pragmatics and humors: impoliteness

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Kriangkrai vathanalaoha Language centre, International college for Sustainability studies, SWU

Kriangkrai vathanalaohaLanguage centre, International college for Sustainability studies, SWUPragmatics and Humors: A Case Study of Phoebe Buffays Verbal Acts in Friends

Good morning and Thank you for the nice introduction. My name is Kriangkrai Vathanalaoha from Srinakharinwot University. Im glad that I have an opportunity to present my research to everyone. My research topic is shown in the screen already and it is called Pragmatics and Humors which literally means that my research will apply pragmatics theories to humors in order to understand mechanisms in comedy conversations. I pick out Friends in order to exemplify how pragmatics theories can be used to understand humors in practice.1

Objectives To explore the linguistic characteristics of Phoebe Buffays humorous turns by frameworks of CP and Impoliteness Theory

To apply pragmatic theories to reflect on Phoebes specific characterization

Besides, humorous turns will be based on canned laughter throughout the series.2

First of all, I wanna introduce some background in Friends. In the series, there are 6 feature characters. Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, Joey. They are close friends from different backgrounds. Phoebe Buffay is a strange character, according to the audience perception and critics, she is eccentric and hard-to-predict. Her childhood is difficult, she used to smug people, lived on street. So she is an interesting person to see if how linguistic evidence can be relevant with her uniqueness in character. 3

Phoebes CharacteristicsEccentricTelepathic/ dj vuExasperated, reverts to a harsher "Street Phoebe" persona

NoteThe first Emmy award winning character among the others


Her aggressiveness, Street Phoebe, is shown here. Nobody wants to bother her when shes moody.5

Literature Review: HumorsHumor TheoriesSuperiority IncongruityReliefSemantic ScriptPragmatic TheoriesCooperative Principle (Im) politeness

There are several theories pointing out how humors occur within utterances. Four main theories can be seen in the screen to which I will briefly explain in the next slide. Pragmatic theories that I will use in this research are cooperative principle and impoliteness. I will explain in details later6

Humor TheoriesSuperioritylaughter is an expression of sudden glory and a realization of being superior to someone else (Hobbes, cf. Berger (1993))Incongruitya conflict between what is expected and what actually occurs in a punch line Reliefwhen the surge of energy is in excess of what is needed, the surplus is dispelled through laugher (Morreall, 1983)

The first one in humor theories is superiority. The theory explains that people will laugh when they see someone inferior to them to satisfy their own ego. The second is Incongruity. This means that we will feel funny when there is something happen in unexpected way. For instance, if someone sees a contestant in the singing competition dancing instead of singing out of our expectation, we might feel funny because we dont expect this happening. Relief theory is based on Freudian theory, when we have to control ourselves in accordance with social norms and traditions, we will laugh when we cant control ourselves in certain situation in order to release our tension. Imagine when you see a door opening in a murdering scene and a cat coming in.7

Humor TheoriesSemantic Script humor involves a semantic-pragmatic process which includes a semantic opposition between the scripts (Raskin, 1985)

Patient: Is the doctor at home?Doctors Wife: No, you can come in and wait for me in bed.

Last, humor can happen when two speakers have different frame of references in that sharing utterance. For instance, when the a patient coming in a home clinic and asks is the doctor at home? The doctors wife answers No, you can come in and wait for me in bed. The patient has a doctor-patient schema, while the wife has an adultery schema. 8

Pragmatic TheoryGrices (1975)Cooperative Principle Maxim of Relationbe relevantMaxim of Qualitymake your contribution one that is trueMaxim of Quantitynot make more or less informative than requiredMaxim of Manneravoid ambuiguity/obscuritybrief/orderly

Thats the brief for the first branch in literature review. For pragmatic theory, I am particularly interested in Cooperative Principle because American Sitcom involves conversation and turn-taking mechanisms. there are four maxims which are crucial to understand how comedy works. Communication is a process that requires interlocuters to be cooperative with each other. Maxim of relation is to be relevant with the speech focused. The Maxim of Quality is to make your contribution one that is true, or not to say things that are false or for which you lack adequate evidence. The Maxim of Quantity is to not make more or less informative than required. The Maxim of Manner is to avoid ambiguity and obscurity and be brief and orderly.9

This is an example of breaking the maxim of quality because when someone asks how does this cookie taste? we can answer simply that its not good, its bad, or it is not delicious. Phoebe, for example, breaks this maxim by using the phrase this is what evil must taste like to give an implicature to the other speaker.10

Breaking Maxims can threat some peoples faces. Positive Face Want want respect from others

Negative Face Want not want other people to impede his/her freedom

Whenever those maxims are violated, the other speaker will need to save the utterance from merely being a faulty conversational contribution. In some cases, breaking maxims can threatening some peoples faces. Positive face want is that the speaker wants respect from the other people. Negative face want is that the speaker does not want some people to impede his/her freedom. 11

Avoid Face Threatening ActBrown and Levinsons (1975) Politeness Superstrategies

Bald on record (the most direct, clear, unambiguous and concise way possible)Positive Politeness (paying attention to the hearer, expressing interest, approval or sympathy)Negative Politeness (mollifying the force of an utterance, deference)Off-record (performed by means of an implicature (Grice 1975))Withhold the FTA (silence)

Therefore, there are opportunities to attack faces when the maxims are violated. Brown and Levinsons superstrategies in order to avoid FTA can be categorized in five groups as follows.12

Impolitenesss StrategiesBald on record impoliteness: the FTA is performed in a direct, clear, unambiguous and concise wayPositive Impoliteness: ignore the other, exclude the other from an activity, be disinterested, unconcerned, unsympatheticNegative Impoliteness: frighten, condescend, scorn, ridicule, belittle, invade the others spaceSarcasm or mock politeness (irony): obviously insincere, using politeness for impoliteness.Off-record impoliteness: implicature but in such a way that one atrributable intention clearly out-weighs any others.Withhold politeness: the absence of politeness work

Impoliteness suprastrategies are proposed by Culpeper (1996)13

(Im) PolitenessQuestion: How was my midterm paper?

Perhaps it could have been improvedIt wasnt goodIt was badIt was crapYou must have shit for brainsPolitenessImpoliteness

If politeness is the way to minimize the face threatening act, Impoliteness is the way to maximize those face threatening act. For instance in the slide, degrees of impoliteness depends on how the speaker responses to the question how was my midterm paper?14

Impoliteness can only happen when

1) the speaker communicates face-attack intentionally, or 2) the hearer perceives and/or constructs behavior as intentionally face-attacking, 3) a combination of 1) and 2)


Phoebe, for example, when she says you Americans always butcher the French language, this can be seen that she uses negative impoliteness to ridicule others, saying that they Americans are all butcher the French language.16

Culpepers impoliteness Bald-on-RecordPositiveNegativeOff-recordWith-hold FTA-------------------------------------------SarcasmOff-recordNegativePositiveBald-on-RecordFace EnhancingStrategiesFace Aggravating/Attacking Strategies

Comparision between Politeness and Impoliteness suprastrategies, 17

NoteIt is almost impossible when confronting jokes without conversational jokes, conversational form.

It is not possible to apply theories mention to jokes without conversational forms, like funny monologue, or when Phoebes singing songs with strange and dirty words. So my research will focus on conversation.18

DATA COLLECTIONFriends 1st seasonPhoebe Buffays humorous turns:


Analysis of the Cooperative PrincipleThe maxim mostly violated by Phoebe isMaxim of Relation (16.17%)Maxim of Manner (25.15%)Maxim of Quality (47.30%)Maxim of Quantity (11.38%)

Maxims are found violated by Phoebe Buffay, however we found that Maxim of Relation is mostly violated. Maxim of Quality and Quantity are found violated in percentage shown20

Violating the Maxim of QualitySpeakers have to try to make their conversational contribution correspond to the truth.exaggeration, irony, excuse, pretending

Ep 7Exaggeration refers to the way that the speaker overstates the features, defects or the strangeness of someone or something

Rachel: So Pheebs, what do you want for your birthday?Phoebe: Well, what I really want is for my mom to be alive and enjoy it with me.

Phoebes mother was dead but she exaggerates this point that her mom will be alive and enjoy her birthday altogether.22

Ep 6Irony expresses utterance completely different from the literal meaning

Ross:You know, there's nothing wrong with speaking correctly.Rachel:"Indeed there isn't"... I should really get back to work.Phoebe:Yeah, 'cause otherwise someone might get what they actually ordered.Rachel:Ohh-ho-hooohhh. The hair comes out, and the gloves come on.

Rachel is a terrible waitress, so when Phoebe says that someone might get what they actually ordered, it will definitely be an irony.23

Violating The Maxim of QuantityLess information(When Rachel lost her ring)

Chandler andJoey:Oh! Yeah!Joey:Alright, when'd'ya have it on last?Phoebe:Doy! Probably right before she lost it!

Rachels ring was lost when she were making lazagna with Monica. Joey asks when did you have it on last? Phoebe answers that Probably right before she lost it. this is unnecessary information.24

Violating the Maxim of RelationIrrelevant unrelated response so as to show her diverted attention

Phoebe:Okay, they're just talking...Ross:Yeah, well, does he look upset? Does he look like he was just told to shove anything?Phoebe:No, no actually, he's smiling.. and... Oh my God, don't do that!!Ross:What? What? What?!Phoebe:That man across the street just kicked that pigeon!

When Ross sees Rachel talking to her then-boyfriend and Ross asks Phoebe to tell him what she sees outside the window. Ross feels panic when Phoebe says dont do that as Rachel might do something romantically with her boyfriend, Phoebe suddenly switches to pigeon25

Ep 10Changing the topic divert attention from the current situation

Ross:'That' would be Marcel. You wanna say hi?Monica:No, no, I don't.Rachel:Oh, he is precious! Where did you get him?Ross:My friend Bethel rescued him from some lab.Phoebe:That is so cruel! Why? Why would a parent name their child Bethel?

As similar, Ross is talking about the monkey, but Phoebe rather focuses on Rosss friend Bathel.26

Violating the Maxim of MannerLexical ambiguity

Phoebe:(entering) Hi, sorry I'm late, I couldn't find my bearings.Rachel:Oh, you-you mean your earrings?Phoebe:What'd I say?

Phoebe wont clarify what she means by bearings.27

Situational ambiguity

Rachel:Look-look-look-look-look, my first pay check! Look at the window, there's my name! Hi, me!Phoebe:I remember the day I got my first pay check. There was a cave in one of the mines, and eight people were killed.Monica:Wow, you worked in a mine?Phoebe:I worked in aDairy Queen, why?

Phoebe says as if she works in the mine when she got her first pay check. In reality, she works in Dairy Queen and the tragedy just happened outside her workplace.28

(Im)PolitenessSarcasm (11.32%)Off-record (17.75%)Negative (18.75%)Positive (18.75%)Bald-on-Record(33.42%)

In similar way, Phoebe uses impoliteness strategies in Bald on Record mostly throughout the series. 29

Ep 5 Bald on RecordJoey:Ok, you know what blows my mind? Women can see breasts any time they want. You just look down and there they are. How you get any work done is beyond me.Phoebe:Oh, ok, you know what I don't get? The way guys can do so many mean things, and then not even care.

When they are arguing whether men or women are better. Phoebe says what she feels.30

Ep 7 Positive Impoliteness

Rachel:Oh. (they knock at the next door, Mr. Heckles answers) Hi. We just found this cat and we're looking for the owner.Mr. Heckles:Er, yeah, it's mine.Phoebe:(trying to hold back the struggling cat) He seems to hate you. Are you sure?

Phoebe attempts to exclude Mr. Heckles from her and the cat. So she says he seems to hate you. Are you sure?31

Ep 8 Negative ImpolitenessPhoebe:Ooh, wait.. wait, I see a woman.Monica:Please tell me it's his mother.Phoebe:Definitely not his mother.Monica:Oh, no...Phoebe:Oh, wait, she's walking across the floor.. she's walking.. she's walking.. she's going for the pizza- (Yelling) Hey, that's not for you, bitch!

Phoebe frightens the girl who is taking their friends pizza.32

Ep 10 Sarcasm/Mock Politeness

Phoebe:Well, c'mon, if it's important enough to discuss while I'm playing, then I assume it's important enough for everyone else to hear.Chandler:(Quietly, to the others) That guy's going home with a note!David:Noth- I was- I was just saying to my-Phoebe:Could you speak up please?

When David talks loudly when she plays the guitar and sing a song, Phoebe tries to be polite to say that he can spill the beans to the audience. Could you speak up please, seems to be polite, but actually she is mocking politeness strategies.33

Violation/Flouting Grices MaximsImpolitenessType%Type%Quantity11.38Bald-on-Record33.42Quality47.30Positive 18.75Relation16.17Negative18.75Manner25.15Off-record17.75Sarcasm11.32

In the table, in conclusion, the results show that Phoebe violates/breaks maxim of quality mostly. While she is also using Bald on record strategies in Impoliteness model. 34

DiscussionThe results show close relationship between humor and cooperative principle and FTA attached to Buffays utterances.Maxim of Quality is violated mostlyBald on record is used majorly by Phoebe BuffayPhoebes characteristics Eccentricity and Street Phoebe?

The Maxims of Quality and Manners are violated mostly. In addition, Phoebe uses exaggeration in order to violate the maxim of quality. It is reflecting on her so-called eccentricity as she is always be outrageous throughout the series. Some critics also says that she is faithful and love her friends most this can be relevant with the Bald on record because she is always shows her anger, real feelings without redress, to her friends . When she doesnt like something, she does not keep it to herself, but rather spread it out to her friends. This is a start for studying humor and characterization. In the future, this research, however, needs further investigation in non-verbal language as well in order to explain more on Phoebes characteristics.35

ReferencesAttardo, S. (1994). Linguistic theories of humor. Berlin and New York: Mouton de GruyterBrown, P. and Levinson, S.C. (1987) Politeness: some universals in language usage, Cambridge Cambridge University Press.Culpeper J. (1996) Towards an anatomy of impoliteness, Journal of Pragmatics 25: 349-67Raskin, V. , & Attardo, S. (1991). Script theory revised: Joke similarity and joke representation model. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 4(3)Wu Y., & Chen Y., Humor Strategies in the American Sitcom Friends: An Empirical Study, 54-71Grice, P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole, & J. L. Morgan (eds.), Syntax and semantics (vol. 3) New York: Academic Press.Ross, A. The Language of Humour, London, RouledgeShu, Y. (2007). Linguistic Strategies Adopted in the American Sitcom Friends. Unpublished masters thesis, National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei.Sperber, D., &Wilson, D. (1995). Relevance: Communication and cognition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Thank you