The pragmatic functions of please compared to the (im)polite Norwegian politeness marker vennligst

01 Jun 2024
Room E1

The pragmatic functions of please compared to the (im)polite Norwegian politeness marker vennligst

Norwegian-English dictionaries describe the pragmatic function of vennligst as being that of a polite request and translate it into please. Our interest in vennligst started with a debate on social media between Norwegians who interpreted vennligst as conventionally polite and those who saw it as a supercilious command and, therefore, highly impolite. Many of those who found vennligst polite were shocked by the indignation of the second group and claimed that interpreting vennligst as impolite must be something new. Investigating the background of this dispute, we published two corpus-based studies on the pragmatic functions of vennligst, and another one that takes a diachronic perspective is currently a work in progress. The findings are compared to theories on the pragmatic functions of please.

In our first study (2023), we used two Norwegian corpora of written and computer-mediated texts to investigate the use of vennligst and found that, indeed, when used between individual speakers, it often strengthens the requestive force into a command. However, most instances were found in communication between unratified individuals, such as on public signposts, where it only indicates a ritual frame (Kádár & House, 2020). For this reason, our second article (forthcoming) found, based on The English-Norwegian Parallel Corpus (ENPC), that it is seldom used as a Norwegian translation of please. In our most recent and ongoing study, we have compiled a corpus of newspaper articles, fiction and non-fiction texts from the National Library of Norway to examine if, indeed, vennligst was more common as a politeness marker between ratified individuals in the past than what it is today. With all three studies, we aim to contribute to the ongoing discussion on conventional politeness markers, such as please, by being the first to examine how the corresponding Norwegian lexical item vennligst is used.



Kádár, D. Z., & House, J.. 2020. Ritual frames: A contrastive pragmatic approach. Pragmatics 30(1), 142–168.