The standard explanation of the semantics of power and solidarity for second person Middle English pronoun choice, advanced by Roger Brown and Albert Gilman and accepted by many Middle English scholars since, has proven insufficient to explain many choices between thou and ye that fictional characters make. This paper applies the discourse theories of pragmatics and politeness, developed by Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson, to the relatively untouched data set of non-Chaucerian romances in order to account for some of those anomalies. By examining the pronouns of address in Floris and Blancheflour, Havelok the Dane, Ywain and Gawain, Sir Launfal, and Sir Degrevant, this paper finds that the realm of politeness, specifically the desire to soften face-threatening acts and occasionally the desire to insult by ignoring politeness, often explains pronoun choice in many of those previously anomalous instances. The broader lens of pragmatics also lends itself to other insights into Middle English second person pronoun usage; the pronouns in these romances show that social deixis does occur within the Middle English address system and that at least a functional understanding of the power and solidarity semantics must have existed on a conscious level because speakers use these semantics for their own rhetorical purposes.
Scholar Commons Citation
Meyer, Aislinn, "The Pragmatic Influences on Thou and Ye in Some Middle English Romances" (2010). Outstanding Honors Theses. 3.