Moaning, whinging and laughing: the subjective side of complaints

Discourse Studies 7 (1):5-29 (2005)
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Abstract

Indirect complaint sequences are examined in a corpus of everyday domestic telephone conversations. The analysis focuses on how a speaker/complainer displays and manages their subjective investment in the complaint. Four features are picked out: announcements, in which an upcoming complaint is projected in ways that signal the complainer’s stance or attitude; laughter accompanying the complaint announcement, and its delivery and receipt; displacement, where the speaker complains about something incidental to what would be expected to be the main offence; and uses of lexical descriptions such as ‘moan’ and ‘whinge’ that formulate subjectivity, investment, and a disposition to complain, and are generally used to counter a complaint’s evidential basis or objectivity. Laughter and irony provide complaint recipients with response cues, and are used in ways that can strengthen as well as undermine a complaint’s factual basis and seriousness.

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