Opinion: Your Honour, I submit…


Printed: Up to date On – 10:39 PM, Fri – 2 September 22

Honorifics institutionalise energy and social relations, and stereotype them

By Pramod Okay Nayar

So we obtain directions, circulars, pointers and orders from the higher echelons of the administration that our request has been accepted by ‘the competent authority’. This throws up the query (to these with the ironic gaze turned on the paperwork): is the honorific ‘competent’ an index of the potential of the individual within the workplace?

It throws up much less nice questions as effectively: so there are, by implication, officers who’re not competent, are there?; is the honorific merely a title or may even a very incompetent particular person occupying that workplace be known as a ‘competent authority’? Is it merely an occasion of social engineering and hierarchisation or is it symbolic or indexical, as in any signal system?

Traditions of being Well mannered

English language officialese in India employs a number of honorifics in standard use: judges, Vice Chancellors, Chairpersons are addressed as ‘honourable’. Governors and Chancellors are ‘His/Her Excellency’ (there are additionally the cringe-worthy opening traces of official letters, ‘as desired’ by the Vice Chancellor, Chairman, Director…as if the round embodies the authority’s numerous wishes, now made public!).

Then there may be the ‘Reverend’ and the ‘Respectable’.  Such honorifics function an integral element of well mannered speech/writing as effectively. However, greater than the linguistic facets of honorifics —  the topic of any variety of research throughout numerous languages —  it’s the social system encoded into them that arrests consideration.

Honorifics are indices of politeness though students in language research similar to Judith Irvine argue that honorifics belong to linguistic varieties whereas politeness is ‘a communicative impact caused by an individual’s comportment in a specific social interplay’. Thus, whereas honorifics allow politeness, smoothening the dialog, letter-writing and handle, this politeness isn’t undertaken on a stage airplane. Politeness embodied in honorifics implies greater than civil speech: it implies order, routine and hierarchy.  Civility in speech might or might not demand honorifics, but when one seeks to be deferential reasonably than simply civil, then honorifics come into play.

This implies honorifics are as a lot in regards to the addressee or referent as they’re about the one that makes use of them. The one who employs the honorific is the giver of deference and the one to whom it’s addressed is the main focus of deference.

Building of Social Deference

Honorifics are peculiar linguistic and enunciative buildings. In the beginning, they’re clues to the social development of deference. Using ‘sir’, ‘your honour’, ‘his excellence’ and ‘competent authority’ is the enunciative organisation of social rank. The honorific spells out the supplicant and authority’s respective roles and identities. Naturally, the supplicant is pressured to supply the honorific in her/his handle, thus reinforcing the roles performed out. In establishing relations that demand a sure unidirectional circulate of deference, honorifics emphasise distinction too: these to whom honorifics are utilized are in increased standing/class/function.

Secondly, honorifics allow the strengthening of hierarchies. They be certain that we dissociate the honorific from any notion of intrinsic high quality: are all Vice Chancellors and Chairpersons ‘honourable’? are all officers ‘competent’? are all monks/god-men and ladies worthy of ‘reverence’? With such a dissociation, the honorifics are a greasing of social wheels that preserve the ability relations in place. Additional, since all of us have to agree on what honorifics to make use of, they play a task in community-building and shared meaning-making. The neighborhood concedes that Chairpersons, members of the judiciary, legislators are in increased status-roles and therefore demand honorifics.

Oftentimes, although, the honorific can be utilized satirically, as within the employment of ‘sir’ inside a very inflected sentence that alerts not respect and deference, however its actual reverse. Then there may be the ritual use of honorifics that give rise to unintended mirth. Heads of establishments or folks in energy addressed as ‘beloved’ can be a living proof: since when did the Chairperson, social gathering chief or Vice Chancellor turn out to be a cherished one?

Honorifics and Energy

Historians and linguistic anthropologists have famous that kings and rulers in numerous cultures issued edicts as to how they are going to be addressed. Judith Irvine writes: “chiefs and kings generally dictated units of lexical substitutions that had been to be employed by their followers as a show of respect and loyalty.”

That’s, the honorific was not merely an indication of respect: it was an indication of affiliation and loyalty. It’s employed to show that one is affiliated with and subordinate to the one that is the main focus of the honorific. Honorifics institutionalise energy and social relations, and stereotype them.

Asif Agha, the anthropologist, in an early essay argued:  “In all languages that possess elaborate honorific registers, some honorific expressions are stated for use solely BY sure folks or FOR sure folks. Such stereotypes personify speech itself. They formulate indicators of social identification by linking options of utterance-form with social classes of individuals; on the similar time, such stereotypes formulate social requirements by which particular person acts of language use are judged.”

From Agha, it additionally follows that individuals of sure social rank and sophistication should use honorifics to deal with their social superiors. Within the phrases of Judith Irvine: “To deploy respect vocabulary is to presuppose… maybe  …  coercively … that the state of affairs calls for ‘respect for custom’ from everybody. What the honorifics index, then, isn’t a lot the speaker’s deferential perspective towards a specific addressee or referent, however the speaker’s invoking of respect for custom, the custom of which honorifics are a component.”

Honorifics sign what constitutes respect in any society and linguistic neighborhood, however in addition they implement ranks and protocols that the neighborhood’s members should adhere to.

Our inheritance, in English at the least, of honorifics from the British period, has enabled the creation and reinforcement of institutional hierarchies. However these honorifics, central to babudom, had been additionally inherited from different languages, and from our ‘personal’ feudal, monarchic social orders, so allow us to not blame the ‘Reverend’ Bishop or the ‘Honourable’ Justice of the Peace for all of this. Honorifics reiterate energy relations.

However, unintentionally,  in addition they illuminate, fairly often, the sheer scale of institutional comedy when in an administrative setup all officers are declared ‘competent’ regardless of proof on the contrary, and there exists the very actual hazard/potential of morphing your Chairperson/Vice Chancellor/Director into your ‘beloved’ by an honorific.

The honorific can gas the ironic creativeness.

(The writer is Professor, Division of English, College of Hyderabad)



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