3.4. Social deixis
Social deixis marks “social relationships in linguistic expressions […] with reference to the social status or role of participants in the speech event” (Levinson 2005, 119). Some linguistics therefore see social deixis as a part of person deixis.
The way we organize our utterances is influenced by our and our addressee´s social rank and our relationship to the other participants of the speech event. In many languages this fact is reflected in the pronominal system which distinguishes between a formal and an informal address in the second personal pronoun. Such a differentiation is called T/V distinction inspired by the French forms tu et vous (Grundy 2000, 26; Mey 2001, 274; Yule 1996, 10). As is generally known the contemporary English does not follow such a distinction though the Early Modern English did.
Look at the following examples. Can you infer a rule on how the pronominal system was used in Early Modern English? You can learn more about the speaker´s social status and his relationship to the addressee by clicking on the particular person.
You have certainly noticed that thou was an informal while you was a formal and a more neutral address. Powerful characters such as “monarchs, the rich, men, parents, masters and mistresses [could] be expected to give thou and receive you when interacting with […] subjects, the poor, women, children, servants. […] Characters of equal power, or social class, […] exchange[d] reciprocal you if they [were] upper class, and thou if they [were] lower.” (Fries 1994, 142).
However, this system could be manipulated. For instance one could address somebody with thou to insult him by degrading him socially and morally. Therewith social deixis is as an important aspect of linguistic politeness (Fitzmaurice 2002, 45; Fries 1994, 144).
Not only the use of the formal address you but also other forms of address were usual to underline a person´s higher social status. It was quite common to address authorities with attributes they were said to possess: Your Grace for dukes, Your Eminence for cardinals and Your Holiness for the pope, just to cite some examples (Mey 2001, 275). Such “expression[s] which mark[…] that the addressee is of higher status” are called honorifics (Yule 1996, 130).