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Review of  Methods in Historical Pragmatics


Reviewer: Federico Navarro
Book Title: Methods in Historical Pragmatics
Book Author: Susan M. Fitzmaurice Irma Taavitsainen
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Historical Linguistics
Pragmatics
Subject Language(s): English
Book Announcement: 19.1287

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Review:
EDITORS: Fitzmaurice, Susan M.; Taavitsainen, Irma
TITLE: Methods in Historical Pragmatics
SERIES TITLE: Topics in English Linguistics 52
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2007

Federico Navarro, University of Buenos Aires (Argentina)

This book is intended to be a state-of-the-art collective representative of the
research field variously labeled sociohistorical linguistics (Romaine 1982),
historical sociolinguistics (Milroy 1991), diachronic text linguistics (Fries
1983), linguistic history (Granda 1980), new philology (Fleischman 1990a), and,
more recently, historical discourse analysis (Brinton 2001) or historical
pragmatics (Jucker 1995). Different traditions, goals and methodologies can be
uncovered in these alternative labels (they can also be found in this volume's
articles), but they all share a common interest in bridging the gap between the
historical and the discursive perspective in the study of language. More
specifically, the essays in this volume address ''the ways in which the
conventions that mark particular genres are instrumental in characterizing and
perhaps fixing (or not) the communicative functions associated with expressions
or forms on the one hand, and the linguistic realizations of certain
communicative functions on the other'' (p. 2).

The editors of the volume are the Finnish scholar Irma Taavitsainen, well-known
for her research on historical scientific English writing (e.g., 2002) and her
participation (e.g., Taavitsainen & Phata 2004) in the development of pioneering
Helsinki Corpus of English Texts (launched in 1991), and British scholar Susan
Fitzmaurice, renowned for her research on historical pragmatics (e.g., 2002) and
historical sociolinguistics (e.g., 2007). In chapter 1, ''Historical pragmatics:
what it is and how to do it'', they review the various trends in the
bibliography, trying to pinpoint the state of the art and render a working
definition of the field. This article updates previous programmatic reviews,
such as Jucker (1995, 2000, 2006), Closs Traugott (2004) and Brinton (2001), and
signals the increasing heterogeneity and institutionalization of the field. It
also explores some of the challenges researchers face, such as data limitations
and corpus-based function studies.

The editors claim that the field can be better understood as consisting of two
different methodological perspectives. The first, dominant approach relies on
large, electronic corpora, adopts quantitative methods of analysis, and is more
attached to discourse studies traditions (e.g., Dijk 1997). Chapters 2 to 8
(except 6) follow, widely speaking, this trend. These six articles are listed on
a cline that goes from intra-language explanations (e.g., pragmaticalization),
micro-discursive phenomena (e.g., discourse markers) and macro-quantitative
methods of analysis, to more contextually-based explanations (e.g.,
sociohistorical structure), macro-discursive phenomena (e.g., communicative
event types), and micro-quantitative methods of analysis. The second approach
adopts qualitative methods of analysis over complete case texts and their
detailed contexts, and is more influenced by literary and philological
traditions (e.g., Fleischman 1990b). Chapters 6 and 9 to 11 advocate, in
general, this position. Curiously, in the ''Introduction'' it is wrongly stated
(p. 6) that chapter 6 is actually in the 9th position, which nonetheless would
have been more consistent with the editors' theoretical claims.

Chapter 2 presents Canadian scholar Laurel Brinton's ''The development of 'I
mean': implications for the study of historical pragmatics''. Brinton examines
quantitatively the functional development of 'I mean' as a discourse marker
across time. Her method is semasiological as she considers form as the 'tertium
comparationis' (cf. Connor & Moreno 2005) and traces function change (cf. Jacobs
& Jucker 1995: 13-4), along with changes in the (syntactic) contexts of
occurrence. Through this micro-analysis, Brinton discusses in depth the
intra-language mechanisms that might be at work in the evolution of discursive
phenomena: lexicalization, idiomaticization and pragmaticalization, as distinct
from - but complementary to - grammaticalization. This topic is actually
Brinton's specialty (cf. e.g. Brinton & Closs Traugott 2005). The article
manages to balance these two goals, checking general hypotheses against results
with changing 'I mean', which turns out to be the outcome of a complex
grammaticalization process.

Interestingly, Brinton uses Modern English corpora and introspection as a
methodological starting point. Brinton's research sheds light on
grammaticalization explanations as complementary to lexicalization ones, and is
probably one of the most relevant and solid articles included in the volume.

German scholar Ursula Lenker in chapter 3, ''SoÞlice, forsoothe, truly -
communicative principles and invited inferences in the history of
truth-intensifying adverbs in English'', adopts a similar approach. Present day
English functions as a 'control group' for the immense task of depicting
historically distant language use. Although Lenker claims to have followed a
onomasiological approach (i.e., same function - the 'tertium comparationis' -
across time and changing form), the methodology is more complex: Lenker is
interested in understanding how the function (truth-intensifying) of a set of
discursive items (adverbs) in English expands across time from clause span,
through sentence span, to discourse span. In the case of truth-intensifying
adverbs, their original propositional meaning leads to emphasizing and,
eventually, to discourse-marker use. Lenker suggests that the use of
truth-intensifying adverbs in positive or non-emotional contexts triggers
inferences that explain this adverbial cline change (cf. e.g. Schwenter & Closs
Traugott for an extensive consideration of this process).

Despite the obvious relevance of the above studies, I wonder if the
macro-quantitative approach they favored does not narrow the span of potential
objects of study and jeopardise the micro and macro socio-contextual factors
motivating language change (cf. Ridruejo 2002). According to Magnuson (this
volume), ''while language use in context is the sine qua non of pragmatics,
nonetheless pragmatics as practiced on this increasingly dominant empirical
model for linguistic inquiry seems under pressure to reduce any lifelike
plurality of contexts to a strictly limited set of variables'' (p. 171). These
disadvantages of macro-quantitative analysis are obviously balanced by its
extraordinary representative power. Nonetheless, internal factors alone cannot
account for discursive phenomena in all their implications. I believe that the
social and contextual use and distribution of meaning should not be omitted in
any usage-based approach to language.

Irma Taavitsainen and Andreas Jucker, distinguished scholars in the field,
co-authored chapter 4, ''Speech act verbs and speech acts in the history of
English''. They propose a possible way of solving the ultimate challenge in
corpus linguistics: how to identify and quantify automatically complex
functional phenomena that realize in various formal ways (e.g., speech acts; cf.
McEnery, Xiao y Tono 2006: 41). Each community creates labels for relevant
speech acts. These labels, as they are formal, can be easily traced in large
scale electronic corpora (cf. also Jucker and Taavitsainen 2000). Although
speech act verbs do not give any direct access to the speech acts they name,
they do provide some very enriching insights as they refer to the specific
speech acts that are considered ''important enough to be labelled'' (p. 108) by
the speech community. This methodological procedure expands the speech act verb
lists at hand because it considers not only performative but also descriptive
speech act verbs; therefore, a non-performative verb like 'insult' can easily be
taken into account as a label for an actual relevant speech act (as in ''he
insulted them''). The authors aim to describe quantitatively the changing
distribution and use of English verbs belonging to the semantic field of verbal
aggression. They identify aggression verbs in historical dictionaries and select
genres where the verbs are more likely to be used (e.g., drama, fiction and
trial records). They found that aggression verbs almost exclusively appeared in
descriptive formats and that their contexts of appearance gradually shifted from
religious texts to descriptions of interactions between speakers (e.g., so as to
negotiate the intentions of the interlocutor as in ''Do you mock me?'').

I believe there is a possible weakness in Taavitsainen and Jucker's most basic
assumption: the claim that the speech act importance for the community (and thus
for the research) and the speech act label existence are closely linked. This
assumption, a weak form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, is obviously central to
the relevance of the whole study. However, I think there might be speech acts
that are important enough to a community and have no corresponding explicit
speech act labels, or rather the label is not always, or not accurately, used.
For example, in ''Gloys seid he lyed'', which the authors paraphrased as ''Gloys
accused him of lying'', they agree ''there are no expressive speech act verbs as
such'' (p. 116). These cases, therefore, are difficult to be accounted for in a
macro-corpus-based study. There might be opposite cases, too, where labels
describe past speech acts which are no longer active in the community. I am thus
not quite sure speech act labels develop and disappear with the same dynamic
actual speech acts have, and, in any case, this relation should be proved and
not assumed. In addition, it would be enriching to explore how speech acts are
labeled and reported.

In sum, I very much doubt whether speech act labels simply mirror actual speech
acts hierarchy as perceived by a historically-situated community and whether
they ''may shed some light on the development of the associated speech acts'' (p.
135). Taavitsainen and Jucker's method reminds me of the ethnographic study of
genre nomenclatures recommended by John Swales as ''an important source of
insight'' (1990: 54). However, 14 years later, Swales agrees that they are ''at
best a rough guide'' because ''sociohistorical traditions may preserve the
symbolic value of a label despite considerable [functional] chronological
change'' (2004: 73), such as ''colloquia'' that are basically monologues, etc.
Although speech acts and genres are obviously not the same, following Swales'
arguments I can still wonder if labels are necessarily updated, accurate
evidence that allow jumping directly to functional conclusions. If my argument
turns out to be valid, the challenge of automatically quantifying speech acts
will remain intact and the relevance of this essay will be limited. I must add
that Taavitsainen and Jucker's essay describes speech act contextual usage
change but does not explain this change explicitly.

In chapter 5, ''Text types and the methodology of diachronic speech act
analysis'', Thomas Kohnen explores the challenges posed by the evasive nature of
speech acts in earlier periods of the language, such as the above mentioned
problem of their multiple manifestations and what Kohnen calls the ''hidden
manifestations'' of a speech act; that is to say, the difficulty in tracking the
change in those manifestations across time. He advocates the construction of
genre-based micro-corpora. Genre-specific corpora allow tracking and comparing
predictable forms and functions, whereas micro-corpora have proven useful to
balance qualitative manual analysis and quantitative representative power (cf.,
e.g., Salager-Meyer & Zambrano 2001). Kohnen focuses on directive speech acts by
means of micro-analysis of (relatively) small corpora of English sermons
(comprising more than 129,000 words). He finds that most directives are modal
expressions to be found in the Old English data; directives decrease till the
seventeenth century and then increase in the late twentieth century. Kohnen
suggests that variation may stem from genre focus (e.g., narration vs.
regulation), stylistic preferences, or wider language change (e.g., more polite
manifestations during the Early Modern period).

Kohnen's contribution is probably the most illuminating methodological proposal
in the volume. I truly think this is the finest methodological solution to date
to the study of speech acts and other discursive phenomena, at least until
corpus linguistics sharpens its tools for doing the task automatically. On the
other hand, despite the fact that this approach narrows down the possible forms
and functions to quantify in the selected micro-corpora, the problem of indirect
manifestations of speech acts remains and, as Kohnen concedes (p. 158-9),
requires more micro-analysis.

Lynne Magnusson's ''A pragmatics for interpreting Shakespeare's sonnets 1 to 20:
dialogue scripts and Erasmian intertexts'', chapter 6, advocates a
multidisciplinary literary-linguistic approach to the study of Shakespeare's
sonnets. In particular, she reasonably argues that historical pragmatics ''has
much to learn from the specialized skills that have developed in literary and
cultural studies for the interpretation of context'' (p. 167). Magnusson follows
a strictly qualitative, case analysis. She studies “dialogue scripts”, a
neo-Bakhtinian concept (cf., e.g., Bakhtin 1981) that refers to “the textual
manifestation of the culturally given interaction genres upon which a playwright
–for example– might be drawing to build up a dramatic dialogue” (p. 172). She
argues that Shakespeare's transformation of Erasmian rules of address help
explain the changing forms of address in his sonnets. For example, 'thou' of
intimacy unexpectedly used to address social superiors follows some of Erasmus'
precepts for Latin.

Magnusson's general argumentation for pro qualitative analysis is very
appealing, although this methodology seems particularly illuminating for the
kind of author-based studies she is interested in. I must add that the study of
pronouns of address, regardless of how interesting and methodologically
manageable they are, has probably hoarded too much research in sociohistorical
linguistics and other research areas (from e.g. Brown & Gilman 1960 to e.g.
Fernández Lávaque 2005), whereas other research areas have been largely ignored.

Dawn Archer's chapter 7, ''Developing a more detailed picture of the English
courtroom (1640-1760): data and methodological issues facing historical
pragmatics'', advocates a mutual understanding between social history and
linguistics, in particular when it comes to studying such verbal social events
as courtroom interactions. Archer adopts a quali-quantitative approach which
pinpoints discursive practices of specific participant groups through the
analysis of the patterns of speech acts and discursive strategies that they
follow. This approach is typically pragmatic in that it studies specific
contextual factors motivating discursive choices, which are in turn quantified.
Archer studies the relationship between the role and other sociohistorical
variables of the participants (e.g., judges) and the verbal action categories
and other pragmatic variables (e.g., quantity and type of questions addressed)
in the English courtroom in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. She finds,
for instance, that judges were the most active questioners in the courtroom
during the period 1640-1679; the greater involvement of the lawyers during the
Early Modern English period led to a more 'reactive' and 'presiding' role for
judges and to the use of more clarification-seeking only questions.

In chapter 8, ''What do you lacke? what is it you buy? Early Modern English
service encounters'', German scholar Birte Bös proposes a very useful
methodological approach to the study of remote oral social events. Bös' starting
point is her former study of Present Day English service encounters in Britain
from an ethnographic perspective. Bös uses several historical sources to depict
former Britain's service encounters practices and, interestingly, she draws from
Early Modern English coursebooks for foreigners to understand prototypical
global and local verbal structure (cf. also Ridruejo 2002: 172). Although the
general aim of service interactions has remained the same since then, Early
Modern English global structure included a 'bargaining' section as prices were
negotiable in the market conditions of the time. In addition, service encounters
displayed direct imperatives, not usual in present day more indirect asking
strategies.

Monika Fludernik's ''Letters as narrative: narrative patterns and episode
structure in early letters, 1400 to 1650'' (chapter 9) studies qualitatively
linguistic features marking the slots of the narrative structure in early
personal letters. Fludernik is a narratologist and her essay is part of a wider
research project on the development of narrative structure in different English
genres between 1250 and 1750. She proves that fifteenth and mid-seventeenth
century letters are, in contrast with the modern letter, not predominantly
narrative and that, when they are, they do not employ discourse markers
consistently. These formulaic, unemotional early letters are therefore not very
illuminating to study narratives. However, qualitative analysis of the few
narrative letters (especially intelligence reports) supports Fludernik's
macro-hypothesis: narrative structures of that period take recourse to the
'episodic' narrative structure (i.e., a series of episodes strung together),
although the evolution from episodic to more teleological structures (e.g.,
novel) occur mostly at different times in different genres.

I should add that I doubt that ''conversation between linguists and literary
people has again arrived at a degree of correspondence long absent from their
scholarly discourse'' (p. 260), as Fludernik puts it. It is paradoxical to read,
just a few pages later, that ''rather than a bridge, there now exists a
substantial gap between the disciplines of literature and linguistics'' (p. 267),
as Fitzmaurice claims in his article. It appears to me that this dialogue
between both disciplines is still a desideratum, although this collection of
articles does collaborate to bridge that gap.

In chapter 10, James Fitzmaurice's ''Historical linguistics, literary
interpretation, and the romances of Margaret Cavendish'' compares general and
genre-specific (romance) literary texts corpora so as to pin down particular
uses of reporting clauses associated to the latter. This corpus-based,
literary-oriented study attempts to demonstrate literary influences by means of
tracing Margaret Cavendish's shift in style in the revised edition of her
''Nature's Pictures'' (1656). Fitzmaurice seeks to explain why many initial
position, inverted reporting clauses like ''said the Duke'', typical of romance
prose, are reversed and placed at the end of sentences in the second edition
(1671) of that volume. He claims that Cavendish might have favored uninverted
last position forms, common in realistic travel narratives (e.g., ''This short
revelation'' (1662)) and jest books, to shift her style partly away from the
linguistic conventions of the highly fictional romance genre and, in so doing,
to write a 'true romance'.

This methodological approach is particularly solid because the analyst can
support alleged literary influences, which are often speculative (e.g.,
Fitzmaurice says (p. 276) that ''because of its notoriety, Margaret Cavendish
would have had known of the volume [''This short revelation'']''), with linguistic
evidence. In addition, linguistically intriguing phenomena, such as reporting
clauses change, can be explained using the literary and cultural tools for
contextual analysis advocated by Magnusson (see above).

Finally, in chapter 11, ''Discoursal aspects of the Legends of Holy Women by
Osbern Bokenham'', Gabriella del Lungo Camiciotti studies literary genre
traditions, echoes and innovations, as Magnusson does in chapter 6. Her
perspective is qualitative, rhetorical and contextualized, and proves to be
particularly enriching for studying individual authors and texts. She claims
that fifteenth century writer Osbern Bokenham re-elaborates the well-established
narrative pattern of Saint's legends genre by increasing the prominence of
dialogue. The Saint's legends genre, a historical narrative read aloud in
church, promoted social cohesion and the ideal of sanctity. In Bokenham's work,
dialogue is less rooted in oral performance and serves other textual functions
in narrative framed texts, such as marking climaxes in the plot; these changes
in the genre are due to gradual changes in text production and consumption in
the late Middle Ages.

EVALUATION
In sum, this volume really brings together alternative, enriching methods to
face the functional study of historical discourse. What seems clear is that
there cannot be a universal method for this task. On the contrary,
methodological tools deeply depend on the object under scrutiny, the available
sources and, not less important, the creativity of the researcher.

As a final remark, I wonder if this book should not have been more properly
called ''Methods in English historical pragmatics''. All the articles included
deal with historical English only, but at the same time many theoretical
positions are claimed to be general. This dilemma can be found in this book,
where, for instance, we read that ''we conduct historical pragmatics research in
English'' (p. 1) which can help ''spur a collective review and assessment of what
it is we do when we do historical pragmatics'' (ibid.). Many previous studies
within this Anglo-European tradition present the same, often implicit link
between English and general historical pragmatics (cf. e.g. Jucker 1995's cover
title ''Historical Pragmatics'' and inside subtitle ''Pragmatic developments in the
history of English''). Perhaps this should not be understood as a critique to
English studies, but, on the contrary, as a demand on non-English studies to
develop language-specific problems and proposals.

I would also like to mention that the volume lacks a biographical sketch of the
contributors. This would have been especially useful as to understand how some
of the heterogeneous methodological choices may be based on different trainings,
traditions and geographic origins.

REFERENCES
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Brinton, L. J., & Closs Traugott, E. (2005). _Lexicalization in language
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Brown, R., & Gilman, A. (1960). The pronouns of power and solidarity. In T. A.
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Salager-Meyer, F., & Zambrano, N. (2001). The bittersweet rhetoric of
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Schwenter, S. A., & Closs Traugott, E. (1995). The semantic and pragmatic
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Taavitsainen, I. (2002). Historical discourse analysis: scientific language and
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Late Medieval English_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Federico Navarro is a PhD candidate for the University of Valladolid (Spain)
holding a grant from the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation (AECI). His
research interests lie in the sociohistorical analysis of pragmatic and
discursive features of Spanish academic writing genres. He is based at the
University of Buenos Aires (Argentina), where he is assistant professor of
general linguistics (leave of absence).
 

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