Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Volume 12. Number2  June 2021                       Pp. 31-48

 Full Paper PDF 

Impoliteness and Threat Responses in an Iraqi-Kurdish EFL Context 

Shurooq A. Ali
Department of English, College of Arts
University of Baghdad, Iraq

Received: 4/12/2021               Accepted: 5/19/2021     Published:6/24/2021


This study shows impoliteness as a form of face-threatening that can be intentionally caused by verbal threats in a particular setting. It investigates: what strategies and mitigators do Iraqi-Kurdish English as a foreign language (EFL) learners use in situations of threat responses? The present investigation paper aims to examine impoliteness strategies and mitigators by these learners when they respond to threatening situations in their context. Thus, it fills a gap in pragmatics literature by investigating the reactions to threats in an Iraqi-Kurdish EFL context. To this end, 50 participants have participated in this study. An open-ended questionnaire in the form of a Discourse Completion Task (DCT) is used to elicit responses from the participants. Besides, a focus group interview is conducted to support the data analysis. The data are coded based on Limberg’s (2009) model of impoliteness and threat responses to figure out the strategies used by the learners. Blum-Kulka, House, and Kasper’s (1989) taxonomy of mitigators is adapted to analyze the mitigators. Overall, the findings reveal that the preferred responses surpass those which indicate dispreference by the learners. They tend to use face-saving acts when they comply with the threatener’s demand and opt for face-threatening acts when they reject that demand indirectly. Moreover, these learners use mitigators to attenuate the illocutionary force of their responses. Finally, this study provides some recommendations and pedagogical implications.
Keywords: Impoliteness, Iraqi-Kurdish EFL context, mitigators, responses to threats, social power

Cite as: Ali, S. A. (2021). Impoliteness and threat responses in an Iraqi-Kurdish EFL context.
Arab World English Journal, 12(2), 31-48.


Abbas, N. F. (2013). Positive politeness & social harmony in literary discourse. International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature, 2(3), 186-195. Doi:10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.2n.3p.186.

Al-Khazaali, M. & Al-Hindawi, F. (2016). Impoliteness in political conflicts on terrorism. A model of pragmatic strategies in institutional debates. Deutschland: Lambert Academic Publishing.

Alias, A. & Yahaya, M. Q. (2019). Impoliteness strategies used by Malaysia netizens in response to the music videos of dara queens. International Journal of Social Science Research, 1(2), 44-59.

Austin, J. (1962).  How to do things with words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Barron, A. (2003). Acquisition in interlanguage pragmatics. Learning how to do things with words in a study abroad context. Philadelphia, USA: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. (1989). Cross-cultural pragmatics: Requests and apologies. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Creswell, J. W. (2015). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (5th ed.). New York: Pearson.

Culpeper, J. (1996). Towards an anatomy of impoliteness. Journal  of  Pragmatics, 25(3), 349-367.

Culpeper, J. (2005). Impoliteness and entertainment in the television quiz show: The Weakest Link. Journal of Politeness Research 1, 35-72. DOI: 10.1515/jplr.2005.1.1.35.

Cutting, J. (2002). Pragmatics and discourse. A resource book for students. London: Routledge.

Economidou-Kogetsidis, M. (2012). Modifying oral requests in a foreign language: The case of Greek Cypriot learners of English. In M. Economidou-Kogetsidis & H. Woodfield (Eds.), Interlanguage request modification (pp. 163-202). Philadelphia, USA: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Fairclough, N. (1989).  Language and power. London: Longman.

Farina, M. & Sheibani, Z. (2019). Cross-cultural study of Iranian and English students’ impoliteness and threat responses.  The Journal of English Language Pedagogy and Practice, 12(24), 68-90. DOI: 10.30495/JAL.2019.671927.

Félix-Brasdefer, J. C. (2017). Interlanguage pragmatics. In Y. Huang (Ed.), The oxford handbook of pragmatics (pp. 416-434). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fraser, B. (1998). Threatening revisited. Forensic Linguistics (The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law) 5(2), 159-173.

Garcia-Pastor, M. D. (2008). Political campaigns as zero-sum games: impoliteness and power in candidates’ exchanges. In D. Bousfield & M. A. Locher (Eds.), Impoliteness in Language: Studies on Its Interplay with Power in Theory and Practice (pp. 101-123). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Geluykens, R. & Limberg, H. (2012). Gender variation, indirectness, and preference organization in threat responses. Rice Working Papers in Linguistics, 3, 1-12.

Halim, Sh. A. (2015). Impoliteness strategies used in a politician’s Facebook. (Unpublished Master’s thesis). University of Malaysia.

Hammod, N. M. & Rassul, A. A. (2017). Impoliteness strategies in English and Arabic Facebook comments. International Journal of Linguistics 9(5). DOI: 97-112. 10.5296/ijl.v9i5.11895.

Hanks, P. (2018). Types of speech acts. In D. Fogal, D. W. Harris, & M. Moss (Eds.), New work on speech acts (pp. 123-143). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harris, S. (1984). The form and function of threats in court. Language & Communication,4(4), 247–271.

Hassall, T. (2001). Modifying requests in a second language. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 39(4), 259-283. DOI: 10.1515/iral.2001.005.

Hassall, T. (2012). Request modification by Australian learners of Indonesian. In M. Economidou-Kogetsidis & H. Woodfield (Eds.), Interlanguage request modification (pp. 203-242). Philadelphia, USA: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

House, J. (2010). Impoliteness in Germany: Intercultural encounters in everyday and institutional talk. Intercultural Pragmatics, 7(4), 561-595.

Jan, J. M., & How, C. (2015). Discursive construction of Asian responses towards impoliteness. Pertanika Journal of Social Sciences & Humanities, 23(1), 89-106.

Kadhum, M. F. & Abbas, N. F. (2020). Impoliteness in relation to You Tube:  A pragmatic study. Proceedings of the first virtual scientific conference of the English Language Department in the College of Basic Education – Al-Mustansiriyah University in cooperation with the University  alturath College, the Lebanese University and the Turkish University, Suleiman Admiral. Iraq. 105-123.

Kuha, M. (2003). Perceived seriousness of offense: the ignored extraneous variable. Journal of Pragmatics 35(12), 1803-1821.

Kuntsi, P. (2012). Politeness and impoliteness strategies used by lawyers in the ‘Dover Trial’ – A case study, (Unpublished  Master’s thesis).  University of Eastern Finland.

Lakoff, R. T. (1989). The limits of politeness: therapeutic and courtroom discourse. Multilingua 8(2/3), 101–129.

Leech, G. N. (1983). Principles of pragmatics. London: Longman.

Limberg, H. (2003). Classifying threats and responses to threats: A sociopragmatic analysis, (Unpublished Master’s Thesis).  University of Muenster.

Limberg, H. (2008). Threats in conflict talk: impoliteness and manipulation. In: D. Bousfield & M. A. Locher (Eds.). Impoliteness in language. Studies on its interplay with power in theory and practice (pp. 155–179). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Limberg, H. (2009). Impoliteness and threat responses. Journal of Pragmatics, 41(7), 1376-1394.

Limberg, H., & Geluykens, R. (2007). Investigating preference organization and social variation through questionnaires: the case of threat responses. In B. Kraft & R. Geluykens (Eds.). Cross-Cultural pragmatics and interlanguage English (pp.159-185) München: Lincom Europa.

Lucky, J. (2015). A pragmatic analysis of impoliteness strategies in British TV-Series Sherlock, (Unpublished Master’s thesis).  Yogyakarta State University.

Marco, M. A. (2008). Influence of situational factors on the codification and interpretation of impoliteness. Pragmatics: Quarterly Publication of the International Pragmatics Association (IPrA), 18(4), 751-773.

Mirhosseini, M., Mardanshahi, M., & Dowlatabadi, H. (2017). Impoliteness Strategies Based on Culpeper’s Model: An Analysis of Gender Differences between Two Characters in the movie Mother. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Language Research, 4(3). 221-238.

Mohammed, H. N. & Abbas, N. F. (2016).  Impoliteness in literary discourse: A pragmatic study. International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature, 5(2), 76-82. Doi:10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.5n.2p.76.

Mugford, G. (2007). How rude! Teaching impoliteness in the second language classroom. ELT Journal, 62(4), 375-384. DOI: 10.1093/elt/ccm066.

Nishimura, Y. (2010). Impoliteness in Japanese BBS interactions: Observations from message exchanges in two online communities. Journal of Politeness Research: Language, Behaviour, Culture, 6(1), 35-55. DOI: 10.1515/JPLR.2010.003.

OED Online- Oxford English Dictionary. (2020). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pérez-Hernández, L. (2021). Speech acts in English. From research to instruction and textbook development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rudanko, J. (2006). Aggravated impoliteness and two types of speaker intention in an episode in Shakespeare’s Timons of Athens. Journal of Pragmatics 38(6), 829–841.

Searle, J. R. (1969). Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Searle, J. R. (1979). Expression and meaning. Studies in the theory of speech acts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schauer, G. A. (2009). Interlanguage pragmatic development: The study abroad context. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Storey, K. (1995). “The language of threats.” Forensic Linguistics (The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law) 2(1), 74-80.

Thomas, J. (1983). Cross-cultural pragmatic failure. Applied Linguistics, 4(2), 91-112.

Vanderveken, D. (1990). Meaning and Speech Acts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wibowo, G. & Kuntjara, E. (2012). Impolitness strategies used on online comments in an Indonesian football website. K@ta Kita, 1(1). pp. 166-173.

Zhong, W. (2018). Linguistic impoliteness strategies in sina weibo comments. International Journal of Linguistics and Communication, 6(2), pp. 35-46. DOI: 10.15640/ijlc.v6n2a4.

Received: 4/12/2021  
Accepted: 5/19/2021
Published: 6/24/202 1  

Shurooq Abboodi Ali earned her Ph.D. degree in Applied Linguistics/Pragmatics from University Sains Malaysia, Malaysia. She is currently an assistant professor of English linguistics at the College of Arts, University of Baghdad. Her areas of research include pragmatics, (critical) discourse analysis, and sociolinguistics.