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6 - Terms of Address in Early Modern English

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2020

Andreas H. Jucker
Affiliation:
Universität Zürich
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Summary

In the early modern English period, the distinction between the two pronominal terms of address for a single addressee, ye and thou, still existed but it was showing the first signs of decline. William Shakespeare did not use the case forms consistently, and the pragmatics of his system differs considerably from the situation in Middle English. The chapter shows how the pronominal and the nominal terms of address interact in the works by Shakespeare and in particular in Romeo and Juliet. In contrast to the situation in Middle English, the choice of ye or thou cannot always be accounted for on a turn-by-turn basis. Shakespeare’s use has to be described on a more global level for different dyads of speakers. The use of thou increasingly shows a high level of emotionality, which may ultimately have led to its demise and the present-day English system with only you as a pronominal term of address.

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Chapter
Information
Politeness in the History of English
From the Middle Ages to the Present Day
, pp. 100 - 116
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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