Keynote talks

The Call for Papers for the colloquium has now closed. Meanwhile, we are pleased to announce our two plenary keynote talks:

Adrian Leemann (University of Bern)

Variation and change in linguistic politeness: the role of regional, sociodemographic, and personality-related factors

Variational pragmatics is a flourishing field at the intersection of pragmatics and variationist sociolinguistics. No study has yet systematically examined fine-grained variation in one language variety across one set of multiple features. Here, we analyzed data from 1000 speakers of Swiss German – 500 younger (18-35) and 500 older (60+). Participants came from 125 localities and answered five questions:

  • ‘Do you thank the bus driver when leaving the bus?’
  • ‘Do you apologize after sneezing?’
  • ‘Do you use the T or V form when talking to your superior?’
  • ‘How do you say goodbye to a bank clerk unknown to you?’
  • ‘You’re handing someone a gift. The person says ‘Thanks!’ How do you respond?’

Regressions revealed significant regional variation in all variables – with Alpine regions using more polite strategies (see In most variables, older participants used the more polite strategy. Highly educated speakers apologized more and used more T forms towards superiors; women thanked the bus driver more and used the more polite strategy in responding to thanks. Further, participants with higher agreeableness thanked the bus driver more.

There are many explanations for these findings. We believe religion and identity to play major roles: the regions showing the highest density of polite strategies tend to be catholic. Catholic regions have been shown to have a high Uncertainty Avoidance Index, meaning, speakers try to avoid uncertain situations. This can be achieved by using more polite strategies. Further, using the more polite strategies may constitute an identity-constructing feature. Results revealed that the younger cohort prefers allegedly less polite strategies. We argue this has to do with de-hierarchization trends in society, which can also trickle down to language use (e.g., less frequent use of V forms). Is today’s youth less polite? We think not. What appears to be happening is a functional change: strategies that used to be perceived as less polite are becoming new norms of polite communication.

Yosiane White (Radboud University Nijmegen)

From the mind to the community and back: towards an integrated understanding of the sociolinguistic variable

Abstract TBA