “That sucks!”). Jane (Jack’s) intention seems to be to express displeasure (create a bond with you).” Alternative versions appear in parentheses. The scenario was followed by a series of questions regarding perceptions of the message, including questions about expectancy violations, face threat, message appropriateness and message effectiveness.
Message effectiveness, message appropriateness
Results of this investigation suggest, contrary to predictions, that specific swearing expression used (H2) and speaker goal (H1) were not related to perceived threat to speaker or hearer’s positive face. Perceived threat to speaker’s positive face, but not perceived threat to hearer’s positive face, was negatively associated with perceived message appropriateness (H3) and effectiveness (H4).
Johnson, D. I. (2009, November). Perceptions of swearing: An analysis of perceived face threats and communication competence.