The Reasons for Politeness. The Birth of Contemporary Politeness in the Behavioural Treatises of 19th Century Italy.

Project Swiss National Science Foundation - 100012_153031 (a three year project with a starting date 1st of September 2014)

Project leaders
Prof. Carlo Ossola, Istituto di studi italiani, Facoltà di Scienze della comunicazione, Università della Svizzera italiana;
Prof. Andrea Rocci, Istituto di argomentazione, linguistica e semiotica, Facoltà di Scienze della comunicazione Università della Svizzera italiana.

In collaboration with:
Dr. Annick Paternoster, Senior Researcher, Istituto di studi italiani, Facoltà di Scienze della comunicazione, Università della Svizzera italiana;
Francesca Staltamacchia, Phd student, Istituto di studi italiani, Facoltà di Scienze della comunicazione, Università della Svizzera italiana.

This project is setting out to research the key transformation within the history of politeness that takes place in the 19th century in Italy, when the region is literally inundated by conduct manuals, the so-called galatei. There are at least 186 original titles, which total 450 different editions. Our purpose is to explain this boom in publications as indicative of the birth of a new concept of politeness, which is emerging when the political turmoil of the previous century has undermined the appeal of the aristocratic conduct code.

The good manners of the Ancien Regime are based upon highly conventional linguistic formulae: these are determined by the rank of the participants and by the ceremonial required by the context: politeness is a matter of following a set protocol and, above all, showing the correct amount of deference. We anticipate that, during the 19th Century, social conventions lose their imperative character. Whereas the context of use for protocol is gradually shrinking, within the private life of family and friend, a new social order emerges, in which the individual determines a polite way of behaving, by negotiating contextual expectations, social and more local norms, alongside his personal goals.

We will study the birth of contemporary politeness through three interdisciplinary research questions: 1) What is the meaning of politeness/impoliteness in these prescriptive texts and with what type of argumentation are they justified ? 2) Do the dialogues in these treatises contain language forms that are being positively or negatively evaluated as ‘polite’ or ‘impolite’? 3) What terms are used to positively or negatively comment upon language forms ('affettuoso', 'gentile', 'freddo'...) and what arguments are used to justify these comments? We intend to examine, within the context of 19th century Italian conduct manuals, the intimate connections between the concepts of (im)politeness, linguistic forms of (im)politneness and evaluative comments of (im)politeness.

After gathering the corpus from libraries in Tessin and in the North of Italy, the texts will be scanned and digitalised into searchable texts. The identification of (im)polite concepts, forms and terms will be executed partially through a manual annotation, in a multi-method approach. Importantly, we will only define a language form as polite or impolite as and when the text itself tells us this is the case: since we are working with historical materials, the 21st century researcher cannot anticipate what is polite or impolite unless he knows how politeness or impoliteness is defined and evaluated by the text itself. In the pragmatics of politeness, this is called a discursive approach, a theoretical model that emerges after 2000 and which we want to integrate with the dialectical and rhetorical dimensions of argumentation, in order to reconstruct, punctually, the historical 'reasons for politeness'.

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