¡No seas cobarde! Discursive/Pragmatic Variation of Impoliteness in a Multi-Party Political Debate

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Juan M. Escalona Torres


This study sets out to investigate the discursive/pragmatic variation of impoliteness as a discursive strategy in the institutional context of the political debate. The study examines a two-hour debate among six political candidates in Puerto Rico’s 2012 governor elections. In analyzing the discourse, this multi-party context displayed a different interactional dynamic from the typical face-to-face political debate. I used Blas Aroyo’s (2011) classifications of impoliteness strategies to identify the face attacks that each candidate delivered. I complemented these strategies with the selection of reception roles as proposed in Levinson’s (1987) review of Goffman’s (1978) participation framework. Finally, I used Spencer-Oatey’s (2002) theory of rapport management and Culpeper’s (2011) impoliteness framework to provide justification for the strategies used in the debate. It was found that in the multi-party debate context, candidates attack each other’s face rights and sociality rights with the interactional goal of elevating themselves as superior to their opponents. The results showed that the strategies “Associate opponent with negative facts” (35.8%) and “Show yourself as contemptuous to the opponent” (27%) were the most used across all candidates, which did not differ greatly from previous studies (Blas Arroyo, 2001; García-Pastor, 2008). Furthermore, it was fundamental to the context of this study to analyze the use of the participation framework. The candidates in the multi-party monologic debate interface preferred to select their opponents and their respective parties as their indirect targets and the audience as the interlocutor. This helped the candidates to still launch the face threat while staying within the bounds of the monologic nature of the context. This study represents the use of discourse analysis in investigating pragmatic behavior in institutional contexts. I argue for more interaction between pragmatics and discourse studies in order to provide a fuller and more contextualized analysis of human interaction.


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