Slurs, insults, (backhanded) compliments and other strategic facework moves

Archer, Dawn Elizabeth (2015) Slurs, insults, (backhanded) compliments and other strategic facework moves. Language Sciences, 52 . pp. 82-97. ISSN 0388-0001

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Slurs such as nigger tend to function as “disparaging remarks”: that is, they are an attempt by speakers (S) to deliberately deprecate a target – or targets (T) – in some way (Croom, 2011). Accordingly, they can be seen to share the same pragmatic space as other verbally aggressive acts such as insults, put-downs, snubs and backhanded compliments (Jucker and Taavitsainen, 2000). Mention of backhanded compliments, in turn, serves as a useful reminder that compliments can be seen as representing the positive end of a larger pragmatic space relating to the speaker's evaluation of the addressee, with slurs and insults representing the negative end (Taavitsainen and Jucker, 2008) and back-handed compliments, a positive/negative blend. In this paper, I introduce a facework scale that serves to capture face-enhancing and face-threatening strategies (and combinations thereof). It can thus explain various uses of terms such as nigger: for example, its use in order to slur or negatively frame another (Croom, 2011); its use (by in-group members) to express affection for or approval of another (Smitherman, 2006); and unsuccessful cases of (re-)appropriation (Bianchi, 2014) such that an utterance meant to build camaraderie between S and T ultimately serves to offend T. The facework scale can also explain additional facework moves, such as S's use of strategic facework strategies which afford them some plausibility deniability (Archer, 2011; Leech, 1983). Although paradigmatic slurs are not likely to be (strategically) denied by S, given their overt use in insulting, injuring, threatening the face of, or otherwise imposing a negative identity on T (Croom, 2013: 178), facework which is strategically ambivalent in some way(s) can be an effective means of S manipulating others' views of T without explicitly “doing” impoliteness (Archer, 2011). This work thus contributes to the field of im/politeness research as well as to the growing body of (pragmatic) research focussing on slurs.

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