Arja Nurmi, Minna Nevala, Minna Palander-Collin (Eds.). 2009. the Language of Daily Life in England (1400-1800)

By Bergs, Alexander | European English Messenger, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Arja Nurmi, Minna Nevala, Minna Palander-Collin (Eds.). 2009. the Language of Daily Life in England (1400-1800)


Bergs, Alexander, European English Messenger


Arja Nurmi, Minna Nevala, Minna Palander-Collin (eds.). 2009. The Language of Daily Life in England (1400-1800). Pragmatics and Beyond New Series, 183. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Today, historical sociolinguistics has left the margins, niches and corners of linguistic academia and can probably be included in the canon of well-established research traditions. Quite a number of studies on numerous phenomena from virtually all periods of English (and other languages) have convincingly shown that sociolinguistic theories, methods and approaches can be applied to past language states, and even that the findings from the past can help us to explain present situations. One thing, however, that is still lacking from both present-day and historical sociolinguistics is the study of the linguistic individual. We know a lot now about the "macro", and only very little about the "micro", the individual speakers and their language use. The reason for this appears to be twofold: on the one hand, linguistic theorizing has virtually always praised the individual as its object of investigation (where else would we find language?), but has simultaneously turned away from the individual as a potential data source. On the other hand, the development of ever-growing corpora in association with the fetish of "representativeness" has also led to a dehumanization of linguistics and a very unfortunate neglect when it comes to individual language use, down to the point that sometimes we cannot even tell anymore who the speakers actually were. This is of course not to say that these macro, corpus-based studies are in any way false or uninformative. On the contrary: they help us to establish the baseline, to see the norm in Coseriu's sense, without which studies on the micro-level of the individual would be very difficult and sometimes even meaninglessly descriptive. Nevertheless, the macro-studies should not distract us from the equally interesting and important micro-level.

The present volume explicitly aims at re-introducing the speaker into the picture. It seeks to complement and combine the macro and the micro. This means that it also discusses new and innovative ways of combining quantitative and qualitative methods and approaches. The volume offers nine papers, organized into three sections, which deal with the language of daily life and of individuals between 1400 and 1800, i.e. the late Middle and Early Modern English period, broadly construed.

In the first section on "Variation and social relations" we find Paivi Pahta's and Arja Nurmi's paper on "Negotiating interpersonal identities in writing: Code-switching practices in Charles Burney's correspondence". In Burney's letters we find six different languages and the switches between the different languages can be traced back, with the help of qualitative and quantitative analyses, to interpersonal intentions and acts of identity. In particular, we see that code-switching is more frequent and common when the correspondents are in a close relationship. Switches as such then seem to have more or less the same functions as they have today, i.e. they organize discourse, indicate stance, or personal style and social membership.

The second paper in this section, by Minna Palander-Collin, looks at "Patterns of interaction: self-mention and addressee inclusion in the letters of Nathaniel Bacon and his correspondents". The paper investigates the use of self-mention and you (vs. nominal title) in the sixteenth-century personal letters of the Norfolk 'county magnate' Nathaniel Bacon. Palander-Collin finds that Bacon's discourse changes considerably when writing to inferiors or family, or to socially superior correspondents. The former rather require first and second person pronouns, the latter 'humiliative' discourse, i.e. full titles and complex address formulae. Interestingly, similar patterns emerge in the writings of Bacon's superiors, but not in the letters of his inferiors. …

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