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Review of  Historical Pragmatics

Reviewer: Joanna Kopaczyk
Book Title: Historical Pragmatics
Book Author: Andreas H. Jucker Irma Taavitsainen
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Historical Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.2578

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EDITORS: Jucker, Andreas H.; Irma Taavitsainen
TITLE: Historical Pragmatics
SERIES TITLE: Handbooks of Pragmatics 8
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2010

Joanna Kopaczyk, School of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland


This volume dedicated to historical pragmatics is edited by Andreas H. Jucker
and Irma Taavitsainen (henceforth J&T). 21 individual contributions, mostly by
leading scholars in the field, are arranged into six thematic areas: (II) data
and methodology, (III) diachrony, (IV) pragmaphilology, micropragmatics (V),
interactional pragmatics (VI), and selected discourse domains (VII). Thus, the
volume takes the reader from more general theoretical and methodological
processes of language change resulting from pragmatic phenomena, through surveys
of Chaucerian and Shakespearean pragmatic research, and form-to-function and
function-to-form mappings of smaller pragmatic phenomena, to aspects of
interaction and the domains of discourse most widely studied from a historical
pragmatic perspective. Each chapter can be consulted on its own for an overview
of a given subfield. In the majority of chapters, the authors make links to
other contributions so that the reader is guided towards exploring multi-faceted
phenomena from various angles. The volume ends with bio-notes about the authors,
and useful indexes of subjects, names and languages.

In the Introduction (I), J&T present the field of historical pragmatics and its
rampant expansion within the last 15 years. It is justified to say that this is
the fastest-growing area of historical linguistics and its popularity points
towards a change in thinking about language. The editors identify key problem
areas in their discipline, as well as three main strands: 1) pragmaphilology, 2)
diachronic development of language use, and 3) communicative causes of language
change. Out of these three, the scope of pragmaphilology seems conceptually
underdeveloped (see below). The editors also make a distinction between the two
major traditions in historical pragmatics: Anglo-American (structure-oriented)
and Continental (sensitive to social aspects of language use). In the volume,
only section III stems from the Anglo-American perspective, as the whole series
of ''Handbooks of Pragmatics'' stresses the connection between language use and
social context.

Section II on data and methodology starts with Merja Kytö's useful guide to
electronic resources for historical pragmatics: multi-genre and specialized
corpora, dictionaries and atlases, electronic text collections and editions. The
rise of corpus methods is linked with the increase in historical linguistic
inquiries. The other chapter in section II (by Jonathan Culpeper) advocates
recognition of historical sociopragmatics as a useful framework for analyzing
language use in context. Its separate status works only in the narrower,
Anglo-American view of pragmatics, as the Continental school already includes
the social aspect in its scope. Culpeper draws attention to the crossroads
between sociolinguistics and pragmatics: the former is interested in stable
variables and the latter in dynamic ones. He recognizes the need for a solid
theoretical base to interpret phenomena in historical pragmatics.

The third section stems from the linguistically-oriented approach to historical
pragmatics and deals with pragmatic causes of language change. Elizabeth C.
Traugott gives a detailed overview of grammaticalization, making reference to
two major approaches to this phenomenon: grammaticalization as reduction of
structure and grammaticalization as expansion of functions. Major focus is
placed on grammaticalization born out of interaction and subjectivity in view of
semantic and pragmatic ambiguities. In her chapter, María José López-Couso
sketches a wide historical background to the linguistic discussion of
(inter)subjectivity, and gives much space to Traugott (pp. 129-143). She
explains, however, why (inter)subjectification and grammaticalization should be
kept apart. This chapter is a voice in the ongoing debate over the role of self
and subjective interpretations and intentions in language change. López-Couso
suggests quantification methods, rather than only intuitive judgments in the
study of the effects of (inter)subjectification. The chapter on
pragmaticalization and discursization, by Claudia Claridge and Leslie Arnovick,
starts with a definition of pragmatics, as this is the realm into which
pragmaticalized elements enter. Their definition is wide and goes beyond the
'Anglo-American' approach. Pragmaticalization is not easy to define because it
is a relatively fresh concept; practically all of the case studies presented in
this chapter could qualify as grammaticalization in the wide view propagated by
Traugott. The other process discussed in this chapter, discursization, is
perceived as the second stage of pragmaticalization. The authors claim that
discursization should be distinguished as a separate stage, as it goes hand in
hand with de-institutionalization and enables pragmatic reinforcement, for
instance, in turning an expression from a simple illocutionary act into a
contextually determined act of politeness (e.g. 'bless you!'). Section III
closes with a contribution from Brigitte Nerlich on metaphor and metonymy as
contextual phenomena which drive language change. The chapter presents the
background of historical pragmatics from a philosophical and epistemological
angle, with special attention paid to metaphor and metonymy as ''pragmatic
strategies'' (p. 194). In Nerlich's view, metaphor and metonymy evolve in
''situated pragmatic language use'' (p. 201) in a specific situational and
cultural context and work as mechanisms of adapting language to new conditions.

Section IV consists of two chapters on pragmatic aspects in the writings of two
literary giants: Chaucer (Mari Pakkala-Weckström) and Shakespeare (Ulrich Busse
and Beatrix Busse). Both chapters contain overviews of relevant historical
pragmatic studies. Pakkala-Weckström starts with an informative diagram
presenting the coverage of Chaucer's oeuvre by various historical pragmaticians,
which shows a large degree of incompatibility among the studies in terms of
their textual base. The discussion continues with a bio section on Chaucer and
his works. Studies of Chaucer's texts recalled by Pakkala-Weckström concentrate
mostly on features of literary dialogue and genre characteristics. An important
question emerging in this chapter is the reliability of literary texts in terms
of language representation, and their applicability for specific research
queries. In Busse and Busse's chapter on Shakespeare, editorial issues are also
considered. Historical pragmatic studies based on Shakespeare's writings have
approached language use from multiple angles: speech acts, politeness, discourse
markers, stylistic devices, pronominal address forms and multifarious vocative
expressions, their correlation with genre and textual structure, etc. However,
as was the case with Chaucerian studies, scholars often select only a fraction
of available texts. However, the Shakespeare corpus is complete, so it may serve
in full as a comprehensive base for investigation, especially in its electronic
version, available soon (Neuhaus forthcoming).

Section V is devoted to micropragmatic phenomena. Brinton concentrates on
discourse markers and defines them on the basis of formal, semantic and
cognitive similarities. The chapter provides a very informative overview of
synchronic and diachronic studies on discourse markers, concentrating on the
processes responsible for their emergence and obsolescence (grammaticalization,
pragmaticalization, links to negative politeness and generic requirements). The
next chapter cuts across different genres and chronological periods, and shows
that interjections are pertinent to human linguistic behavior, stable in
historical terms, and recognizable on the basis of overall human experience.
Elke Gehweiler treats interjections as a ''word class'' (p. 315), but at the same
time, notices categorical and functional overlaps. She lists major swearing
domains and presents function-to-form as well as form-to-function studies. In
the following chapter, Gabriella Mazzon discusses address terms including
pronouns, and nominal and phrasal terms. She starts with a review of research
with a sociolinguistic bent, and makes reference to the advantages of
computerized corpora in view of previous scholarship being based mostly on
literary texts. The author draws attention to elaborate pronominal address
systems in various languages, and discusses the sources of deferential pronouns,
as well as the dissolution of the two-form 2nd person pronominal reference in
English. In terms of nominal and phrasal address, attention is paid to their
grammaticalization and formulaic nature, as well as the situational and social
context influencing the selection of a specific expression.

In section VI, the reader enters the realm of interactional pragmatics, which
may be seen as the core of the discipline. Dawn Archer focuses her attention on
the recent trends in (im)politeness studies transported into historical texts
and contexts. The beginning of the chapter tries to capture the nature of speech
acts and sketches the history of inquiry into this phenomenon. The rest of the
chapter is a systematic and illustrative overview of possible approaches to
directives, commissives and expressives, and of methodologies, including
technical issues of manual and automatic corpus extraction. The next chapter, by
Minna Nevala, deals both with politeness and impoliteness. The author provides a
wide overview of critical approaches to the notions of face, power and distance,
also from the perspective of historical studies. When it comes to impoliteness,
this attack on face eludes systematic classifications because it is not
normative in nature. However, it can be successfully placed on a gradual scale
of verbal aggression gravity (Archer 2008). To continue the topic of linguistic
conflict, the reader moves on to the chapter on controversies by Gerd Fritz.
This is a largely untouched area which shows how knowledge has been advanced
through public debate, and raises pragmatic interest in rules followed by
participants. This valuable inquiry provides comparative material for other
situations of verbal conflict, such as literary dialogues or everyday insults.
It also sketches a historical background of the European philosophical tradition
of dispute and the technological and social conditions of a given era as
conducive to specific forms and topics of verbal argument. The author
concentrates on public discourse of the 16th -18th centuries, when controversies
flourished in Europe. An interesting distinction is introduced between
diachronic and evolutionary pragmatics. The former, according to Fritz, would
compare forms of a given type of controversy from different periods, while the
latter would emphasize the historical conditions in which a controversy was
voiced, and how its form was influenced by these conditions. In the next
chapter, Marcel Bax reviews the field of verbal ritual. As ritual escapes easy
definitions, this chapter is clearly multidisciplinary. For instance, Bax points
to the links between ritualistic behavior and the cognitive and linguistic
evolution of humans (as opposed to other species in the animal kingdom, pp. 492,
494-495). To capture rituals from a pragmatic point of view, Bax decides to
marry the ''grand theories'' (p. 504) with actual data. He successfully employs
Jucker and Taavitsainen's ''pragmatic space model'' (pp. 505-506) and moves on to
the records of ritual available to historical linguists. At the end, Bax makes
an interesting suggestion that increased politeness sensitivity in the early
modern period is a kind of rationalized ritual strategy of self-presentation.

The final section of the volume (VII) presents selected discourse domains which
have so far attracted the most interest in historical pragmatics. Religious
discourse, discussed by Thomas Kohnen, is characterized by the existence of a
special, often multi-genre, authoritative text, such as the Bible in the
Christian religion, and by a continuous textual tradition. Perhaps the most
interesting aspect of religious texts is the correlation of textual functions
with different genres. Kohnen points to earlier oral and ritualistic practices
reflected in performative verbs outside secular discourse domains. Other issues
include the use of the vernacular and the impact of religious texts on society.
The field of science is presented in a very structured manner by Päivi Pahta and
Irma Taavitsainen. They start with ''the pragmatics of scientific writing'' (pp.
549-551) and stress the connection between social developments (e.g.
vernacularization of science) and their reflection in communication. Three major
issues come to the forefront: discourse forms and practices within a community,
genre conventions and their dynamic nature, and rhetorical strategies, such as
persuasion. Even though medicine is the central area of this chapter, it
branches off to other fields like physics, anatomy, chemistry, and even theology
and history. Socio-historical background, including Latin and vernacular
literacy, education and dissemination of knowledge, is also considered. Finally,
the authors move to data and research methods. They show how historical
pragmatics can use quantitative and qualitative methods, corpus tools, and also
methodologies imported from studies on present-day language use. The next
chapter, by Claudia Claridge, provides a thorough overview of news discourse,
the goals and themes of the news, the socio-historical circumstances in which
the news started functioning as a clearly delineated discourse domain, and
strategies for speech presentation, attribution and evaluation. The author does
not limit herself to newspapers; she also explores other obsolete modes of
communicating the news. The author admits that the presentation is selective
because this field of discourse has not been studied in its entirety yet. Unlike
Claridge's contribution, the chapter on courtroom discourse by Kathleen L. Doty
deals with only a section of a much larger and well-studied field: legal
discourse. In this chapter, the emphasis is on the interactive character of
courtroom discourse: roles of the participants and their interaction captured in
different genres. The author stresses the importance of the socio-historical
setting and the character of the judicial system of the period and place.
Special character of speech acts and politeness strategies in courtroom
discourse are illustrated with summaries of several selected papers. The next
wide discourse area is correspondence, explored by Minna Palander-Collin. An
important theme in this chapter is the application of corpora in the study of
letters and the use of both quantitative and qualitative methods. The chapter
focuses on the social dimension of correspondence. From a larger discourse
perspective, there is a section on the technical and material characteristics of
letters, as well as the birth of the postal service. The double nature of
letters - conventional and idiosyncratic at the same time - has also been
addressed. The last chapter of the volume goes back to literary discourse. This
time, Susan Fitzmaurice draws a very structured picture of this complex
multi-genre field of discourse. Fitzmaurice writes her chapter with the audience
of the whole volume in mind (p. 681) and shows how literature may provide useful
material for those linguistically, as well as philosophically, inclined towards
historical pragmatics. As for research topics, micropragmatic and macropragmatic
considerations are inspected. In the section on research methods, there are two
trends again: the qualitative stylistic and philological approach, and
quantitative corpus studies. The author questions the validity of present-day
grammatical categories for searches in historic texts, as well as
decontextualization in corpus searches. In opposition, qualitative studies work
on selected representatives of texts, setting them against a richly documented
historical, social and cultural milieu. Finally, Fitzmaurice considers all major
pragmatic theoretical frameworks, from implicatures to speech acts, from the
historical literary discourse perspective.


This bulky collection of chapters, exploring the most important areas in
historical pragmatics, is a testimony to how this field of linguistics has grown
and in which directions it is heading. The contributions provide links with
sociolinguistics, stylistics, rhetoric, ethnology, history and other fields. The
discipline had started off as a study of English historical texts but very soon
spread to other languages and cultures. While the widening geographical span
deserves appreciation, a critical remark should nevertheless be made about the
historically inept classification of Scots as Scottish English. I cannot agree
that the Helsinki Corpus of Older Scots is a corpus ''documenting the early
stages of regional varieties of English'' (Kytö's chapter on data, p. 41),
placing it in the same box as Irish English or Canadian English. To be precise,
this language gets mentioned as 'Scots' (pp. 381 and 395), which has not been

In an overview volume, one is forced to maintain balance between theoretical
considerations and an illustration of the breadth of the field. Here, this
balance has been tipped in the direction of an illustrative overview of
historical pragmatics at the expense of theory and methodology. Sociohistorical
pragmatics is not the only field which requires a careful analysis from the
point of view of its interests and methods. A similar chapter would be needed
specifically for pragmaphilology, which does not seem to have a coherent
definition in the volume. In the Introduction we find a continuation of the
original version of Jacobs and Jucker's definition (1995): pragmaphilology is a
study of ''language use in earlier periods'' which pays attention to ''the social
and cultural contexts in which the language is used'' (p. 12). In the first
programmatic book on historical pragmatics (Jacobs and Jucker 1995), the section
on pragmaphilology included contributions which were not limited to literary
texts. In the present volume, one gets the impression that pragmaphilology deals
with literature only, and this application of the label never gets proper
clarification. Many contributions in the volume (Gehweiler, Archer, Mazzon, and
all contributions in Section VII) are saturated with pragmaphilological
considerations even though the framework of pragmaphilology is not mentioned

Parts of the book deal with well-established areas within pragmatics. The area
of law is so multifaceted that the scope of Doty's chapter does not do it
justice, as the author admits herself (p. 622). She does not, however, really
justify her narrow perspective. It seems to me that because the language of the
courtroom is clearly interactive, it has become an uncontested representation of
the whole field of law. It needn't be so. What hasn't been problematized in the
volume, but probably should be, is the emphasis on speech of the past. Written
discourse in its own right does not get as much attention. Another
underrepresented area of language in use is humor, which could be given a
separate chapter. Historical pragmatics is evolving, which is why some authors
claim underrepresentation of their topic (Claridge). At the end of every
contribution there is a plea for further research, so hopefully current gaps can
be filled in the future.

Key concepts should be outlined at the beginning of every chapter, just like
Claridge and Arnovick do. The same should be done with 'grammar' in the chapter
on grammaticalization, as the key issue in section III is how scholars
understand the scope of grammar and the scope of pragmatics.

More control could have been exercised as to the assumed knowledge of historical
pragmatics and linguistics in general. For example, Gehweiler defines apostrophe
while Nerlich doesn't define metaphor.

As befits a state-of-the-art overview, there is sensitivity to new media, new
resources and technological advances which change the character of available
data and research tools. Kytö's chapter on data is entirely devoted to
electronic resources even though the author points to pragmatic questions which
cannot be easily turned into a computer query. This aspect should have been
given much more attention in a general chapter on data. Kytö's discussion of
corpora is very comprehensive, but the list of scholarly electronic editions and
other sources is a bit selective. For instance, the Canterbury Tales Project
(Robinson 2003) is never mentioned, and neither is the Dictionary of the Scots
Language, even though Kytö discusses other Scots corpora. Though there is an
impressive range of weblinks, some do not work (details can be provided on
request). I would suggest adding consistent information about free access, as
some of the resources mentioned in the chapter require costly subscriptions.
Palander-Collin accepts that using manuscripts to produce correspondence corpora
is ''hardly practicable'' (p. 666), and so does Kytö (p. 50). This sounds,
perhaps, slightly defeatist, especially in light of Scottish correspondence
corpora (Meurman-Solin 2007, Dossena and Drury in preparation).

Another aspect to consider in terms of a database is the quality of literary
data employed in historical pragmatics. It should be admitted that, in essence,
literary language is an artificial construct and may or may not represent
features of linguistic usage. Pakkala-Weckström seems to be aware of this
problem but still adopts a rather traditional solution and decides to rely on
the authoritative Riverside edition of ''The Canterbury Tales'', rather than the
state-of-the-art electronic editions prepared by the Canterbury Tales Project
(Robinson 2003). These diplomatic transcripts of all available manuscripts
represent the multiple manuscript reality simultaneously, giving a scholar the
possibility to compare versions and to avoid treating an amalgam of editorial
choices as the 'real' text.

Gehweiler mentions ''a chapter on corpus linguistics, this volume'' (p. 333), but
there is no such chapter. Kytö's chapter on data presents corpus tools but she
does not go into statistical methods at all. Such a synthesis of specific
research tools and methods would, indeed, be of use, as it could suggest
appropriate tools for specific research questions. Since modern linguistic tools
are applied in historical pragmatic studies, some authors are duly concerned
with the applicability of the uniformitarian principle (Archer, Doty).
Fitzmaurice makes an important observation that the original interpretation of
specific linguistic behavior may have been much different than our modern
attitudes evoked by the same linguistic choices (p. 695).

All the authors aim at providing a thorough overview of research and the most
important publications on a given subtopic of historical pragmatics (extensive
reference sections in most chapters). However, the contributions exhibit various
degrees of detail and abstractness. Some read like extended annotated
bibliographies, especially Doty's chapter on courtroom discourse. Her overview
of literature on legal language comes across as uncritical. It may be claimed
that Mellinkoff's seminal monograph (1963) ''remains a helpful overview of the
characteristics of legal language, particularly its lexis'' (p. 623), but as a
50-year-old work of a non-linguist, it should be approached with caution. Some
scholars tend to summarize their own research while disregarding other
contributions to the field. For instance, Traugott discusses grammaticalization
of 'since' (p. 100) on the basis of Traugott and König (1991), while she could
have mentioned more recent research which develops her ideas (e.g. Molencki
(2007)). Concentrating on intersubjectivity and its relation to pragmatic
markers, López-Couso could have made reference to Culpeper and Kytö (2010),
where a whole chapter is devoted to discourse markers in dialogic contexts,
illuminating the discussion with new data from the Corpus of English Dialogues.
Talking about cultural and social interpretations and about the proposals of a
universal theory of politeness (pp. 421-422), Nevala should have made reference
to Wierzbicka (2003 [1991]) and/or her earlier research on cultural correlations
of politeness strategies.

Setting aside some critical comments, which are bound to appear with regard to a
volume of such magnitude, one should agree with the editors that ''the future of
the discipline looks bright'' (p. 24). This volume is the best testimony to its
vigorous condition.


Archer, Dawn. 2008. ''Verbal aggression and impoliteness: Related or
synonymous?'', in Derek Bousfield and Miriam A. Locher (eds.) Impoliteness in
language: Studies in its interplay with power in theory and practice. Berlin /
New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 181-208.

Culpeper, Jonathan and Merja Kytö. 2010. Early modern English dialogues. Spoken
interaction as writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dossena, Marina and Richard Drury. (in preparation). A corpus of
nineteenth-century Scottish correspondence. University of Bergamo.

Jacobs, Andreas and Andreas H. Jucker. 1995. ''The historical perspective in
pragmatics'', in Andreas H. Jucker (ed.), 3-33.

Jucker, Andreas H. (ed.) 1995. Historical pragmatics. Pragmatic developments in
the history of English. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Mellinkoff, David. 1963. The language of the law. Boston: Little, Brown.

Meurman-Solin, Anneli. 2007. Manual to the Corpus of Scottish Correspondence.
University of Helsinki. <>

Molencki, Rafał. 2007. ''The evolution of since medieval English'', in: Ursula
Lenker and Anneli Meurman-Solin (eds.) Connectives in the history of English.
Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 97-113.

Robinson, Peter. 2003. ''The history, discoveries and aims of the Canterbury
Tales Project'', The Chaucer Review 38:2, 126-139.

Neuhaus, H. Joachim. Forthcoming. Shakespeare database.

Traugott, Elizabeth C. and Ekkehard König. 1991. ''The semantics-pragmatics of
grammaticalization revisited'', in Elizabeth C. Traugott and Bernd Heine (eds.)
Approaches to grammaticalization. Vol.2. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John
Benjamins. 189-218.

Wierzbicka, Anna. 2003 [1991]. Cross-cultural pragmatics: The semantics of human
interaction. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Joanna Kopaczyk holds a PhD in English historical linguistics. Her research interests include the history of Scots and historical discourse analysis. She published a monograph on south-western Middle Scots (Peter Lang, 2004). Currently, she is working on a book on textual standardization in the language of Scottish burghs (1380-1560). Her materials consist of Middle Scots administrative and legal discourse and she is using the method of lexical bundles for extracting fixed chunks of discourse for structural and functional interpretation. Her research is supported by a post-doctoral grant from the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education (N N104 014337).

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