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Linguistic politeness in Anglo-Saxon England? A study of Old English address terms

Linguistic politeness in Anglo-Saxon England? A study of Old English address terms

By Thomas Kohnen

Journal of Historical Pragmatics, Vol. 9:1 (2008)

Abstract: This paper investigates Anglo-Saxon address terms against the background of politeness and face work. Using the Dictionary of Old English Corpus, it examines the most prominent Old English terms of nominal address associated with polite or courteous behaviour, their distribution, the typical communicative settings in which they are used and their basic pragmatic meaning. The results suggest that, at least in this field, politeness as face work may not have played a major role in Anglo-Saxon England. Rather, the use of the address terms may reflect accommodation to the overriding importance of mutual obligation and kin loyalty on the one hand, and obedience to the basic Christian ideals of humilitas and caritas on the other.

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