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Impoliteness in language and gesture: a cross-cultural study of impolite behaviour in Russian and Swedish

  • Vladislav Zlov
Publishing year: 2019
Language: English
Document type: Student publication for Master's degree (two years)


Impoliteness has been considered as a marginal phenomenon for scientific research for some time, although as a type of behaviour it has always been around us. The field of impoliteness studies is currently growing, but there are clear gaps in the research that concerns the conventionality of expressions, different semiotic systems through which impoliteness is expressed and cross-cultural comparisons. With a help of a cognitive-semiotic framework, this thesis focuses on how Russian and Swedish native speakers perceive impoliteness of highly conventional and less conventional offensive behaviour expressed through the systems of language and gesture. Through a reaction-time experiment and in-depth interviews with sixty participants the thesis investigates: (1) what impact conventionality has on the degree of perceived impoliteness, (2) whether conventionality influences how fast people judge impolite expressions, (3) whether impoliteness expressed through different semiotic systems differs and (4) what differences exist in how Russian and Swedish participants evaluate impolite behaviour.
The results showed that conventionality does have a strong impact on perceived impoliteness when the degree of impoliteness is high. Secondly, there were faster reactions for highly conventional and for highly impolite expressions. Thirdly, differences were found between language and gesture with respect to their conventionality (and perceived “aggressiveness”), but not in terms of impoliteness. Finally, Swedish participants evaluated impolite language and gestures as very impolite more often than Russian participants. Conceptually, the thesis explored the notion of conventionality as consisting of three aspects: clarity, familiarity and evaluation. The study could show that conventionality was understood differently depending on which aspect participants focused on and on which semiotic system, language, or gesture, it was concerned.


  • Languages and Literatures
  • impoliteness
  • politeness
  • cognitive semiotics
  • language
  • gesture
  • conventionality
  • culture
  • mimesis
  • face
  • directness
  • frequency
  • evaluation
  • semantics
  • pragmatics
  • context
  • sign


  • Jordan Zlatev (Docent)
  • Marianne Gullberg (Professor)
  • Joost van de Weijer (Dr)