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HELP: power and pronouns

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HELP: power and pronouns

Postby Lupa » Sun Feb 29, 2004 11:00 pm

HELP! PLEASE!

I'm writing a paper on how power is displayed in relationships by the use of a plural form of the pronoun "you" in a number of european languages. i know that these languages get their "voi/Lei" or "vous" or "vos/usted" from the "vos" in latin that showed up during the 4th century. However, i need to know how the Romans demonstrated power relations when they spoke to each other before that. Did they do as we do in modern English today, just using terms of reference and address to convey the power in relationships or did they do something else? Was the "te" which is added to imperitive verb forms ever used to a single person to demonstrate submission? What sort of titles were given to those in power, whether sincere or sarcastic? What is the difference between the way a senator would speak to a slave or a freedman or another senator or woman?

Many, many THANKS!

LUPA
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Postby mrcolj » Mon Mar 01, 2004 5:12 pm

What level is this paper? And for what kind of class? Are we looking to read something feminist into this, or what?

Rome didn't have a high-maintenance culture. Most people referred to each other by pretty casual names, and without titles, as far as I'd guess. Of course, our only examples come from literature, where powerful people would be emphasized, so a casual reading might imply the opposite. They did use titles to show respect, but that was only in higher and extremely formal positions (the same Modern English does it--if you met George Bush, you would call him Mr. President at the very beginning of your relationship, and even then maybe only when the camera was on.)

Was the "te" which is added to imperitive verb forms ever used to a single person to demonstrate submission?

Do you mean as in the te being redundant in the Spanish "callate"?
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Postby Ulpianus » Mon Mar 01, 2004 5:59 pm

I don't know, I'm afraid, whether pronouns were used to express status relationships. I have never understood that they were, in Classical Rome. There was not, so far as I know, any equivalent of the French practice of using the second person plural for "superiors", or the Italian practice of using the third person, or for that matter the English practice of the "Royal we".

I would guess -- but I stress it is only guesswork -- that such practices are very likely a post-classical development. For example, I had always understood that gladiators would greet the giver of the games with the tag "nos morituri te salutamus" ("we who are about to die salute you") where "te" is the second person singular. This must be about as extreme a power imbalance as one can find: a bunch of slaves who are about to die for the pleasurable advantage of a grandee. Yet, if my recollection is right, the pronoun is commonplace. But I am not sure how we know, and I could easily be wrong.

Names certainly did express status -- for instance, through adoption or the relationship between the former master and his ex-slaves, whose names would often reflect their patronal relationship. Changes or adoptions of name ("Pompeius Magnus", "Augustus") strongly expressed status. But how far this was reflected in ordinary colloquial discussion, I do not know. The best place to look might be in drama or in letter-writing.

So far as the infinitive is concerned, there were formal and poetic infinitives (for instance the infinitive in -to). But so far as I know their use was determined by the formality of the context (e.g. legal or religious) rather than the relative status of the orderer and the ordered.

I'm not sure I agree with mrcolj that "Rome did not have a high maintenance culture", nor that people were "casual". I suspect they were the very opposite of casual: there was a high degree of formality reflecting power relationships, both legally (e.g. the institution of slavery, and of "potestas" within a family) and factually, e.g. through the relationship of "patron and client". There are plenty of pictures of this sort of relationship in "low" literature (e.g., Juvenal Satire I has a nice, though presumably over-stated, picture, and there is much more in the Satyricon), and considerable evidence that it had distinctly "formal" features, in terms of a complex set of mutual expectations about how each side would behave. Roman culture simply oozes with devices to mark out legal and political status: in terms of retinue (e.g. lictors accompanying magistrates), name, dress (the toga praetexta etc), appearance (wreaths of different materials depending on whether it was a triumph or an ovation being celebrated) furniture (particular chairs and so forth), and a whole parallel set of expecatations and devices to mark out wealth, which is a slightly different matter. It would not be at all surprising to find this marked by grammatical difference too, but so far as I know it was not. Yet one must be careful to note how slight and skewed is the evidence available to us.
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Postby Episcopus » Mon Mar 01, 2004 6:05 pm

Well...to a slave one might have said "Aedifica vallum!" (build the rampart!") or to a person of similar authority "Ut illi vallum aedificent velim" (I should wish that those [slaves] might build the rampart).

I'm not sure that was entirely relevant but it was fun. And the "te" is reflexive if you are telling some one to do something in latin "mulce te" probably to a woman, "stroke yourself".
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thanks and -te

Postby Lupa » Mon Mar 01, 2004 6:39 pm

Thank you for the wonderful in depth responces. The class is a "Language and Culture class," (intermediate to advanced level class) the assignment is to prove that you understand power relationships in the pronouns of European languages and then explain how power relationships work in English and in the language of your on study. (which in my case is obviously Latin) But Latin didn't develop a formal sing. 2nd person until the reign of Diocletian. (see R. Brown and A. Gilman, 'Pronouns of Power and Solidarity' in T.A. Sebeok, Style in Language, MIT Press, 1960, pgs. 252-76 if you are interested) And since i study older Latin, I need to find the marks of power in that. It's a good idea to look at The Satires, I'll do that. I'll also mention the dress and such. The toga is WAY to important to leave out.

Also, I know "te", as in "mulce te" is reflexive. I meant "te" as in "tacete" y'll shut up.

Again, many, many thanks.
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Postby mrcolj » Mon Mar 01, 2004 7:09 pm

I had a Spanish professor a decade ago who said that he disagreed with the general belief that it is better to use your "thees and thous" in prayers, because in Spanish they use "tu," which is "inherently" the informal form. Later, having studied Spanish and Latin, I believe that point is moot and undebatable. Not only has "tu" historically been more formal, but "thee" has historically been informal. I use this as an example that your debate may be impossible--pronouns, and any really common words, evolve more quickly than any other words, and the evolution of such is largely untraceable.

So in a scriptural context, even staring at the OED there is probably no way to know whether "choose you this day whom ye will serve" is referring to a collective decision for an individual server, or an individual decision for a collective server.
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Postby Lupa » Mon Mar 01, 2004 8:07 pm

Yep, words do evolve pretty fast. I'm pretty glad people don't thee and thou anymore, based on my finding for my paper there are enough power trips in language already with out the thou. And Latin has enough short little words with out added a royal we and a formal singular. Adding more vocab just to imply status more then the Romans already did by just being Roman...ick. what a mess. i can just imagine it " the toga imperitive" and the "slave's-loin-cloth request verb form."

What about body language? is there any mention in literature about a consul calling on senators that raised their hands, or a slave not being permitted to look their master in the eyes? I know noble women weren't supposed to be seen in the streets at all, though most were, but who has the power in that case?


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Postby bingley » Tue Mar 02, 2004 7:20 am

While we're on the subject, would anyone like to comment on the shift from singular to plural in this passage from the preface to Cornelius Nepos's biographies of foreign leaders:

sed hic plura persequi cum magnitudo voluminis prohibet, tum festinatio ut ea explicem quae exorsus sum. qua re ad propositum veniemus, et in hoc exponemus libro de vita excellentium imperatorum.

Cicero seems to be doing the same thing in this passage from De Divatione

Quaerenti mihi multumque et diu cogitanti quanam re possem prodesse quam plurimis, ne quando intermitterem consulere rei publicae, nulla maior occurrebat, quam si optimarum artium vias traderem meis civibus; quod compluribus iam libris me arbitror consecutum. Nam et cohortati sumus ut maxime potuimus ad philosophiae studium eo libro qui est inscriptus Hortensius, et, quod genus philosophandi minime adrogans maximeque et constans et elegans arbitraremur, quattuor Academicis libris ostendimus.
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Postby ingrid70 » Tue Mar 02, 2004 7:40 am

bingley wrote:While we're on the subject, would anyone like to comment on the shift from singular to plural in this passage from the preface to Cornelius Nepos's biographies of foreign leaders:


maybe they had just done a course on nonviolent communication, but forgot the rules when writing? Or am I thinking too modern here :)?

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Postby benissimus » Tue Mar 02, 2004 10:37 pm

I think they are switching from author's perspective to author and reader's perspective?
flebile nescio quid queritur lyra, flebile lingua murmurat exanimis, respondent flebile ripae
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Postby bingley » Wed Mar 03, 2004 4:36 am

That might work for the Nepos, but I can't really see it for the Cicero.
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