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Historical (Im)politeness


Edited By Jonathan Culpeper and Dániel Z. Kádár

This edited collection investigates historical linguistic politeness and impoliteness. Although some research has been undertaken uniting politeness and historical pragmatics, it has been sporadic at best, and often limited to traditional theoretical approaches. This is a strange state of affairs, because politeness plays a central role in the social dynamics of language. This collection, containing contributions from renowned experts, aims to fill this hiatus, bringing together cutting-edge research. Not only does it illuminate the language usage of earlier periods, but by examining the past it places politeness today in context. Such a diachronic perspective also affords a further test-bed for current models of politeness. This volume provides insights into historical aspects of language, particularly items regularly deployed for politeness functions, and the social, particularly interpersonal, contexts with which it interacts. It also sheds light on how (social) meanings are dynamically constructed in situ, and probes various theoretical aspects of politeness. Its papers deploy a range of multilingual (e.g. English, Spanish, Italian and Chinese) diachronic data drawn from different genres such as letters, dramas, witch trials and manners books.


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“In curteisie was set ful muchel hir lest” Politeness in Middle English1 1. Introduction In a rather obvious way, Middle English bridges the gap between Old English and Early Modern English. The Old English declension sys- tem crumbled and in its place word order became more fixed. The Germanic vocabulary of Old English was enriched with a host of loanwords from French. And the spelling changed considerably. On all these levels, Middle English links two systems that show marked differences. To modern readers, Old English looks and feels like a foreign language, while Early Modern English, the language of Shakespeare, sounds in many respects much more familiar and in any case recognisably English. All these changes have been studied in de- tail and are fairly well understood. On the level of pragmatics, how- ever, we are still far away from a comparable understanding of the changes that took place during the Middle English period. In this chapter, I will argue that in terms of politeness, Middle English also has a bridging function. Anglo-Saxon society was a society that was based on obligation and kin-loyalty with the added Christian values of caritas and humilitas (Kohnen 2008a), while Early Modern English is already characterised by a politeness system based on facework (Brown/Levinson 1987; Schulze 1985; Kopytko 1995). Against this 1 The title quote (“Her greatest pleasure was in good manners”) is taken from the description of the prioress in the General Prologue of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (The Riverside Chaucer, I.132). I...

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