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Conference Information

Full Title: Merchants of Innovation. The Languages of Traders

Location: Cambridge, United Kingdom
Start Date: 07-Apr-2014 - 08-Apr-2014
Contact: Esther-Miriam Wagner
Meeting Email: click here to access email
Meeting Description: Merchants of Innovation. The Languages of Traders
St John’s College, University of Cambridge, 7-8 April 2014

Organisers: Esther-Miriam Wagner (T-S Genizah Research Unit, University of Cambridge) and Bettina Beinhoff (Anglia Ruskin University)

Traders around the world are known to use particular spoken argots. This arises out of a need to develop coded or secret language to disguise the specialised knowledge employed in their trade, and also marks them out as a separate social group. Similarly, the written language used in their correspondence differs from that used in official, legal or private writing. There appears to be a cross-linguistic tendency that merchant writings tend to show more language mixing and code-switching, and they also exhibit more dialectal forms than other text types.

This interdisciplinary conference will seek to place the languages used by traders within a wider sociolinguistic context and examine in depth their effect on standard varieties of a large number of different languages. Questions to be answered include issues such as: which differences can be observed in regard to official scribes registers? As Middle class ‘low’ varieties show language change in the written medium before the language changes in the ‘higher’ varieties, is this an anticipation of forms coming from spoken language forms that take longer to infiltrate higher registers, or are they influencing ‘higher’ language standards by setting linguistic precedents? What sets traders’ letters apart from private correspondence? The conference will also address bilingualism, for example in the case of Jewish Yiddish and Arabic speaking merchants, who chose to write Hebrew. Similarly, semi-bilingualism will be discussed, where authors wrote in languages they felt most comfortable in the knowledge that the choice of language did not matter since different languages would be understood by the reader. The reasons for code-switching and for using particular languages will be explored. Finally, the writers themselves and their social environment will be addressed. Who are the protagonists within the traders’ caste which set the standards? Which linguistic differences can be observed in the language used within particularly tight mercantile groups and those in a wider business network?
Linguistic Subfield: Sociolinguistics
LL Issue: 24.2249

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