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Late Egyptian, Old English and the re-evaluation of Discernment politeness in remote cultures

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Abstract

The term “Discernment” was originally coined back in the 1980s, where it was first used as an approximate translation of the Japanese term wakimae but later used independently in other contexts and cultures. In this paper, we re-assess its value as an analytical tool for two remote cultures and languages with a severely fragmented and limited textual heritage; Late Egyptian and Old English. In spite of their obvious differences, they have in common that their societies were strictly hierarchically ordered. Power was a fixed factor and not negotiable, and thus social movement was generally not possible. Our argumentation is based on a careful study of the Late Ramesside Letters, a corpus of personal communication written in Late Egyptian (c. 1099‒1069BCE), and on a range of different constructions (directives, terms of address) in Old English. In these contexts, the concept of Discernment turns out to be a very useful analytical tool to describe the relationship dynamics in strictly hierarchical societies. It describes (linguistic) behaviour which is socially and situationally adequate and quasi mandatory, and which closely indexes the social relationship between speaker and addressee, as well as the social and linguistic context within which the exchange takes place.

Keywords: Politeness, Discernment, Late Egyptian, Old English, Late Ramesside Letters

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-66
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Volume144
Early online date5 Apr 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019
Peer-reviewedYes

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ID: 151546405

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