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This paper delivers an interdisciplinary approach to historical Chinese epistolary data, by examining the language and style of historical Chinese letters from the perspective of linguistic pragmatics, historical politeness research and relational ritual theory. It argues that various discursive characteristics of Chinese epistles, which previous Sinological research has identified, may be systematically modelled if one approaches historical Chinese letter writing as a ritual practice. Language use in historical Chinese letters tends to have a strongly ritual character, due to two reasons. First, Chinese epistles represent interpersonal interaction in a sociocultural context that triggered intensive ritual politeness. Second, many literati regarded letter writing as an activity of fine art by means of which one could ritually display one’s epistolary skill. Owing to this, the language of historical Chinese epistles features a duality of (1) other-oriented ritual politeness and (2) self-oriented ritual display. The present paper examines this duality by setting up an analytic model, and by investigating a renowned corpus of Qing Dynasty letters, Xuehongxuan chidu 雪鴻軒尺牘 (Letters from Snow Swan Retreat).

Open access

Abstract

The present introduction provides an overview of the field of linguistic politeness research. Since Acta Linguistica Academica has diverse scope of inquiries, and linguistic pragmatics has been only one (and perhaps not the most central) of the various areas featured in the journal, it is relevant to provide such an up-to-date overview. My goal is not only to point out how the contributions advance politeness theory, but also to make the research featured in the special issue relevant to academics working in other areas of linguistics.

Open access

(Im)politeness and alignment

A case study of public political monologues

Acta Linguistica Academica
Authors:
Dániel Z. Kádár
and
Sen Zhang

Abstract

This paper aims to examine the role of (im)politeness and alignment in public monologues. Linguistic politeness theory has predominantly focused on the interpersonal aspect of (im)politeness, and we know relatively little about forms of (im)politeness that do not serve a direct interpersonal function but rather aim to form a sense of alignment with an indefinite group of recipients. We define such form of pragmatic behaviour as ‘alignment’, to distinguish it from politeness as an interpersonal form of interaction. Forms of alignment may operate in a duality with interpersonal (im)politeness, and they represent the default mode of relational involvement in public discourses – in particular, in public monologues. We argue that forms of alignment cannot be ignored in politeness research due to their prevalence in certain genres/modes of communication, and also because their operation can be intriguingly complex from a politeness theoretical point of view, considering their dual relationship with (im)politeness. We use data drawn from Chinese political discourse as a case study to illustrate this dual relationship.

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Ritual public humiliation

Using pragmatics to model language aggression

Acta Linguistica Academica
Authors:
Dániel Z. Kádár
and
Puyu Ning

Abstract

This paper investigates cases in which people who are perceived to have violated a major communal and/or social norm are humiliated in public in a ritual way. As a case study we examine online videos drawn from the Chinese videosharing site Youku. Humiliation as a form of punishment has been thoroughly studied in sociology (see e.g., the seminal work of Foucault 1977). This interest is not coincidental, considering that studying humiliation may provide insight into the operation of shame as a punitive phenomenon, as well as the role of publicity and complex participation structures when shame is inflicted on others. Yet, punitive humiliation has been understudied in pragmatics; in particular, little research has been done on cases in which it is not an institutionally/socially ratified person (e.g., a judge) but the members of the public who inflict humilation. The study of this phenomenon contributes to the present Special Issue as it demonstrates that pragmatics provides a powerful tool to model the dynamics of (language) behaviour such as humiliation that might be difficult to capture by using more conventional linguistic approaches. We demonstrate that while ritual public communal humiliation tends to be highly aggressive, it also shows noteworthy recurrent (meta)pragmatic similarities with institutionalised forms of punishment.

Open access