The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Upcoming article in NLLT - Ruoan Wang

A paper, Honorifics without [HON], by 4th year student Ruoan Wang, has been accepted for publication in Natural Language & Linguistic Theory! Huge congratulations to Ruoan!
Manuscript here: https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/006802
Honorifics are grammaticalized reflexes of politeness, often recruiting existing featural values (e.g. French recruits plural ‘vous’ for polite address, and German third person plural ‘Sie’). This paper aims to derive their cross-linguistic distribution and interpretation without [HON], an analytical feature present since Corbett (2000). The striking generalization that emerges from a cross-linguistic survey of 120 languages is that only certain featural values are ever recruited for honorification: plural, third person, and indefinite. I show that these values are precisely those which are semantically unmarked, or presuppositionless, allowing the speaker to consider an interlocutor’s negative face (Brown & Levinson 1987). I propose an alternative analysis based on the interaction between semantic markedness, an avoidance-based pragmatic maxim called the Taboo of Directness, and Maximize Presupposition! (Heim 1991) to derive honorific meaning.