The conventionalisation of mock politeness in Chinese and British online forums

Wang, Jiayi orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2720-8218 and Taylor, Charlotte (2019) The conventionalisation of mock politeness in Chinese and British online forums. Journal of Pragmatics, 142 . pp. 270-280. ISSN 0378-2166

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While much cross-cultural and cross-linguistic analysis centres on difference because it is so often what is salient in miscommunication, we argue that we need to be more aware of similarity. Drawing on corpus-assisted discourse studies, we aim to uncover similarities in the pragmatic processes across two languages/cultures, more specifically, the shared developments in the conventionalisation of apparently polite forms for impolite functions used in British and Chinese forum communities within the last decade or so. The case studies which have been selected for analysis are 'hehe' in Chinese and 'HTH' [hope that helps] in British English. In both cases, these items had previously been identified as potentially mock polite through their presence in meta-discussions of im/politeness within the forums themselves. Our analysis shows how the items become pragmaticalised within specific contexts, while remaining unaffected in others, displaying both diachronic and synchronic variation in the degree of conventionalisaton of mock politeness which they express. The differentiation between the expected behaviours in different areas of the forms (collaborative or combative) and correlation with the mock polite usage also helps explain how it is that users orient towards the conventionalised meaning even when it is still relatively low frequency compared to polite usage, i.e. low frequency but high saliency.

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