On Cooperation and Im/politeness in French Interactions


  • Ruth de Oliveira University of Cape Town, South Africa




French interactions, politeness, impoliteness, cooperation, greetings, bonjour


In Culpeper’s (2009) extensive study of how impoliteness-related terms are used, especially in relation to people’s expectations in public-service contexts, the term “french” occurs twice, along with “doorman,” “bouncer,” “bartender,” “waitress,” “waiter,” “yorker,” “staff.” Based on this, could one suppose that, in daily interactions in French, the principles of cooperation (Grice, 1975) and politeness come into conflict, leading to the characterization of speakers as impolite? If this is the case, why? How does it occur? Is this characterization specific to public-service contexts, or does it extend to other domains of social life? Aiming to provide answers to these questions, this study draws on the framework of conversation analysis using a socio-pragmatic approach (from Austin, 1962, to Kerbrat-Orecchioni, 2010, and Culpeper, 2021). Guided by socio-cultural and historical factors (Bourdieu, 1984; La Bruyère, 1688), it explores the concept of linguistic im/politeness (Culpeper, 2009, 2021; Curtin, 1995; Meier, 1995) in its interaction with Grice’s (1975) principles of cooperation. To this end, we examine the ritual of greeting, in particular the exchange of “bonjour” in daily social interactions in a French-speaking context, using an authentic data corpus (Reddit, 2014). The results of our analysis show that, in certain situations, when the symmetry of this ritual is broken and the act fails, French speakers attribute to what is understood as politeness a rating higher than they do to cooperation, giving rise to the opposite phenomenon, impoliteness.