Volume 21, Issue 3
  • ISSN 1569-2159
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9862
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Since presidential primary debates in US election campaigns serve the function of identifying the most promising nominee for the subsequent presidency, they constitute a highly adversarial multilogue. Debaters do not only exchange factual arguments but also use diverse forms of impoliteness geared towards damaging the public image of political opponents and persuading audiences to vote accordingly. Combining political discourse analysis with pragmatic approaches to impoliteness, this paper examines the ways in which verbal aggression in debates inflicts damage on the addressee’s positive and negative face. On the basis of five Democratic and five Republican debates from 2016, it is shown that impolite utterances fulfil the four central strategic functions of (a) delegitimization, (b) coercion, (c) entertainment, and (d) (self-)defence, all of which support the macro-function of political persuasion through the construction of personal preferability.


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