V. 53 N. 2 (2015)

Plural pronouns and social deixis in Latin: a pragmatic development

Parole chiave

  • address system,
  • identity,
  • inclusive plural,
  • reverential plural,
  • honorific titles


Address systems are central to communication and typically comprise nominal and pronominal forms (and related verbal agreement) that distinguish between familiar / affective and reverential/courtesy values. Forms of address are pragmatic in nature and constitute a linguistic domain that is located at the periphery of grammar, and whose forms and functions are subjected to rapid and dramatic developments since they are deeply rooted in the socio-cultural situation and can change considerably according to political, social and cultural transformations. This study investigates the socio-pragmatic development of the system of address from Early Latin, when the system was unmarked as to the reverential dimension, to Late Latin, when such functions emerged and were clearly expressed, by unravelling the main diachronic steps and the factors at play. In a corpus language like Latin, sociolinguistic groups and variables are not straightforwardly identifiable. It is registers and styles that allow us to analyse patterns of variation in interactional contexts and in social deixis. Accordingly, this paper offers a case study on Cicero’s Verrine that allows us to make both qualitative and quantitative observations.