Rites of rivalry
Ritual interaction and the emergence of indirect language use
The indirect conveyance of functional meaning is a conspicuous and thoroughly studied characteristic of contemporary linguistic practice. Even so, in addition to seeming “something natural” indirect language use appears to be a universally spread phenomenon, and both factors may have caused students in the fields of pragmatics and discourse analysis to generally overlook the significant issue of whether or not indirectness was a characteristic feature of earlier forms of linguistic communication as well and, if such is the case, how in bygone eras non-literal meanings were imparted. The overall lack of historical and diachronic perspectives on indirect language use implies that there are to date no theories explaining its origin and development over time. In this article, I shall argue that currently prevailing modes such as conventional and inferential indirectness are historically speaking rather recent innovations, and that in pre-modern times indirect pragmatic meaning was established in a markedly different fashion. Taking the mediaeval pre-combat dialogue and some of its earlier manifestations as my focal material, I will try to establish that ritual interaction, more particularly the time-honoured altercation rite, marks a primary stage in the development of indirect communication. Considering the conceptual links between ritual behaviour and indirect language use, I will contend that oral ritual is a precursor of the now prevailing linguistic strategies for being indirect.
Published online: 25 January 2002
Cited by 7 other publications
Collins, Daniel E.
Kádár, Dániel Z. & Melvin de la Cruz
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