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Historical sociopragmatics studies the social dimension of language use from a historical perspective. Like historical pragmatics in general, it must rely on written data (except for the very recent past), which poses some specific analytical challenges. In this contribution, we show how approaches to these challenges have developed in recent years. The research focus in historical sociopragmatics has followed the trend in sociopragmatics, where the earlier focus on a mapping between specific linguistic forms and specific pragmatic functions is increasingly extended to a wider consideration of the discursive nature of pragmatic entities whose function only emerges in the interaction between conversational partners. We illustrate such a discursive approach with an analysis of a sequence of letters from the Breadalbane Collection, 1548--83, in which leading members of a Scottish Highland clan negotiate their relationships, their respective roles and the wider impact of events that led to growing tensions between them.
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.
The eighteenth century has been described as the age of politeness. Politeness became an ideology that distinguished the higher social classes from the rising middle classes. Educational handbooks and books of etiquette proliferated as a response to middle-class aspirations to social enhancement. Against this background, this chapter investigates two polite speech acts, compliments and thanks. They express the speaker’s appreciation and gratitude towards the addressee and can, therefore, be described as inherently polite, even if, on occasion, they may have entirely different values. Their functional profiles differ from their present-day counterparts. Compliments, in particular, have a much wider application including ceremonious compliments, such as, for instance, compliments of introduction. The investigation in this chapter is based on a combination of careful readings and corpus searches of selected handbooks, newspapers and novels.
Historical politeness studies provide specific challenges for the researcher in terms of both methodologies and data. This chapter introduces a distinction between approaches that focus on the use of politeness (i.e. on linguistic elements that convey politeness) and those that focus on the mention of politeness (i.e. on elements that are used to talk about politeness, the metadiscourse of politeness). This distinction is set in relation to the distinction between quantitative and qualitative approaches to politeness, and to the distinction between first-order and second-order approaches. The chapter also discusses the data problems of historical pragmatics in general and historical politeness research in particular, and it describes the shift in such research from apologetic uses of what is seen as imperfect data to an appreciation of the pragmatic potential of a large variety of sources including in particular fictional texts.
In the wake of Brown and Levinson, negative (or non-imposition) politeness has often been described as typical of Western cultures and in particular of English. It has long been clear that this type of politeness is very culture-specific. This chapter sets out to trace its recent history in American English. The Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) serve as a data set for an investigation into several linguistic items that are taken to be diagnostic for non-imposition politeness: please, could you, can you and would you. The evidence in the COHA shows that these elements came to prominence only in the second half of the twentieth century and, therefore, much later than previously assumed, and the data in the COCA suggest that they may already be on the decline again. Several tentative explanations are offered for these developments.
The final chapter of this book presents the analyses and case studies of the previous chapters in a more coherent narrative that focuses on long-term developments rather than the individual details at specific points in the history of English. It draws together the various influences that were responsible for some of the changes, and discusses the question of the point in history when a concern for good breeding and moral behaviour turned into a concern for superficial manners and outward appearance. Today, politeness often has a bad press because it is seen as insincere and hypocritical. But not all commentators have a negative view of present-day politeness: it can be seen as a sincere concern for rapport with the addressee.
Baldesar Castiglione’s courtesy book Il Cortegiano introduced the notion of sprezzatura (a kind of ‘effortless mastery’) to early modern England. The notion of courtesy, which characterised the Middle English period, was replaced by the notion of civility. A review of the relevant research shows how the theoretical framework proposed by Brown and Levinson with the key notions of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ politeness has been applied to the plays by William Shakespeare. The chapter continues with a third-wave discursive politeness approach that is exemplified with case studies of two plays by Ben Jonson, Volpone, Or the Fox and Bartholomew Fair. They demonstrate how default politeness or impoliteness values of specific linguistic forms interact with the discursive contexts in which they occur.
This chapter assesses the linguistic evidence of politeness in medieval Britain. The written sources are scarce, especially for the Anglo-Saxon period. An analysis of relevant lexical items suggests that in Old English, politeness in the modern sense did not play a significant role. Discernment politeness (i.e. the appropriateness of behaviour in given situations) was more important in a strictly hierarchical society, and in religious contexts there is evidence of a politeness of humility and gentleness. The influence of French on Middle English brought new concepts, in particular the concept of courtesy. Detailed case studies of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and of the anonymous poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight show how this concept reflects a new type of courtly politeness.
Politeness is an elusive concept, especially if it is traced diachronically across time. A distinction is made between first-order politeness (everyday conceptualisations) and second-order politeness (scholarly definitions), and this distinction is set in relation to emic (i.e. language specific) and etic (i.e. language independent, universal) approaches to politeness. The three waves of politeness research are briefly introduced. First, the traditional approach based mainly on the work by Brown and Levinson; second, the discursive approach, which largely rejected the traditional approach; and third, the frame-based and interactional approach, which led to a rapprochement of the earlier waves. Finally, an outline of the entire book is given.
This chapter takes a careful corpus-based look at the politeness vocabulary of the eighteenth century. It starts with a wide-angle perspective of the terms politeness, civility and courtesy in general-purpose corpora before moving on to a more detailed analysis of a larger selection of politeness- and impoliteness-related lexical items in a dedicated corpus of eighteenth-century epistolary novels by Samuel Richardson and Fanny Burney. In the second part of this chapter, two case studies are devoted to the sentimental comedy The Conscious Lovers by Richard Steele and the domestic tragedy The London Merchant, or The History of George Barnwell by George Lillo. Both plays have a strong and explicit educational intent. They want to instruct and entertain and help their audiences to become better human beings who rise above the mere observance of rules of etiquette.
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.
The concept of politeness permeates all aspects of modern life and society. However, to what extent has this phenomenon changed over time? This book traces the elusive concept of politeness from its beginnings in the Middle Ages up to the present day. Detailed case studies of mostly literary texts provide insights into historically specific ways of being polite, from discernment politeness in Old English to recent examples, such as non-imposition politeness. Readers will gain a better understanding of both the folk-notion of politeness and specific scholarly definitions, and how these can be applied to historical data. The long diachrony provides a novel perspective both on the concept of politeness and on the history of the English language in its social context, making this essential reading for politeness specialists, cultural historians and historical linguists alike. Politeness emerges as a multifaceted phenomenon that is both culture-specific and history-specific.