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The royal "we", or majestic plural (pluralis maiestatis in Latin, literally, "the plural of majesty"), is the use of a plural pronoun to refer to a single person holding a high office, such as a sovereign (e.g., a monarch or sultan) or religious leader (e.g., the Pope or a bishop). The more general word for the use of we to refer to oneself is nosism. However the use as majestic plural (to denote the excellence, power, and dignity of the person who speaks or writes) is the most common one.
Speakers employing the royal we refer to themselves using a grammatical number other than the singular (i.e., in plural or dual form). For example, the Basic Law of the Sultanate of Oman opens with "On the Issue of the Basic Law of the State We, Qaboos bin Said, Sultan of Oman...".
It is commonly employed by a person of high office, such as a monarch, earl, or pope. It is also used in certain formal contexts by bishops and university rectors. William Longchamp is credited with its introduction to England in the late 12th century, following the practice of the papal chancery. Its first recorded use was in 1169 when King Henry II, hard pressed by his barons over the Investiture Controversy, assumed the common theory of "divine right of kings", that the monarch acted conjointly with the deity. Hence, he used "we", meaning "God and I...".
In the public situations in which it is used, the monarch or other dignitary is typically speaking not only in his or her personal capacity but also in an official capacity as leader of a nation or institution. The habit of referring to a leader in the plural has further influenced the grammar of several languages, in which plural forms tend to be perceived as deferential and more polite than singular forms. This grammatical feature is common in languages that have the T-V distinction, including those, such as English, which used to have a T-V distinction in the past, but lost it.
Popes have used the we as part of their formal speech with certain recent exceptions. The English translations of the documents of John Paul II dispensed with this practice, using the singular "I", even though the Latin original usually continued to use the first person plural "We".[full citation needed]
In a 1911 letter, Daniel David Palmer, founder of chiropractic, spoke of establishing it as a religion, and placed himself on a par with other founders of religions ("Christ, Mohamed, Jo. Smith, Mrs. Eddy, Martin Luther"). In the letter he refers to himself with royal third person terminology.
In the Yorkshire Dialect the plural is often used to refer to oneself e.g. "pass us the salt".
Several prominent epithets of the Bible describe the Jewish God in plural terms: Elohim, Adonai, and El Shaddai. Some scholars take these names to represent an early stage in Jewish religion when God was still seen as a council or family of deities; others note that the present Biblical text always employs grammatically singular verb forms and argue that they represent a majestic plural. Similarly, the God of the Qur‘an employs the Arabic pronoun nahnu ("We") or its associated verb suffix in many verses. The sura Al-A'raf speaks as "We", while referring to the Lord as "He", suggesting they are separate entities. The narrator claims "We" were responsible for many acts attributed to God directly in the Bible suggesting "We" are some assembly of the Heavenly host, working on Earth on his behalf. Some grammarians distinguish this divine usage as a pluralis excellentiae rather than a majestic plural.
In China and every monarchy within its cultural orbit (including Japan, Korea, and Vietnam), the majestic imperial pronoun was expressed by the character 朕 (Old Chinese: *lrəmʔ). This was in fact the former Chinese first-person singular pronoun (i.e., "I") but – following his unification of China the emperor Shi Huangdi arrogated it entirely for his personal use. All other speakers and writers were obliged to choose some appropriate epithet (such as 愚, "This Foolish One") instead of using the former pronoun. While this practice did not need to impact the non-Chinese countries as much since their variants of 朕 were generally imported loanwords, the polite avoidance of pronouns is still observed throughout East Asia. Mainland China, following the May Fourth Movement and the Communist victory in its civil war, is now the exception, its present first-person singular 我 having gradually been adopted from a common epithet expressing "This [Worthless] Body".
The Mughal emperors and Sultans of Banu Abbas and Banu Umayyah used the majestic plural. Arabic – particularly Egyptian Arabic – continues to employ the form in diplomatic language: for instance, the proper form of address towards the President of Egypt is فخامتكم (Fakhāmatakum, "Your Excellencies").
This use is also popular among speakers of the Batangan dialect of Tagalog. Some actors and politicians, including Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, have been known to use the Tagalog exclusive form in giving interviews.
In Hindustani, Punjabi and other North Indian languages, the pluralis maiestatis is a common way for elder speakers to refer to themselves when address younger listeners, and also for persons of higher social rank or caste to refer to themselves when speaking to those of a perceived inferior rank or caste. In certain communities, the singular plural I (मैं) may be dispensed with altogether for self-reference, and the nosism used uniformly while speaking to a social inferior or superior.
In Telugu, the royal we exists and is used amongst royalty or elite persons.
Under the teaching of some Hindu Gurus, usage of the 'I' is considered as leading to Ahamkara and discouraged in favour of using the first person plural as a 'humble I' (see the author's We). Nevertheless, this leads to potential confusion, as several Indian languages have distinct inclusive and exclusive Wes, and the listeners may consider themselves included involuntarily in actions described.
- Constitution of Oman
- Turner, Ralph V. (May 2007), Longchamp, William de (d. 1197), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press), doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/16980, retrieved 2011-01-12
- The Great Roll of the Pipe for the 16th year of the reign of Henry II, Michaelmas 1169-70 E 372/16 1169 Mich-1170 Mich (printed in PRS 15, ). Pipe Roll Society. 1884. pp. 156–161. ISBN 1286630096.
- D.D. Palmer's Religion of Chiropractic - Letter from D.D. Palmer to P.W. Johnson, D.C., May 4, 1911.
- Jews for Judaism. "What is the Meaning of 'God Said, "Let Us Make Man in Our Image"'?".
- Quran 22:5 – Surah al-Hajj 5, retrieved 16 April 2010.
- Al-A'raf 7:128, 130
- See: Japanese pronouns, Korean pronouns, and Vietnamese pronouns.
- Zdic. 《漢典》 [Chinese Dictionary]. "我". Accessed 22 August 2013. (Chinese)
- Snell & Weightman (1989:106)