Potestas and the language of power: Conceptualising an approach to Power and Discernment politeness in ancient languages

Kim Ridealgh, Luis Unceta Gómez

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4 Citations (Scopus)
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The concept of “Discernment politeness” stems from research undertaken in the 1980s on the Japanese phenomenon of wakimae. Since the earliest work on the phenomenon by Hill et al. (1986) and Ide (1989, 1992), many scholars have looked to further explore Discernment across cultures (i.e. Kádár and Mills, 2013; Kádár and Paternoster, 2015; Ridealgh and Jucker, 2019). Fundamentally, Discernment has been approached as expected (and quasi-mandatory) behavioural norms used by subordinates towards their superiors within a communicative act, dictated by the socio-cultural context of the interaction (Ridealgh and Jucker, 2019). What becomes apparent, when studying ancient languages, is that due to the hierarchical nature of remote societies, Discernment includes a complementary dimension, an opposing phenomenon to deference, equally visible in interpersonal interactions, which has its foundation within the Power variable. This paper explores this opposing phenomenon (i.e. expected or permitted language used by superiors to their subordinates as a manifestation of their Power), which we call “Potestas”, within the context of Late Egyptian and Old Latin, in order to highlight the phenomenon, its forms of expression in these two languages, the gaps in regards to the Power variable within traditional politeness approaches, and its relationship with (Im)politeness Research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-244
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date25 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

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