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With kind regards: 1 November 2022

  • Arietta Papaconstantinou (University of Oxford/ University of Reading)
  • Gijsbert Rutten
Tuesday 1 November 2022
With kind regards: Convention, standards and breaking the rules in letter-writing
University Library
Witte Singel 27
2311 BG Leiden

This event is part of the series "With kind regards: convention, standards and breaking the rules in letter-writing". For more information, please click the button below.

With kind regards: Convention, standards and breaking the rules in letter-writing

Arietta Papaconstantinou (University of Oxford/ University of Reading): ‘Not very kind regards: Qurra b. Sharīk’s letters to Basileios and the limits of politeness’

In the study of epistolography the weight has overwhelmingly been put on the conventions and forms of address that aim to keep the exchanges civil and useful. This is the case in peer-to-peer letter exchanges, and even more in letters of request made either to superiors, or at least to individuals wielding some sort of power over the sender – be it the simple power to grant a request. An entire category of letters exists, however, that is unapologetically top-down and makes no concessions to norms of politeness and civility, making a show of raw power instead. Such letters are commonly associated with state institutions, and they tend to use the rhetoric of blame and manipulate emotions such as fear and pride, all the while brandishing such concepts as duty and obligation. The latter are so prominent in Qurra’s letters that they are often called ‘decrees’ by scholars. Yet in all sorts of ways they follow the conventions of the letter, in a tradition of power-writing that arose well before Islam.

‘Formulaic language in Early Modern Dutch letters’

Gijsbert Rutten (Leiden University)

In this talk, I will focus on the function and use of formulaic phrases in Dutch letters from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Both private letters and business letters comprised extensive sequences that were repeated over and over again. In the first part of the talk, I will argue that there are clear distributional patterns underpinning the use of formulaic language in private letters, which can be explained with reference to the specific sociohistorical context. In the second part, I will introduce a recent case study where we shift attention to business letters, also comparing them to private letters. I will show that the set of formulaic phrases used in business letters is both similar to and different from the range of formulae used in private letters. One difference is the frequency of Romance-origin lexical items, and I will argue that the international register of business correspondence offered a channel through which French-origin items in particular entered the Dutch language.

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