The pragmatics of forgiveness: Judgments of apologies in the Israeli political arena

Zohar Kampf*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Although the theme of forgiveness has been studied extensively in various fields of humanities and social science, it has thus far been neglected by discourse scholars. Drawing on data from the Israeli political discourse between 1997 and 2004, this article analyzes the ways in which apologies are interpreted and judged by political actors as members of a distinctive interpretive community. The findings show that although realized infelicitously, most of the apologies made by Israeli political figures were accepted by the offended parties or their representatives. One explanation for this finding is that the traditional felicity conditions are replaced in the political arena by the 'embarrassment condition', that is, the extent to which the gesture is perceived by the forgiver as threatening the apologizer's political image. Other reasons to forgive are less dependent on the judgment of the linguistic performance than on the various interests on the part of the forgiver. In cases in which the interest of the offended party is to detract from the symbolic power of his/her rival, even a full and humble apology may be refused. Inversely, even an incomplete form may be accepted if the offended is motivated to forgive. These findings are in line with Mills' argument regarding the total dependency of the apology on the way in which it is judged by its recipient.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)577-598
Number of pages22
JournalDiscourse and Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Apology
  • Forgiveness
  • Insincerity
  • Interpretive community
  • Political discourse
  • Political face


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