Politeness in the history of English

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Politeness in English has often been seen as a development from a positive politeness culture to a negative politeness culture. Several case studies provide evidence for such a development. A first case study offers an analysis of the use of pronominal terms of address in Chaucer’s <i>Canterbury Tales </i>and in Shakespeare’s plays. By Shakespeare’s time the pronoun <i>you </i>had increasingly become a marker of deference associated with negative politeness, while <i>thou </i>had become a marker of positive (im)politeness and strong emotions. The development of speech acts such as apologies and directives provide further evidence for an emergent negative politeness culture. However, evidence from Early English correspondence and from the current blurring of the line between private and public life indicates that there are also tendencies towards increased positive politeness, which strongly suggests that these developments are domain and genre specific.


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