Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 March 2020
This chapter investigates the use of nominal and pronominal terms of address in Middle English. Under the influence of French, Middle English adopted the distinction between two different pronouns of address for a single addressee: ye and thou. The chapter presents detailed case studies of selected tales of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the Miller’s Tale and the Friar’s Tale) and of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The characters in these sources are shown to use a complex system that is highly responsive to their interactional status, including not only their social relationships but also temporary shifts of conversational power within an interaction. Nominal terms of address are shown to be equally sensitive interpersonal devices that reflect the interactive behaviour between the characters and their social class distinctions.