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Normativity, (im)politeness and preference organization

Considering the close relationship of politeness to normativity, on the one hand, and
appropriateness on the other, the discursive turn (cf. Eelen, 2001, Watts, 2003, Locher
& Watts, 2005) has admittedly shed new light on the study of (im)politeness. The
traditional understanding of politeness as intrinsic to linguistic expressions and as a
function of language manipulation that works to maintain social equilibrium has been
set aside and an interaction-based approach has been advocated. Thus, a great deal of
attention has been paid on the significance of the evaluation of (im)politeness by the

The present work adapts a conversation analytic perspective in order to avoid

premature and idealized theory construction in favor of the empirical identification of
diverse structures of practices (Heritage, 1995: 397). The above choice allows for
findings based exclusively on evidence that is located to the data itself.

By examining naturally occurring conversations between friends/relatives the aim of

the present paper is to explore the ways in which regularities of (im)politeness emerge
with regard to the concept of preference organization (Schegloff and Sacks 1973).
Preference organization accounts for the fact that not all second pair parts (SPPs) are
heard as having equal status. For that reason preference has been related to
(im)politeness and face considerations (cf. Pomerantz 1984, Lerner 1996, Bousfield
2007) on the basis of the different evaluative ranking of the alternative SPPs. Having the
latter correlation as starting point, I will examine cases where the established pattern of
preferred/dispreferred turns is departed from by exploiting Heritages distinction of
accountability (1988:128). The deviant case analysis will allow us to understand how
the alignment/non alignment with specific actions can be accounted for its moral or
normative character.

Keywords: preference organization, accountability, (im)politeness, conversation analysis


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