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The Weakest Link ran in the UK from to One of the most culturally salient features of the show was the extremely impolite persona of the presenter Anne Robinson. Between rounds of questions, each contestant identifies one other who they think has been performing poorly and the contestant with the most nominations has to leave. Robinson discusses nominations with some of the contestants and is impolite to them while doing so. Culpeper discusses several ways in which she is impolite. These include utterances which imply negative judgments about the contestants and their jobs, mimicry and prosody.

Discussion of prosody can focus on pitch, rhythm, tempo, volume and voice quality. Here, Culpeper focuses in particular on pitch movement and stress placement.


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Robinson responds with an even more fronted vowel. As is often the case with mimicry, Robinson exaggerates features she mimics. This does not detract, though, from the opportunity to mimic him. Robinson begins her interaction with Shaun by quoting what we assume is his own description of his job. Cross-cultural pragmatics: Requests and apologies. Norwood: Ablex Publications. Brown, P. Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Buchbinder, M. Patient Education and Counseling, 98 2 , Culpeper, J. Impoliteness and entertainment in the television quiz show: The weakest Link. Impoliteness revisited: With special reference to dynamic and prosodic aspects.

Journal of Pragmatics, 35 10 , Eelen, G. A critique of politeness theories. Manchester: St. Jermone Publishing. Eslami-Rasekh, A. Investigating the effects of teaching apology speech act, with a focus on intensifying strategies, on pragmatic development of EFL learners: The Iranian context. Isurin, L. Talking to a stranger: Linguistic and nonlinguistic behavior of Russian immigrants during US Census. Language and Communication, 40 , Jalilifar, A.

English Language Teaching, 2 1 , Understanding politeness. Kasper, G. Pragmatic transfer. Second Language Research, 8 3 , Data collection in pragmatics research. Spencer-Oatey Ed. London and New York: Continuum. Kuhi, D.

The Weakest Link Daft Answers

Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 2 12 , Lakoff, R. Chicago Linguistics Society, 9 , This speaker bias is another legacy from politeness work, particularly that of Brown and Levinson However, their definition still needs some unpacking e. The key aspect of this definition is that it makes clear that impoliteness, as indeed politeness, is constructed in the interaction between speaker and hearer.

However, other permutations of 1 and 2 are possible.

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English: IIIb Linguistics: Introduction to Semantics and Pragmatics ()

Face-attack may be intentionally communicated but fail to find its mark in any way, or, conversely, the hearer may perceive or construct intentional face- attack on the part of the speaker, when none was intended. Consider this example of the latter: [Context: An extended family is eating a meal at a Pizza Hut.

There is a tense relationship between participants A and B. A, however, reconstructs it as a genuinely impolite act, thereby, attacking B herself by constructing him as mean. This particular strategy is, in fact, one that occurs elsewhere in my data collection. Two other aspects of my definition are noteworthy. Firstly, the notion of intention is of central importance, and it will be clear from my discus- sion of what impoliteness is not and also my references to Goffman why this is so i.

Impoliteness, then, has two layers: the offensive information being expressed by the utterance and the information that that informa- tion is being expressed intentionally2. Of course, recognizing intentions is highly problematic: they have to be inferred in communication. Impoliteness concerns offense, and face, in my view, still represents the best way of understanding offense.

Of course, face should be more adequately con- ceptualized and contextually sensitive. Helen Spencer-Oatey e. Space precludes a full outline of her proposals, but I offer a brief summary in Table 1. The notion of face is split into two components. I will refer to all these com- ponents in my analyses of impoliteness in The Weakest Link, but the most relevant components are Quality face e. Impoliteness and The Weakest Link 41 3.

In so far as theories have predictive power, the model of impoliteness I have been developing is not yet a theory. Two areas in particular need atten- tion. Firstly, impoliteness is not inherent in particular linguistic and non- linguistic signals. The same argument for politeness is made repeatedly by Watts Nevertheless, this instability means that im- politeness comes about in the interaction between linguistic and non- linguistic signals and the context, and so context must be fully factored in.

Some work on the co-text was undertaken in Culpeper et al. This paper has as one of its aims an examination of a particular genre or activity type. Secondly, descriptions of politeness and impoliteness tend to over-emphasize lexical and grammatical resources, and hence they have a limited view of the communicative signal. Work on prosody undertaken in Culpeper et al. A particular aim of the present study is to emphasize the importance of prosody in descriptions of impoliteness, and in The Weakest Link in particular. It is appropriate at this point to re-state my impoliteness model in brief, because I will refer to it in this paper and because I wish to develop it further.

Bald on record impoliteness: the FTA is performed in a direct, clear, unambiguous and concise way in circumstances where face is not irrel- evant or minimized. Withhold politeness: the absence of politeness work where it would be expected. For example, failing to thank somebody for a present may be taken as deliberate impoliteness. Moreover, it is often the case that orientation to one kind of face may have implications for another. Thus, there can be primary effects for one type of face and secondary for another. It is to these categories that I will refer in my up- coming analyses.

The polite assumption that the ad- dressee is holding back from the feast until invited to tuck in is obviously untrue, and so an opposite impolite assumption is implicated. Thus, po- liteness is used for impoliteness. The maxim of quantity is fairly obviously flouted in the above example. To further clarify the argument, consider this example: [Context: From the television program Pop Idol, hosted by Ant and Dec. The aim of the show is to select the best contestant from numer- ous would-be pop stars.

This extract occurs in one of the later pro- grams in a series, when the number of contestants is down to It occurs at the beginning of the program. The judges sit in front of the studio audience and can hear all that is said. In some ways, this appears to fit the notion of off-record politeness.

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The blatant way in which this happens would make it very difficult for Ant and Dec to deny the implicature. In sum, what we have here is insincere off-record politeness: it is not a genuine attempt to avoid causing offense. As such, it falls within my category of sarcasm. However, there is a further kind of off-recordness or indirectness that is not covered by any of my categories. Consider the following example, specifically, the emboldened part5: [Context: From the film Scent of a Woman. Charlie CH is a student at a prestigious private school, but he is not rich and is supported by student aid.

The dia- logue below occurs a few turns into their first encounter. You on student aid, Simms? CH: Ah, yes I am. COL: For student aid read crook. Ha, ha! What are you CH: No It is a rhetorical question that implicates, via the maxim of quality, the impo- lite belief that there is evidence that Charlie is dying of a wasting disease. However, this is not like the sarcasm examples that have as one of their defining features some claim, no matter how superficial, to be polite. What we have here is the off- record in the sense that it flouts a maxim expression of impoliteness. I thus propose an additional category for my impoliteness model: Off-record impoliteness: the FTA is performed by means of an implica- ture but in such a way that one attributable intention clearly out- weighs any others.

It is not to be forgotten that these more indirect forms of impoliteness, such as off-record impoliteness, should not be consid- ered any less impolite than more direct forms. In fact, I argued in Cul- peper et al. I shall illustrate off-record impoliteness further in my analyses of The Weakest Link, particularly in section 5. Impoliteness as entertainment The Weakest Link, in common with all the television data that I have collected for my impoliteness research, is designed for entertainment.

This begs the question as to whether there is a link between impolite interactions and entertainment. I would argue that this is indeed the case, and posit four generic factors: 1. Intrinsic pleasure. Voyeuristic pleasure. Colourful confrontationalism and quick, bruising skirmishes are the rule. The audience is superior. The audience is safe.

This factor can be seen as a sub-category of the previous. Compare, for example, witnessing an actual fight in a pub, in which case you might feel insecure and wish to make hasty exit, with a pub fight presented in a film. Literary genres thrive on conflict as a means of further- ing the plot and characterization, and creating dramatic entertainment see Culpeper Humor often involves impoliteness e. One aspect of The Weakest Link which I will exam- ine is the relationship between verbal creativity and impoliteness for the purposes of entertainment.

Outside discussions of banter e. Table 2. What truly separates the exploitative chat shows from the standard shows is that they are all characterized by impolite- ness. The standard chat shows generally treat guests and studio partici- pants with a degree of deference. In fact, they are typically opportunities for a celebration of the achievements of the guests, and are characterized by lots of face-support.

Conventional linguistic impoliteness

Dame Edna Everidge, who often humiliates her interviewees, treating them more as victims than guests, is perhaps an extreme case see Tolson ; but something similar may be seen at play in The Mrs Merton Show. Exploitative shows have evolved through the subversion of the politeness norms of the standard shows. Quiz shows are a specific type of game show. Game shows and quiz shows are based on a competition: identifying either a winner through the elimination of participants from the game, or the amount of money an individual is to be rewarded with.

As with chat shows, the exploitative quiz show, of which The Weakest Link is the most well-known in the UK, has evolved against the backdrop of standard quiz shows, where there are no sustained attempts to humiliate participants. However, to allow greater scope for exploitation, the structure of standard quiz show has undergone some changes. Thus in the context of the game show, chat between participants delays the actual playing of the game a prime example would be Blankety Blank [the celebrity quiz show]. But this format does not offer much scope for humiliating participants.

In The Weakest Link, chat occurs after a round of questions and answers, and has the following structure: 1. The host interacts with each contestant in turn, ostensibly in order to reveal their performance in the quiz. The contestant with the most nominations leaves a voice-over reveals to the TV audience whether they had in fact got the most questions wrong. It is in the chat in The Weakest Link that impoliteness occurs.

Table 3 compares the chat in three quiz shows screened in the UK. Table 3. Note that chat hardly occurs hence all cells have entries in brackets. Very occa- sionally the host, Jeremy Paxman, makes a brief wry remark after an obviously wrong answer, but the suggestion often seems to be that this was a foolish slip, not that the answerer is a complete fool.

Similarly, The Weakest Link devi- ates from the standard format in having a major part of the discourse on the program as chat, but, importantly, this chat occurs after a round of questions and answers and is non-supportive. In fact, the program is structured to maximize the potential for face-damage.

Greater public exposure means that more face is at stake. Contrast this with University Challenge, where some answers are given by the team. The fact that contestants still get them wrong probably has more to do with the high-pressure situation. The Weakest Link 6. Anne Robinson was born and brought up in Liverpool, where her mother worked on the local market stall. She came to be more gen- erally known to the British public through her caustic articles for various tabloid newspapers.

It has also earned her the title of the Rudest Woman on Televi- sion. When the show was ex- ported to the U. In each case, the for- mat and visual appearance of the show is identical. This is not to deny that the persona Anne Robinson has constructed partly trades on negative ste- reotypes for women. The most well-known of these usually occur as one-liners, deliv- ered after a round of questions, before the attempts to identify the contestant who is the weakest i. As they are given in this structural position, there clearly is opportunity for Anne Robinson to prepare them in advance.

Below I focus on the one- liners given in The Weakest Link sticker collection, grouped according to their main linguistic feature. Who-questions and yes-no questions Who should sling their hook? Who is a waste of rations?


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Who should go and lock themselves in a darkened room? Who is several sandwiches short of a picnic? Whose time is up? Whose lights will be turned out? Whose train fare could have been better spent? Did you go to school? Lost the plot? Running on empty? All these who-questions and yes-no questions achieve their impoliteness by implication. Rhetorical questions and metaphors both flout the maxim of quality. Be- cause they are not straightforward expressions, they flout the maxim of manner. Again, we have off-record impoliteness. Sound patterns Despatch the deadwood; Sack the culprit; Give the heave-ho to the hopeless; Root out the rubbish; Dazed and confused; Waste of space All these instances contain obvious sound pattering.

They flout the maxim of manner, implicating particular impolite beliefs. One important aspect of all of the above examples is that they have a degree of creativity. But also note that they are nearly all based-on or incorporate a formula of some kind. However, note also that the use of some of these formulae is somewhat creative. According to the definition of impo- liteness outlined in section 1, this is mock impoliteness not genuine impo- liteness.

I will return to this issue in section This section continues the theme of the previous in that it focuses on language that is formulaic in some sense. Catchphrases are expressions produced with particular regularity by a personality, usually television personality, as in the case of Anne Robin- son. For this, we must look to the prosody Figure 1. Impoliteness and The Weakest Link 53 The figure consists of three tiers. The first at the top is a spectogram, representing fluctuations in air pressure.

It provides indications of rela- tive loudness intensity and duration. The second is a fundamental fre- quency graph, representing changes in pitch fundamental frequency ex- pressed in Hertz over time. It provides an indication of the intonation contour of the utterance. The third contains the words that were spoken. Note that there is no direct relationship between these figures and mean- ing. The acoustic features represented in these figures are cues that may trigger the perception of phonological features, and then those features may in turn be used in an inference process to generate particular mean- ings.