Melanie Kunkel

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Melanie Kunkel (Universität Rom, Italien)

Folk linguistics in French online forums: face work strategies in teh negotiation of expert-layman relations

The term “folk linguistics” (Fr. linguistique populaire, Germ. Laienlinguistik) refers, among other things, to reflections and comments on language intended for, and in many cases also written by, non-linguists, e.g. in language style guides or handbooks about common errors in language use. Nowadays, folk linguistic discussions also take place in folk linguistic-specific online forums, characterized by a wide range of topics ‒ from grammatical to stylistic to etymological questions ‒ and a generally pseudonymous participation. Until now, little attention has been paid to the issue of face work in these forums.

Research has already illustrated the impossibility of drawing a clear distinction between “experts” and “non-experts” in the field of folk linguistics and pointed out an underlying continuum. Therefore, in online forums, relational work is becoming important for participants to construct and negotiate relationships and expert roles within the forum itself and consequently in the Internet’s public sphere. In some cases, due to participants’ regular presence in the forum over several years, we are even able to study the negotiation of face issues tied in with long-term identity construction in the interaction between single users.

The aim of this contribution is therefore to reveal users’ politeness and impoliteness strategies in constructing the roles of experts and laypersons. Besides the restrictions that social media impose on relational work, this contribution will also consider the addition of new means, such as the use of nicknames, signatures or icons, and the moderator’s role when reprimanding participants for (politeness) rule violations or even blocking inappropriate messages. Discussions about “(im)polite utterances” and explicit or implicit negotiation and co-construction of netiquette norms may obviously appear in discussions about any topic. As a result of their strong interest in all things linguistic, folk linguists, however, create a particularly promising field for research into face work, not least because politeness issues may even appear among the linguistic topics discussed in own threads.

The empirical data for this study draw on a sample of language-focused French online forums.