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Review of  The Language of Daily Life in England (1400-1800)

Reviewer: Lelija Socanac
Book Title: The Language of Daily Life in England (1400-1800)
Book Author: Arja Nurmi Minna K. Nevala Minna Palander-Collin
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 21.2240

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EDITORS: Nurmi, Arja; Nevala, Minna; Palander-Collin, Minna
TITLE: The Language of Daily Life in England (1400-1800)
SERIES TITLE: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 183
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2009

Lelija Socanac, University of Zagreb, Croatia


This book is a result of research on the Corpus of Early English Correspondence
(CEEC) covering the years 1400-1800. The corpus contains a stratified sample of
letters by male and female informants from different geographical locations and
provides a rich source of material for the study of language variation and
change in the history of English. Personal letters were originally selected as
research material because they are close to spoken language in many ways (Biber
& Finegan 1992). Moreover, language change typically emerges from spoken
language. Thus, a genre like personal letters may provide good access to early
phases of change in the history of a language.

The book begins with an introduction entitled ''The language of daily life in the
history of English: Studying how macro meets micro'' in which the editors present
the methodological background of research and emphasize the need to incorporate
within the same model macro- and micro-levels of analysis which have often been
regarded as opposite or mutually exclusive (Carter & Sealey 2000; Deumert 2003).
The framework of research is provided by historical sociolinguistics, drawing
on many different approaches such as correlational sociolinguistics,
interactional sociolinguistics, sociopragmatics, discourse studies, contact
linguistics and sociology of language.

In the introduction, the editors provide a brief outline of the development of
CEEC research methods and approaches. When the project was initiated in 1993
with the aim of testing sociolinguistic theories, findings and methods in
historical context, the theoretical framework was predominantly correlational
and variationist, since the idea was to see how social factors affect the
diffusion of morphosyntactic change. Correlational studies provide information
on language variation and change in relation to broad social categories such as
gender, class, age and education. Variation and change are studied together, as
variation is regarded as a prerequisite of change.

Correlational studies have been criticized for their simplistic treatment of
social categories, which does not allow for an individual speaker's situated
understanding and construction of his or her social position to be taken into
account. While macro analysis focuses on remote, impersonal, large-scale
phenomena and patterned distribution of groups of people or resources in
society, micro-analysis is concerned with face-to-face conduct and relates to
self-identity, subjective experience and the individual's agency. The two
approaches should be combined since some research questions, such as the spread
of morphosyntactic change in the population, are best addressed on the
macro-level, while others, such as situated meaning-making processes, require a
micro-level analysis (Carter & Sealey 2000; Deumert 2003; Tagliamonte 2002).

The broad perspective and situation-specific analyses can be combined, which
often means combining quantitative and qualitative methodologies. One of the
goals of the book is to combine ''static'' and ''dynamic'' approaches in order to
see how different social variables affect language use in written interaction
and to see how the fact that the material is a written and delayed type of
interaction shows in the way social relationships are strategically maintained
and/or altered.

The book is divided into three sections. Section 1: ''Variation and social
relations'', explores language variation as a means of identity and role
construction in letters. Section 2: ''Methodological considerations in the study
of change'', focuses on questions of language change from the perspective of
individuals, their networks and parental input. Section 3: ''Sociohistorical
context'' highlights the social contexts of language use. An Appendix contains a
list of all editions used for compiling the Corpora of Early English
Correspondence (CEEC), containing the following subcorpora: Corpus of Early
English Correspondence (CEEC), Corpus of Early English Correspondence Extension
(CEECE), and Corpus of Early English Correspondence Supplement (CEECSU). The
book contains a Name index and a Subject index.

All the chapters explore the role of language in society and in everyday life in
the period under consideration, which often means combining perspectives, such
as sociolinguistic and pragmatic approaches, and quantitative and qualitative

In ''Negotiating interpersonal identities in writing: Code-switching practices in
Charles Burney's correspondence'', Päivi Pahta and Arja Nurmi examine
code-switching in eighteenth-century interpersonal communication, focusing on
the correspondence of musician and music historian Charles Burney. The most
common embedded language used in Burney's correspondence is French, but the
array of other modern and classical languages used is impressive. The results of
research show variation in code-switching practices with regard to the
relationship between the writer and recipient. The frequency of switches to
different recipients reflects both Burney's knowledge of the recipient's command
of foreign languages as well as the intimacy of the relationship. Thus,
code-switching is more frequent in letters written between correspondents who
have a close relationship. Switches can have a locally meaningful function,
organizing discourse, indicating stance, or indexing the writer's identity.
Switching can also be seen as a style which in itself indexes particular types
of social memberships and relationships. The overall uses of code-switching are
very similar to those found in present-day languages.

The paper: ''Patterns of interaction: Self-mention and addressee inclusion in the
letters of Nathaniel Bacon and his correspondents'' by Minna Palander-Collin
deals with the late-sixteenth-century correspondence of a Norfolk gentleman,
Nathaniel Bacon, and his circle, and explores how the interpersonal and identity
functions of language are enacted through the use of self-mention and addressee
inclusion patterns, as they overtly bring in the writer and recipient of the
letter. The results show both quantitative and qualitative differences in
self-mention and addressee inclusion patterns according to Bacon's relationship
to the addressee. The highest frequencies of self-mention and direct addressee
inclusion characterize close relationships as well as those relationships where
Bacon wrote in the role of a social superior.

In ''Referential terms and expressions in eighteenth-century letters: A case
study on the Lunar men of Birmingham'', Minna Nevala explores how interpersonal
relations and social roles influence the form and function of person-referential
terms in the Late Modern English letters written by, to and about three members
of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, with Erasmus Darwin, Matthew Boulton and
James Watt as its founding members. The article discusses whether Levinson's
(1992) concept of social deixis can be implemented by using referential terms
and also explores how distance/proximity, as well as authority, influence
referential usage. The analysis shows that the use of addressee- and
self-oriented reference seems to be determined by socio-contextual aspects of
appearance, attitude, and authority.

The second section begins with the article ''Methodological and practical aspects
of historical network analysis: A case study of the Bluestocking letters'' by
Anni Sairio that presents the reconstruction and analysis of Elizabeth Montagu's
Bluestocking network, and proposes a network strength scale (NSS) for
quantifying the strength of network ties in this eighteenth-century social
circle. The NSS scores are compared with the use of pied piping and preposition
stranding in the network's correspondence in order to see whether strong network
ties correlate positively with the use of a familiar and stigmatized linguistic
feature. Preposition stranding was more common in Elizabeth Montagu's letters
when the recipients were linked to her with strong ties and when they were
socially inferior. Preposition stranding was avoided and pied piping favoured
when the recipients were her social superiors. The NSS analysis thus benefited
from the inclusion of sociolinguistic variables.

In ''Grasshoppers and blind beetles: Caregiver language in Early Modern English
correspondence'', Terttu Nevalainen examines caregiver language in sixteenth and
seventeenth-century letters. She addresses the issue of how parents and other
caregivers communicated with children and adolescents in their personal
correspondence, and to what extent it is possible to reconstruct patterns of
child-directed language using personal letters as data. The study analyses the
patterns of discourse and linguistic models that Lady Katherine Paston
transmitted in her letters to her teenage son. Her usage is also compared with
inter-adult communication. The results indicate that the caregiver language of
the past can be characterized at various levels: speech activity and politeness
phenomena, lexical content and even ongoing processes of language change.

In ''Lifespan changes in the language of three early modern gentlemen'', Helena
Raumolin-Brunberg examines the participation of Sir Walter Raleigh, Philip Gawdy
and John Chamberlain in on-going grammatical changes across their life spans.
The findings question the view that an adult's grammar, once acquired, would be
fixed. The author finds that there is considerable individual variation in the
adoption of innovative forms, and she discusses possible reasons for the
resulting linguistic profiles of the informants. Age, ambitions, and
geographical and social migration are considered as possible reasons for their
behavior. The changes studied include possessives MY/THY vs. MINE/THINE,
third-person suffix -S vs. -TH, affirmative and negative DO and subject
relativiser WHO. She suggests that apparent-time analysis and the roles of
generational and communal changes as descriptive models should be reconsidered.

The third section begins with the article ''Singular YOU WAS/WERE variation and
English normative grammars in the eighteenth century'' by Mikko Laitinen,
focusing on sociolinguistic mechanisms in operation when one variant was
established as a standard and the other as a non-standard form. The results show
that YOU WAS peaks before the mid-eighteenth century and gradually becomes a
socially stigmatized linguistic marker, as evinced in normative comments in
grammars. He goes on to describe the gender distribution of the variable, and
reports that both the initial increase of YOU WAS as well as its decline, were
led by male informants. Finally, Laitinen looks at the ways in which grammarians
and other professionals use YOU WAS and YOU WERE and shows that the prescribed
new standard form YOU WERE is adopted more quickly by them than by other letter
writers of the period.

In ''Encountering and appropriating the Other: East India Company merchants and
foreign terminology'', Samuli Kaislaniemi investigates the process of lexical
borrowing in a historical language contact situation using a micro-level of
analysis. Kaislaniemi discusses three Japanese loanwords ('goshuin', 'tono' and
'tatami') adopted by East India Company merchants in the early seventeenth
century. The persistent 'incorrect' use of a borrowed term ('appropriation'), is
found to fit poorly into traditional models of borrowing. In order to understand
rapid synchronic developments in language contact situations, such traditional
models need to be supplemented by analyses of the socio-historical and discourse
contexts of the borrowing events. The records of the East India Company prove a
valuable resource for such studies.

The last contribution: ''Everyday possessions: Family and identity in the
correspondence of John Paston II'' by Teo Juvonen combines the historical and
linguistic descriptions of possession in a case study of the letters of John
Paston II, a fifteenth-century Norfolk gentleman. Juvonen describes possession
as a component of identity, comprising both the material and the social, the
first being more defined by legal considerations and the second expressing e.g.
familial bonds. Linguistically, the possessive relation can be divided into an
assertive, informative type in which ownership is central and an inherently
relational type in which kinship and body relations are central.


''The Language of Daily Life in England (1400-1800)'' is an important state-of-the
art account of historical sociolinguistic and socio-pragmatic research. It
presents new information on linguistic variation and change while evaluating and
developing the relevant theoretical and methodological tools. The selection and
order of contributions results in a coherent and comprehensive volume of
cutting-edge research. The range of methodologies employed and spectrum of
linguistic features investigated make this volume a valuable resource for
scholars in historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, socio-pragmatics and
social history. The results of research presented in the book are an excellent
way of showing that in sociolinguistics today cross-disciplinary, multi-layered
approaches are increasingly called for as a way of reaching beyond traditional
paradigms and established categories.


Biber, Douglas & Finegan, Edward (1992). ''The linguistic evolution of five
written and speech-based English genres from the 17th to the 20th century'' In:
History of Englishes. New Methods and Interpretations in Historical Linguistics,
Matti Rissanen, Ossi Ihalainen, Terttu Nevalainen & Irma Taavitsainen (Eds.),
688-704. Berlin/New York : Mouton de Gruyter.
Carter, Bob & Sealey, Alison (2000). ''Language, structure and agency: What can
realist social theory offer to sociolinguistics?'' Journal of Sociolinguistics 4
(1): 3-20.
Deumert, Ana (2003). ''Bringing speakers back in? Epistemological reflections on
speaker-oriented explanations of language change.'' Language Sciences 25: 15-76.
Levinson, Stephen (1992). Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tagliamonte, Sally (2002). ''Comparative sociolinguistics''. In: The Handbook of
Language Variation and Change, J.K. Chambers; Peter Trudgill; Natalie
Schilling-Estes (Eds.), 729-763. Malden, MA/Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.

Dr. Lelija Socanac is Assistant Professor of Legal English at the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb, Croatia. She currently directs the project 'Legal and Linguistic Aspects of Multilingualism'. Her main research interests include sociolinguistics, contact linguistics and legal linguistics.