Historical Courtroom Discourse
  • ISSN 1566-5852
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9854
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The paper investigates whether the notion of impoliteness worked out for synchronic pragmatics is also applicable in diachronic pragmatics. An analysis of two Early Modern English court trial records demonstrates that the answer is positive provided some new dimensions are added. My model of impoliteness cuts across the following axes: structural, semantic, and pragmatic. Structural impoliteness ranges from words and phrases to portions of texts, thus the syntactic dimension cuts across the complexity dimension. The semantic/pragmatic dimension includes numerous non-literal meanings of impoliteness. An utterance can be judged as impolite on the basis of its surface representations (“overt impoliteness”), or the impoliteness of an expression has to be inferred and takes the form of an implicature (“covert impoliteness”). Thus, the final interpretation would depend both on the speaker’s intention when producing an utterance, its (perlocutionary) effect(s) on the addressee, and the overall context. Finally, all these variables cut across the socio-historical dimension.


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