Article published in:Historical (socio)pragmatics at present
Edited by Matylda Włodarczyk and Irma Taavitsainen
[Journal of Historical Pragmatics 18:2] 2017
► pp. 295–314
“Now to my distress”
Shame discourse in eighteenth-century English letters
It is argued that shame has become increasingly important as a mechanism of social control in Western societies while our awareness of shame has simultaneously decreased. This paper explores the functions of the lexemes shame, disgrace and ignominy in the eighteenth-century section of the Corpus of Early English Correspondence and investigates how shame-inducing situations were discussed in letter-writing. Direct expressions of shame emerge particularly as formulaic apologies and reflect breached social conventions, honour, inadequacy and immorality. Shame discourse in the two case studies, however, proved to be context-dependent, evasive and euphemistic, and shame was expressed through a range of negative emotions. An element of discomfort in eighteenth-century shame discourse indicates that shame had taboo connotations, but the formulaic presence of shame and its connection to the cultural keyword of honour underlines its role as a mechanism of social control.
Keywords: corpus linguistics, emotion discourse, face, historical semantics, historical sociopragmatics, Late Modern English, politeness, shame, taboo
Published online: 09 February 2018
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