13. Dezember 2022
Chiara Fedriani (Università di Genova, Dipartimento di lingue e culture moderne)
Pragmatic borrowing in antiquity? On the origin and pragmaticalization of the Latin politeness formula si placet
Gemeinsame Veranstaltung mit dem Institut für Romanistik der Universität Wien
Abstract: This talk focuses on the origin and pragmatic development of the Latin conditional clause si placet ‘if (it) pleases (you)’, which functions as a polite modifier of requests and proposals. The functional description and diachronic analysis of this form substantially benefits from theoretical and methodological underpinnings of contemporary socio-pragmatic research, especially of politeness theory and the construct of discourse traditions. Si placet has not received scholarly attention in clearly pragmatic terms. We will first critically review the ‘classical’ hypothesis according to which it constitutes a shortened formula of the originally sacral expression si dis placet ‘gods willing!’. A corpus-based account of its distribution across literary genres and individual authors spells out a different idea, namely that the use of si placet could be better understood as a case of contact-induced pragmaticalization. It is shown that si placet as a politeness formula is mostly attested in Cicero’s dialogues, which are largely inspired by Plato’s model, where similar forms such as ei boúlei, eàn boúlēi ‘if you please, if you like’ are often found in the very same contexts where si placet occurs in Cicero. It is therefore suggested that this correspondence may be interpreted as the outcome of a pragmatic calque within the relevant discourse tradition of philosophical dialogues, where genre-based conventions were probably replicated through literary imitation. Further evidence comes from the analysis of si placet in Late Latin, where it is found with significative frequency only in Augustine, in many ways the greatest imitator of Cicero in his stylistic mode of writing. This distribution can hardly be taken as a mere coincidence, considering the predominant influence of Cicero’s philosophical works on Augustine, and corroborates the role of the discourse tradition of the symposial philosophical dialogue in the conventionalization of this politeness formula. Si placet can ultimately be interpreted as a genre-specific stylistic feature, which was replicated over centuries through the circulation of textual models as a valuable linguistic device to render the idea of an urbane conversation among educated peers – and, ultimately, as a marker of socio-cultural identity.