Pragmatics 25:1 (March 2015)

SPECIAL ISSUE: Relational work in Facebook and discussion boards/fora

Edited by Miriam A. Locher, Brook Bolander and Nicole Höhn


Miriam A. LOCHER, Brook BOLANDER and Nicole HÖHN

Introducing relational work in Facebook and discussion boards




This paper functions as the introduction to the special issue on ‘relational work in Facebook and discussion boards’. We position our research endeavors within interpersonal pragmatics (see Locher and Graham 2010), by reviewing literature on politeness, impoliteness and relational work in the context of computer-mediated communication. Foregrounding the relational aspect of language, we are particularly interested in establishing the connections between politeness, face and linguistic identity construction. We then position the four papers that form this special issue within this field of research. Two papers contribute to the study of relational work on discussion boards (Kleinke and Boes; Haugh, Chang and Kádár) and two deal with practices on Facebook (Theodoropoulou; Bolander and Locher).


Keywords : Computer-mediated communication; Interpersonal pragmatics; Relational work; Politeness; Impoliteness; Linguistic identity construction; Facebook; Discussion fora.



Politeness on Facebook: The case of Greek birthday wishes




Facebook forms one of the most widely used online social networks, through which people manage their communication with diverse contacts or 'friends', ranging from members of the family and schoolmates to work colleagues and popular cultural idols or other people, whom they admire. Hence, it can be seen as an integral part of people’s digital presence. Against this backdrop, the aim of this paper is to investigate the ways politeness is constructed in a context, in which it is not very typical to find politeness in the Western world: The reception of birthday wishes. The focus is on the (para)linguistic reception of birthday wishes on behalf of 400 native Greek users of Facebook, aged between 25–35 years old, as evidenced in the ways they respond to birthday wishes posted on their walls.

By using a combination of interactional sociolinguistics, discourse-centered online ethnography and offline ethnographic interviews, I argue that native speakers of Greek do not just stick to the politic behavior found in other languages, like English, of personally thanking their friends for their birthday wishes; rather, they employ contextualization cues, such as shifts in spelling, emoticons and punctuation markers, in order to construct frames and footings of politeness by actually reciprocating the wishes they received from their friends. The value of this study lies not only in being, to my knowledge, the first description and interpretation of an important cultural phenomenon for Greeks, which is the exchange of birthday wishes, but also it contributes towards understanding politeness in online environments, such as Facebook, which in turn is used for establishment and maintenance of interpersonal relationships, hence it can lead to smooth communication.


Keywords : Facebook; Thanking; Accepting of thanks; Politeness; Interactional sociolinguistics; Politic behavior; Computer-mediated communication.


Sonja KLEINKE and Birte BÖS

Intergroup rudeness and the metapragmatics of its negotiation in online discussion fora




This study investigates the communicative practices in English and German online discussion fora as exemplified by two thematically related sample threads. Combining first- and second-order approaches to (im-)politeness, the paper focuses on the question of how participants use intergroup rudeness as a means of in- and outgroup construction and examines how intergroup rudeness is metapragmatically negotiated as the discussions unfold. The results show that intergroup rudeness as well as metapragmatic comments are handled very differently in the two communities explored. Suggesting cultural preferences, there is a much higher degree of interactivity and a clear preference for negotiation at an interpersonal level in the German discussion group; its English counterpart favours negotiation at an intergroup level. Both threads provide metapragmatic evidence that the frequent use of rudeness tokens does not automatically make rudeness an accepted norm.


Keywords : Intergroup rudeness; Metapragmatic utterances; Impoliteness; Politeness; First- and second-order (im-)politeness.


Michael HAUGH, Wei-Lin Melody CHANG and Dániel KÁDÁR

“Doing deference”: Identities and relational practices in Chinese online discussion boards




In this paper we examine a key relational practice found in interactions in online discussion boards in Mainland China and Taiwan: 'doing deference'. In drawing attention to a relational practice that has received attention in quite different research traditions, namely, linguistic pragmatics and conversation analysis (CA), we mean to highlight the possible advantages of an approach to analysis that draws from both in analysing relational work in CMC. We claim in the course of our analysis that the participants are orienting not only to relationships but also to identities through this practice. In this way, we suggest that online discussion boards afford both meaningful interaction and relational work. We further claim that this analysis provides support for the theoretical position that while relational practices may intersect with the emergence of identities, they remain distinct analytical concerns.


Keywords : Deference; Face; Politeness; Impoliteness; Computer-mediated communication; Conversation analysis; Chinese; Fora.


Brook BOLANDER and Miriam A. LOCHER

“Peter is a dumb nut”: Status updates and reactions to them as ‘acts of positioning’ in Facebook




This paper applies the theoretical concept of ‘acts of positioning’ (Davis & Harré 1990) to a qualitative and quantitative analysis of 474 status updates (SUs) taken from the Facebook Walls of twenty individuals living in Switzerland and the UK. Our aim is to analyze how individuals construct their identities through the use of language. The results show that individuals position themselves in five central ways, i.e., they stress aspects of their personality, pastime endeavors, sense of humor, work and relationship. Through a subsequent analysis of 228 reactions to status updates (RSUs), we also address how these acts are responded to, and thereby demonstrate that individuals predominantly support identity claims made in the SUs. Our paper contributes to existing research on language and identity in social network sites (SNSs), and demonstrates the fruitful application of the concept of ‘acts of positioning’.


Keywords : Relational work; Linguistic identity construction; Positioning; Facebook; Microblogging.