Exploring the interplay of gender, discourse, and (im)politeness

Chit Cheung SUNG, Lancaster University

Copyright © 2012 Taylor & Francis.

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Drawing upon the method of discourse analysis, this article explores the complex relationship between gender, discourse, and (im)politeness. By examining an extended excerpt of interaction taken from the popular US reality TV show The Apprentice, I examine the role of gender stereotyping and gender assumptions in the assessment of (im)politeness by the discourse participants. Following Mills (2002), I shall argue that gender plays a role in the judgments of (im)politeness by the interactants, and that judgments seem to vary among individuals. The analysis shows that a woman's relatively masculine verbal behaviour, albeit politic in view of the stereotypically ‘masculine’ context, is perceived as inappropriate and impolite. It is suggested that women professionals may be subjected to more stringent gender norms which govern what constitutes polite behaviour, as linguistic behaviour may be evaluated against the ‘norms’ of women's speech which is assumed to be stereotypically more polite than men's speech. The analysis also raises the issue of a double bind (Lakoff 1975) that women may confront regularly in the work-place.