Apologising in British English





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Apologising in British English

Mats Deutschmann

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The politeness norms of any society can be seen as the product of socio-economic factors and reflect not only the current social structures but also the historical circumstances out of which these norms have grown. This sociolinguistic study of apologies in the spoken part of the British National Corpus examines the use of the apology form in dialogues produced by over 1700 speakers, acting in a number of different conversational settings. The forms and functions of the apologies are examined and variations in usage patterns across the social variables gender, age and social class are elucidated. The study also treats aspects of the conversational setting, such as formality, group size and the genre, which affect the use of this politeness formula. Finally, the effects of the speaker-addressee relationship on apologetic behaviour are considered.

The study provides a unique insight into the use of this speech act in British English of the 1990s. The findings do not only reflect the use of linguistic politeness, but have wider implications concerning the social power structures in modern Britain.