LINGUIST List 15.2512

Fri Sep 10 2004

Review: Historical Ling/Pragmatics: Hiltunen & Skaffari

Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <>

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Sheila Dooley Collberg at


  1. Margaret Sonmez, Discourse Perspectives on English

Message 1: Discourse Perspectives on English

Date: Thu, 9 Sep 2004 18:17:53 -0400 (EDT)
From: Margaret Sonmez <>
Subject: Discourse Perspectives on English

EDITORS: Hiltunen, Risto; Skaffari, Janne 
TITLE: Discourse Perspectives on English
SUBTITLE: Medieval to modern
SERIES: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 119 
YEAR: 2004
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
Announced at

Margaret J-M Sonmez, Department of Foreign Language Education,
Middle East Technical University, Ankara.


The book adds to the already impressive list of volumes in this
series, which is aimed at a readership of researchers. It contains
eight chapters, comprising a chapter from each of seven writers
preceded by an introduction by all of them together. The chapters are
separate papers, reporting studies of different materials and issues,
and as is usual in such volumes the notes and lists of works cited are
given at the end of each paper, rather than combined and presented at
the end of the book. This review will present a chapter-by-chapter
description-cum-commentary, followed by a few comments on the volume
as a whole.


The introduction (1-12) presents a useful and cogent series of
discussions and summaries of the issues and terminological histories
related to the overall subject. This the writers decide to label
''historical discourse linguistics'' (2). Among essential issues in
this area, the pitfalls of edited texts and the difficulties of
defining, let along identifying, ''discourse communities'' for distant
times are discussed (4); attention is also paid to definitions and
usages of the pairs of terms ''text'' (specific materials) and
''discourse'' (a body of related texts) (6), and ''genre''
(functional) and ''text type'' (linguistic) (8).

The issue of defining and identifying characteristics of orality and
literacy is touched upon in the introduction (5) but mostly left to
the following chapter, Warvik's, for a fuller treatment. Here, the
''background sections'' are expanded in order to ''provide links to
the orality/literacy theme as it reappears in subsequent chapters''
(22). What is in fact provided is a sensitive presentation of the
various complexities and subtleties involved in studies of orality and
literacy - and the often parallel features of spoken and written
language - both diachronic and synchronic. An example may be taken
from the discussion of the accepted duality in textual structuring
with parataxis/coordination expected of oral/verbal styles and
hypotaxis/subordination taken as characteristic of the
literate/written style. Here, bringing together a range of earlier
scholarship, Warvik raises the following issues: (i) ''different types
of subordination and coordination [have been shown to be] more common
in different types of spoken and written materials'' (23); (ii) ''the
frequencies of subordinate clauses are not only dependent on the
channel, but also on the text type, level of formality and planning
time'' (24); (iii) some early forms may not fall easily into syntactic
categories like ''conjunctions'' (24); (iv) the researcher ''needs to
take into account the differences in the discourse and stylistic roles
of clause combination types in different periods of the history of the
language'' (24); finally, (v) certain features associated with one
channel can be found in the other ''consciously used for various
purposes'', such as stylistic and rhetorical effects (25).

The same level of care is demonstrated in the research that Warvik
then presents, which is a study of six linguistic features associated
with orality, individually analyzed, in a selection of Old English
prose texts from different genres that have previously been grouped in
terms of internal references to their reception format. That is to
say that first the texts were scrutinized for direct indications of
their expected reception (e.g. references to an audience ''hearing''
the words) and the results of this scrutiny are presented in terms of
genre groupings (Table 2, 30), then the frequencies of each of the six
linguistic features for each of the two reception formats identified
(literate and mixed, i.e. ''oral/literate'') were calculated (Table 3,
34), and then the frequencies of each of the six features for each
genre are presented (Tables 4-9, 35-37). In each case the results
show clear differences between the genres, and, interestingly, the
genres cluster differently for different features (37). The features
are parataxis, repetition, 1st person pronouns, 2nd person pronouns,
private verbs and discourse markers.

The chapters being organized chronologically in terms of their
research materials, Hiltunen's analysis of the discourse advice
rendered both directly and indirectly in ''Ancrene Wisse'' comes next.
Grice's Cooperative Principle and Leech's Politeness Principle are the
mainstays of the analysis theoretically, but it is perhaps the reading
of the text in terms of the place of language in a very specific
(female) religious group that provides the largest number of
insightful comments. As with all the papers in this volume, the work
brings together, fruitfully, references to existing scholarship from
diverse areas, which makes for stimulating reading. In this case a
number questions are raised that will make for fascinating further
study, such as ''to what extent have the religious traditions of the
past shaped our present-day conception of what counts as cooperative
and polite conversation?'' (68).

Skaffari's study of lexical borrowings in ''Sawles Worde'' follows.
It is openly indebted to Meurmann-Solin's 1990 and Dor's 1992 papers
(78), and presents a tantalizing ''case study'' (99) of what can be
done in applying understandings gained from these works to a detailed
analysis of relatively few words (fifty-nine words accounting for a
total of eighty-six occurrences (84)) in a relatively short text
(c.5000 words (78)). From Dor, Skaffari pursues research into first
occurrences and the integration of foreign words and from
Meurmann-Solin, the issue of the markedness of some borrowed words is
taken up. A combination of the two is found in the present paper's
assumption that markedness will correlate with recentness of adoption
(while also possibly being found with less recent importations)
(79). The study is multifaceted, in that it pays attention to ''the
syntactic and discourse contexts'' of the words under examination as
well as to borrowings in the group of manuscripts in which ''Sawles
Worde'' is found (the Katherine Group), and to differences between
manuscript versions (79).

Perhaps because the research, background discussion and concluding
remarks are so meticulously careful in other respects, three points
stand out as being explained in less detail; it is not that they are
not discussed, but that this reader wished there had been more space
allowed to expand on them further. They are: the correlation of
recent adoption and markedness mentioned above, the implications for
borrowing and markedness of the inherited belief that the text ''was
mostly targeted at female audiences'' (81) -- that it belongs to a
group of manuscripts ''about women and for women'' (90) (presumably
words can be marked for one audience and not for another, but how can
this situation be reliably reconstructed?), and the use of earliest
citations in the electronic ''Middle English Dictionary'' and ''Oxford
English Dictionary'' as reflections of the dates of lexical
importation (84ff.). Given that ''this is one of the first published
papers in Middle English loanwords to draw on the complete M[iddle]
E[nglish] D[ictionary]'' (101, n5), a mention of the scope and
limitations of this recently completed resource would have been

The following two chapters present attempts to categorize the genres
of texts that have up until now been mostly ignored from this point of
view. Peikola investigates the details of that group of Lollard
tracts that have been briefly referred to as ''catalogues'' by Justice
(1999). Taking twenty-two tracts that ''present themselves as roughly
similar syllabi of doctrinal items'' (107) as a corpus for the
purpose, he identifies four areas of formal and two areas of
functional characteristics of the Lollard catalogue. The formal areas
are opening and concluding sequences (107-109, 109-110), the
presentation of the 'syllabus items (110) or catalogue proper
(110-111), and ''lexical marking of topic changes'' (111). The
functional areas are ''types of catalogue'' (112-115), categorized
according to content, and ''audiences of the catalogues'' (115) based
on named addressees and implied readership. To these are added
discussions of three areas of textual practice (scholastic, judicial
and legislative) (116-124) that are closely related or overlapping
with this putative genre. As a conclusion, Peikola notes that ''the
catalogue can undoubtedly be viewed at least as what Diller (2001)
calls a ''recipients' genre'', i.e. one postulated by later recipients
(including researchers)'' (125), or as ''a superordinate recipients'
genre, incorporating under its umbrella several vernacularized
historical genres'' (126). The paper ends on the stronger claim that
''the catalogue might equally well ultimately present itself as a new
producers' genre'' so long as ''genres are understood as fuzzy-edged
and malleable structures placeable on a continuum~E'' (126). The
extent to which the author wishes to claim specifically the Lollard
catalogue as a genre is not mentioned.

A Middle English collection of directions for the making of laces, or
braiding, is the material for Carroll's exploration of a text-type or
discourse entity identified and named by Hoey (2001) as the
''discourse colony''. After detailed historical and terminological
introductions to the research material, the nine characteristics that
Hoey uses to identify this text type are used to analyze the
''Directions for Laces''. This is followed by a brief investigation
of the same characteristics applied to commonplace books. Given the
growth of interest in previously uncanonical material for linguistic
analysis, and the mass of early material that exists in the form of
collections of one sort or another, the author's hope that this work
will have raised ''historical linguists' awareness of Hoey's
approach'' and thus ''facilitate future study of such texts'' (159) is
likely to be realized.

Tanskanen's work on Early Modern letters and letter-writing manuals
takes us to an area of undisputed genre and plentiful material. At the
core of the paper lies her comparative analysis of two sets of family
correspondence with two chronologically matched manuals. These are
the letters of the Hutton and Tixel families Hutton (1566-1638 and
1656-1680 respectively) and the manuals of Angel Day (1586) and Hannah
Woolley (1675). The aim is not the - as honestly stated - ''rather
hopeless task of trying to uncover the direct effect of letter-writing
manuals or the extent to which their prescriptions were adopted''
(170), but rather ''to find out if the manuals depicted actual
epistolary practices'' (ibid). Much interesting qualitative
information is uncovered, including (as with all the papers in this
volume) excellent use of references to background material, making
this a very useful text for introducing the subject to those new to
the field. It is shown that ''both Day and Woolley apparently had a
clear idea of the preferred epistolary practices of their day''
(190). The paper also shows how these can be analysed on discourse
terms, using the contemporary conventions as a primary framework (and
this includes the older texts from which the letter writing manuals
obtained, directly or indirectly) many of their points) and reference
to present-day theories where appropriate (for example to Grice's
Maxim of Quantity (178)).

The last chapter is Valle's paper describing and analyzing the
correspondence involved in a dispute between a few members of the
Royal Society, from the dates 1668-1672. The theoretical concerns of
this paper are related both to genre/text typology and to politeness,
and rest on fine analyses of the writing and behavioral requirements
of the relatively confined social circles from which the letters were
produced. Brown and Levinson's (1987) model of linguistic politeness
and its adaptation to scientific writings by Myers (1989) are used.
In terms of genre, the main issue here is that of the development,
from the late seventeenth century until the end of the eighteenth
century, of a ''new form of communication'' (219): the scientific
letter. In terms of politeness, the correspondence under analysis
shows how conflicting requirements of personal affront, gentlemanly
behavior, community membership and a developing rhetoric of scientific
seriousness could manifest themselves simultaneously. This close
reading of texts in which we witness ''an early stage'' in ''the
development of pragmatic strategies for the new form of
communication'' (219) makes enjoyable and very interesting reading.


Taken as a whole the papers here underline the interdependence of
discourse studies on a clear understanding of genre and of audience -
or to put it another way, the discourse study of any text requires a
clear understanding of that text's type, and this can hardly be fully
understood or described without knowledge of its communicative intent
and, thus, of its targeted audience or readership. The acknowledged
difficulties about these issues are approached in all the papers of
this volume. It is not just a matter of getting some basic details
out of the way before embarking on the main part of the research,
these papers contribute to the growing evidence of the fine-tuning of
different levels of language to different genres and audiences (a
particularly apt example being Warvik's paper): in one way or another
all of them bar one (Skaffari's) depended crucially on their texts
being of particular types or subgenres aimed at specific, identifiable

Historical material not only challenges the researchers' abilities to
reconstruct and understand the target audiences, but also demands
recognition of a different genre typology. That genres and sub-genres
can alter through time and changing circumstances to produce new
genres appears to have been universally accepted, at least within
historical studies, to the extent that it is now uncontroversial to
postulate the existence of previously ignored genres/sub-genres (as in
Carroll's paper) and to study the dynamics of the development of new
genres/sub-genres (as in Valle's paper). Reading Carroll's paper, one
can not avoid noticing how Hoey's proposed genre the discourse colony
would account nicely for edited collections of papers such as this
one, which conforms to at least seven of the nine properties presented
on page 151. Is this serendipity?

In terms of the position of this book among other discourse studies,
the individual papers' synchronic focussing on single or few texts
means that the volume shows few overlaps with discourse studies that
use corpus methodologies or with history-as-change-in-progress
approaches to the language of the past. Rather, the chapters present
individual analyses of particular instances of discourse from
different times, tackling and discussing the difficulties of
reconstructing relevant contextual details and at the same time
presenting textual analyses that can be compared with the analysis of
other texts from any other period. If materials of such a variety are
to be taken as relevant to the same research discipline, it is
essential that they refer to a shared theoretical framework, and for
this reason the discussions of certain key concepts (such as genre,
discourse community, orality) that are found both in the introduction
and in the papers themselves are essentially important. In this
respect the consensus-based approach of the introduction works well
for the book, but for the sake of future studies in a rapidly
expanding area of linguistic enquiry one may hope for more
single-authored future work bringing together the main theories and
their (growing number of) applications, and providing a point of
reference for the future.


Brown Penelope and Stephen Levinson. 1987. 'Politeness: Some
Universals in Language Use'. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Diller, Hans-Jurgen. 2001. '''Genre' in linguistics and related
discourses''. In 'Towards a History of English as a History of
Genres'. H-J. Diller and M. Gorlach (eds). Heidelberg: C. Winter;

Dor, Juliette. 1992. ''Post-dating Romance loan-words in Middle
English: Are the French words of the 'Katherine Group' English?'' In
'History of Englishes: New Methods and Interpretations in Historical
Linguistics'. M, Rissanen, I. Ihalainen, T. Nevalainen and
I. Taavitsinen (eds). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter; 483-505

Hoey, Michael. 1986. ''The Discourse Colony: a preliminary study of a
neglected discourse type''. In 'Talking about Text: Studies Presented
to David Brazil on his Retirement'. Birmingham: English Language
Research, University of Birmingham; 1-26

Meurmann-Solin, Anneli. 1990. ''Variation analysis and diachronic
studies of lexical borrowing''. In 'Proceedings from the Fourth Nordic
Conference for English Studies I'. G Caie, K. Haastup, A. L.
Jakobsen, J. E. Nielsen, J. Sevaldsen, H. Specht and A. Zettersen
(eds). Copenhagen: Department of English, University of Copenhagen;

Myers, Greg. 1989. ''Pragmatics of politeness in scientific articles''
'Applied Linguistics' 10: 1-35.


Margaret J-M Sonmez is assistant professor in the Department of
Foreign Language Education at the Middle East Technical University,
Ankara. She teaches both linguistics and literature courses and her
research mostly focuses on variation and change in Early Modern
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue