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A stylistic analysis of the pragmatics of thou in early modern English dialogues

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posted on 2023-06-08, 17:34 authored by Maggie Kerridge
This study investigates the changing pragmatics of thou in Early Modern English dialogues. It considers the contexts in which thou and you are used with singular reference, analyses in detail the motivation for shifts from one form to the other within an exchange and how the use of the forms thou and you collocates with address terms and epithets in a broad range of constructed and authentic texts. The study is data-driven. Texts in the Corpus of English Dialogues featuring inflected forms of thou are identified and the unmarked usage of the speaker to the addressee is established by a close reading of these texts. Motivation for switches to marked usage of thou and singular you is assessed from the context. Address terms and affective epithets collocating with thou and singular you are noted to trace diachronic usage. A comparison is made between usage in drama and non-drama texts. The findings show that thou-usage connotes affect not only in Shakespearean drama, as has previously been proposed, but also in a wide range of texts throughout the period studied. The study presents a new pragmaphilological model with a finding that the process of pronoun switching frequently acts as a pragmatic marker. The study establishes that features influencing change of use are speaker’s change of topic, speaker’s change of stance on the topic and speaker’s change of perception of the persona of the addressee. In comparison with you, thou is used as an address term with diminishing frequency throughout the whole period. It is used more frequently in collocation with affective epithets than with address terms. It continues in use with an affective function in drama texts until the end of the period. The switching of address pronouns is motivated. The pragmatics of thou is understood through its switching behaviour with you.


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  • English Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • mphil


  • eng


University of Sussex

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