A politeness-theoretic approach to pragmatico-semantic change
This paper posits that certain “qualificatory” semantic primes are recruited to serve face-management needs in a metonymic Meaning1>Meaning2 relationship at what Traugott and Dasher (2002) have called the intersubjective, non-truth-conditional, procedural, scope-over-discourse end of the trajectory of pragmatico-semantic change. Terms expressing smallness, approximativeness, demurral/correction, adversativeness/concession and interrogation are applied in an attenuating manner in a number of languages. The paper draws on Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory, Sweetser’s (1990), Geeraerts’ (1997) and Kövecses and Radden’s (1998) cognitive and metaphorical/metonymic approaches to etymology, Traugott and Dasher’s (2002) Invited Inferencing Theory of Semantic Change, Haspelmath’s (1999) notions of irreversibility and Kerswill and Williams’ (2002) sociolinguistic concept of “salience”. It is suggested that politeness theory, with its dual conceptualisation to do with conflict-avoidance and social indexing, has strong explanatory power in the two phases of semantic change: innovation and propagation. A new form–function configuration emerges in interaction to manage rapport and is diffused, provided it is given positive social evaluation.
Keywords: politeness, semantic change, pragmatic particles, metonymy
Published online: 06 February 2007
Cited by 9 other publications
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