Linguistic politeness in Medieval French




Shariat, Mehrak

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Thus far, politeness in Old and Middle French and in older languages in general has not been closely examined. This dissertation therefore presents a detailed linguistic analysis of politeness in Medieval French. Relying heavily on data from a wide range of texts from Latin to Middle French, this dissertation discusses several aspects of linguistic politeness that traditionally have been misinterpreted or not considered. First and foremost, the evidence indicates that polite and deferential speech existed from early Latin onward, although its representation could vary from one period to another. The analysis of the linguistic systems of Latin and Medieval French introduces non-pronominal linguistic devices used to express politeness, the role of the pronominal address system in polite speech, and the evolution of the pronominal address system after the emergence of the deferential pronoun vous. Moreover, a diachronic analysis of the data reveals the spread of conventionalized polite and formal language, which was an instrument representing upper class society, to middle class society and the generalization of the polite linguistic devices in Middle French. This observation shows that, paradoxically, in the Classical period, conventional polite language could no longer be associated merely with upper class society. Subsequently, in contrast to the majority of previous studies, it is argued that the alleged inconsistency in the use of the pronominal address system of Old French was not significant and that it in fact followed a regular pattern. As a result, the Old French pronominal address system did not represent an irregular or isolated system, but a system in evolution. Finally, from a sociolinguistic perspective, this study partially supports the theory of a universal view of politeness postulated by Brown and Levinson (1987), because some of polite linguistic devices put forth in their theory (e.g. honorifics, impersonal structures, hedges, etc.) are found in older languages. Yet, this dissertation emphasizes that strategies used to express politeness changed over time, indicating that politeness is culturally defined.



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