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'Respect', or 'address', is one of the overt linguistic expressions of politeness. It indicates the speaker's social relation (including familiarity with) and attitude to the addressee and sometimes also to third persons.
The most widely accepted explanation of the reasons for the occurrence of linguistic politeness, including 'respect' or 'address', is Brown & Levinson's (1987) theory based on the social-psychological notion of face. In Brown & Levinson's account, face is a 'public self-image', a part of the personality of each individual which corresponds to the way the individual wants to be seen and treated by others in the society. According to Brown & Levinson, linguistic expressions of politeness arise because there are numerous types of speech acts and utterances that may threaten the face desires of the addressee. For example, the main functional motivation for developing polite referential expressions which use plural or third person forms with reference to a single addressee is the avoidance of the most direct linguistic reference to the addressee: a second person singular form, which is the most face-threatening.
It is reasonable to assume that every language has ways of expressing politeness, but only some languages have special linguistic forms to express different degrees of respect towards the addressee or third persons. Like the category of 'person' for example, 'respect' is fundamentally a relational concept, therefore, based on Shibatani's (1994) description of honorific systems, we can identify three loci of special linguistic forms of respect:
Regardless of whether honorifics are expressed morphologically as affixes, suppletively, or as special words, it is interesting to note that "to a considerable extent honorific expressions are iconic to the relevant social and psychological distances: the longer the form, the politer the expression. In the case of avoidance languages and some honorifics languages, physical distance accompanies honorific speech" (Shibatani 1994:1605).
A widely adopted linguistic politeness strategy is blurring or defocusing the actor (particularly if the actor is the addressee), and this seems to be achieved most commonly through what Shibatani calls 'oblique referencing' (1994:1604-1605), i.e. avoiding direct reference. Among the methods of oblique referencing are: the use of locational nouns and deictic expressions; shifting person (e.g. from second to third); shifting number from the singular to the plural (including the use of plural agreement on the verb); shifting case marking from the ordinary forms to special oblique markers (e.g. Shibatani notes that Korean particles k'e and k'eso are special honorific dative and ablative (archaic) particles; and in Japanese epistolary style, the normal nominative case particle ga for the subject nominal is replaced by the dative particle ni as a way of showing respect to the referent of the noun); the passive construction; circumlocution-type honorifics (as in Japanese nominalisations used with honorific and humbling forms); and shifting tense (e.g. from the present to the past, as in English Could you...?, Would you...?).
We first distinguish respect as a condition on other features from respect as a feature in its own right. As was mentioned in §2 above, in many languages respect is expressed through the conventional use of certain other features, usually number, sometimes person, or even tense. In Russian, for example, respect is shown by the speaker through the use of the plural form of the second person (vy 'you (PL)') even when addressing a single interlocutor. In Polish, to show respect, the speaker addresses the interlocutor in the third person (singular or plural), using the common nouns/nominal phrases such as 'lady/madam' (pani), 'gentleman/sir' (pan), 'ladies' (panie), 'gentlemen' (panowie), or 'lady/ies and gentleman/men' (państwo) to refer to the addressee/s. The agreements with the polite pronouns or nouns are then syntactic or semantic, depending on the target (Corbett 1983:51-56; Corbett 2006:230-233).
Such manifestations of respect are not regarded a morphosyntactic feature. Not only is there no unique exponent of it, but more importantly there is no independent reason (such as for example the outcome of resolution rules) for needing a respect feature in Russian or Polish. Furthermore, the variability of the agreement according to target suggests that respect in these languages is rather a condition on agreement, but not a morphosyntactic feature.
Another expression of respect is through words or expressions that convey esteem or respect and are used in addressing or referring to a person. In languages with multiple honorifics, these have been sometimes analysed in terms of agreement, thus suggesting that respect is a morphosyntactic feature. However, this is not justified in the languages where each honorific can be determined on pragmatic grounds and they agree only in the sense that they tend to be used in the same pragmatic circumstances (Corbett 2006:137) (see §6 below).
Positing a respect feature is justified when the grammar needs to refer to it directly, for the purposes of agreement or government. As argued by Corbett (2006:138), a clear example of respect as a feature of agreement is found in Muna, an Austronesian language spoken on Muna Island (off the southeast coast of Sulawesi). Here we need to specify respect independently of other features (notably number); furthermore, marking on the verb co-varies with the pronoun. The following example (from van den Berg 1989:51, 82) shows the number and politeness markers found on the verb kala 'go' referring to the second person singular and plural (ihintu is a free pronoun which is used for emphasis and distinguishes neutral and polite forms):
Other examples of languages in which respect is a morphosyntactic feature, found by Corbett (2006:138) are: Bavarian German, where the agreement forms for polite agreement have become differentiated from the original 3rd person forms (Simon 2003, 2004); and Tamil, where there is a distinct form for agreement with honorifics (Schiffman 1999:115-116; for the development of polite forms in Tamil see Rangan & Suseela 2003).
An example of a minimal respect system is the two-value system in Muna (described above), with the values 'neutral' and 'polite' (van den Berg 1989).
A larger system of respect as a morphosyntactic feature is found in Maithili, an Indo-Iranian language spoken in India and Nepal. In the second person, the following distinctions of respect are made: 'non-honorific', 'mid-honorific', and 'honorific'; and in the third person we find: 'non-honorific', 'honorific' and 'high-honorific'. The realisation of the respect feature is fully embedded in a complex verbal paradigm and the details of this system can be found in Bickel, Bisang & Yādava (1999). The following is an illustration of the use of the honorific agreement markers in Maithili (from Stump & Yadav 1988; cited in Corbett 2006:138):
For a cross-linguistic survey of politeness distinctions in pronouns, including a classification of languages according to the number of politeness distinctions encoded through pronouns, see Helmbrecht (2005). He confirms that multiple politeness distinctions occur predominantly in the languages of South Asia and neighbouring areas. Generally speaking, the best known languages with the most highly developed honorifics systems are Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, Javanese and Thai.
According to Shibatani (1994:1604), Japanese has extended its nominal honorific prefixes o-/go- to other uses where no respect for the referent (the addressee, or the possessor of the designated object) is intended. Thus, the prefixes may be attached to nouns designating what belongs to the speaker or to no particular person, e.g. watakusi no o-heya (I GEN HON-room) 'my room', o-biiru (HON-beer) 'beer', o-nabe (HON-cooking_pot) 'cooking pot'. This particular use of honorific prefixes is particularly common among women, and is referred to as bika-go 'beautification language' in Japanese. Shibatani explains it by reference to the notion of 'demeanour': appropriate honorific usage in Japan is regarded as a mark of good breeding, and this idea appears to be taken to an extreme level with regard to women. Hence, in order to present themselves as cultivated persons of good demeanour, women use (or are encouraged to use) honorifics with a wide range of nouns (though, most commonly, nouns designating domestic matters such as household goods and foods), except only the nouns designating highly personal objects belonging to the speakers themselves, such as body parts.
Is respect a morphosyntactic feature in Korean? Respect in Korean, which is dependent on social distinction, is expressed through a system of honorifics and verbal endings belonging to one of the several 'speech levels' (paradigms indicating the level of formality). Pollard & Sag (1994:96-101) treat it in terms of agreement, but others have given alternative analyses. For instance, Choi (2003) considers data from conjoining and argues for a pragmatic acccount.
Is respect a morphosyntactic feature in Japanese? The extensive system of Japanese honorifics has also prompted conflicting analyses. Boeckx & Niinuma (2004) treat Japanese honorification as agreement, while Bobaljik & Yatsushiro (2006) argue against this.
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