On Inherently and Contextually Aggressive Speech Acts

30 May 2024
Room G1

On Inherently and Contextually Aggressive Speech Acts

Most pragmatics research on verbal aggression and conflict tends to envisage the phenomenon in terms of communicative strategies rather than of verbal actions serving them, and to approach it with the tools of (im)politeness theory (e.g., Culpeper, 2011) or with discourse-based analytic frameworks (e.g., Sagredos & Nikolova, 2022). In these approaches, verbal aggressiveness is conflated with impoliteness and is seen as an intensified, exacerbated form of it, or it is conceived of as a form of power.

Studies devoted to single aggressive/conflictual speech acts do exist (e.g., Vladimirou et al., 2021), but their focus is on the contextual determinants or the sociopragmatic motivations and consequences of those acts, while the intrinsic properties that make them aggressive are altogether overlooked.

To the best of our knowledge, the first systematic attempt to pinpoint the components of the illocutionary force that qualify a speech act as aggressive is offered by Biscetti (2020), who provides an integrated framework (one which combines research on aggressive behaviour in social psychology with speech act theory and prototype theory) to account for verbal aggressiveness as distinct from impoliteness.

In this paper, we build upon Biscetti’s treatment and on Van Olmen et al.’s (2023) recent paper on inherent impoliteness to address the issue of inherently and contextually aggressive speech acts. Using interactional data from a variety of sources (British and Italian discussion forums on the Web, electronic corpora, film scripts and plays), this paper shows how speech acts (various categories) that are neutral or already impolite may become contextually aggressive, while the aggressive force of acts that are inherently aggressive can only be scaled upwards (i.e., can hardly be mitigated).



Biscetti, S. (2020). Verbal Aggressiveness in English: A Speech Act Theory Approach. Pisa: ETS.

Culpeper, J. (2011). Impoliteness: Using Language to Cause Offence.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sagredos, C., & Nikolova, E. (2022). ‘Slut, I hate you’: A critical discourse analysis of gendered conflict on You Tube. Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict, 10(1), 169-196.

Val Olmen, D., Andersson, M., & Culpeper, J. (2023) Inherent linguistic impoliteness: The case of insultive you + np in Dutch, English and Polish. Journal of Pragmatics 215, 22-40.

Vladimirou, D., House, J., & Kádár, D. (2021) Aggressive complaining on social media: The case of #MuckyMerton. Journal of Pragmatics 177, 51-64.