Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Vocative and Diminutive Forms in Robert Louis Stevenson's Fiction: A Corpus-Based Study

Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Vocative and Diminutive Forms in Robert Louis Stevenson's Fiction: A Corpus-Based Study

Article excerpt


This paper takes a corpus-based approach to the study of vocative and diminutive forms in the prose fiction and drama of the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. In such texts, the coexistence, and indeed the coalescence, of Scots and (Scottish Standard) English is one of the most important traits in their author's distinctive style. The aim is to assess whether the use of diminutive forms together with vocative ones may constitute a syntactic unit in which semantic and pragmatic values are mutually reinforced. In addition to a specially-compiled corpus of Stevenson's texts, the investigation will consider occurrences of the same structure in the imaginative prose section of the Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing, which will be used as a control corpus.


Morphology, pragmatics, corpus linguistics, Scots, (Scottish Standard) English


El presente trabajo adopta un enfoque basado en corpus con el objetivo de estudiar las formas vocativas y diminutivas en el teatro y en la ficción en prosa del autor escocés Robert Louis Stevenson. En estos textos, la convivencia y, de hecho, la fusión de escocés e inglés (estándar hablado en Escocia) es uno de los rasgos caracterizadores del estilo del autor. Así pues, el presente trabajo pretende evaluar si el uso de los diminutivos, junto con los vocativos, logra constituir una unidad sintáctica en la que los valores semánticos y pragmáticos se refuerzan mutuamente. Además de un corpus compilado especialmente con textos de Stevenson, la investigación tendrá en cuenta la presencia de la misma estructura en la sección de prosa imaginativa del Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing, que será utilizado como corpus de control.


Morfología, pragmática, lingüística de corpus, escocés, inglés (estándar hablado en Escocia)


In line with other pieces of research in this issue, this paper aims to take a corpus-based approach to literary studies, in order to identify patterns of usage which may be indicative of stylistic specificity on the one hand, and of greater or lesser correspondence with codified forms on the other. A corpus-based methodology presents undoubted advantages in this respect: while the tools currently available for scholarly investigations ensure reliable quantitative findings, these can be supplemented with accurate qualitative readings which allow stylistic assessments to be both convincing and scientifically valid.

For the purposes of this study, the drama and prose fiction of Robert Louis Stevenson have been selected for a variety of reasons: not only have these works been extremely popular for decades -which may be indicative of their author's successful style- but they also show a remarkable complexity in terms of linguistic choices, not least in all those cases in which Scots and English are employed alongside each other in the same text. As Dossena (in preparation) has shown, Stevenson's use of Scots and English (in particular, of Scottish Standard English, henceforth SSE) was both very skilful and very accurate, switching from one language to the other in ways that suited style, pace and rhythm, thus contributing to a better definition of both characters and settings.

Stevenson was also aware of the potential difficulties that any writer of Scots would run into when attempting to achieve consistent spelling and usage: in the Preface to Underwoods (1887), he commented quite extensively on this point. His metalinguistic analyses were always put to good use in his poetry and, particularly, in four of his most successful novels (Kidnapped, 1886; The Master of Ballantrae, 1889; Catriona, 1893; and Weir of Hermiston, 1896) and in two short stories (Thrawn Janet, 1881, entirely written in Scots, and The Merry Men, 1887). But Scots also occurred in the humorous exchanges between Stevenson and Charles Baxter, his life-long friend, lawyer and business agent, under the interchangeable pseudonyms of Thomson and Johnson: see Booth and Mehew (1994/1995: passim). …

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