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Review of  Early Modern English Dialogues

Reviewer: Joanna Kopaczyk
Book Title: Early Modern English Dialogues
Book Author: Jonathan Culpeper Merja Kytö
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Historical Linguistics
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 21.3781

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AUTHORS: Culpeper, Jonathan; Merja Kytö
TITLE: Early Modern English Dialogues
SUBTITLE: Spoken Interaction as Writing
SERIES TITLE: Studies in English Language
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2010

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


The book under review is a unique study of spoken interaction in historical
texts from the Early Modern English period. It is the first full-length
monograph devoted to this issue, which is an outcome of a ten-year research
project led by Jonathan Culpeper and Merja Kytö (henceforth C&K), who produced
the electronic ''Corpus of English Dialogues 1560-1760'' (henceforth CED). The
core of the book is composed of sixteen chapters, of which the first three
present introductory information and theoretical background of the volume.
Chapter 1 introduces the topic of speech versus writing, as reflected in the
debates about the status of both mediums. In the next chapter (Chapter 2), CED
is introduced in detail. Chapter 3 deals with dialogic genres (or text types)
and provides a comprehensive introduction to the methodology of research into
historical texts containing/representing/imitating the speech (or dialogue) of
the time. The remaining chapters are data-based and cover three selected aspects
of speech-like discourse in historical texts. Chapters 4-8 concentrate on
aspects of the structure of spoken interaction, including: recurrent lexical
bundles in Chapter 5, lexical repetitions (especially doubles) in Chapter 6, the
role of AND in spoken discourse in Chapter 7, and three selected aspects of
grammatical variation (the possessive pronominal construction, the prop-word ONE
and DO-periphrasis in negative declarative sentences) in Chapter 8. The second
broad topic deals with pragmatic noise, which the authors define in Chapter 9
and explore further, concentrating on its functions and contexts (Chapter 10),
changing patterns (Chapter 11) and semantic change in pragmatic noise, set
against the background of sound symbolism and naturalness (Chapter 12). The
third, final area of interest for the authors is social variation in interaction
-- in relation to speaker identity (with focus on gender, Chapter 13), social
roles (Chapter 14) and the correlation of pragmatic markers with social
variation (Chapter 15). The book finishes with a chapter devoted to an overall
summary and a brief conclusion (Chapter 16). The content parts are followed by
two Appendices. Appendix I presents tables which did not make it into the major
text while Appendix II gives reference details for all the source texts used in
the compilation of the corpus. The volume closes with an extensive references
section, and author and subject indexes.


In this monograph, the authors want to ''articulate the kind of historical
research agenda that is necessary to account for how the language of spoken
face-to-face interaction works in a historical context, and explore how it
changes'' (p. 3). They return to the primacy of speech against what they see as
the ''traditional models'' (p. 2) which have placed a written authoritative
standardised and conventionalised text at the centre of linguistic study.
Perhaps the perspective employed in the present book is not as revolutionary as
the authors claim. After all, linguistic approaches are constantly changing and
speech patterns reflected in historical writing are not such a novelty anymore.
A good testimony to this fact is the extensive list of sources referred to in
the book, like Archer (2005), or even such that were not noticed by the authors,
Włodarczyk (2007). Nevertheless, the present volume -- and the work leading up
to its publication -- does come across as a cornerstone in speech-related
historical research. The authors use a wide range of innovative, even
experimental corpus methods to extract information about speech in the past from
written (and printed) texts. The methodology is eclectic and it combines
quantitative and qualitative tools -- under sound convictions backed up by, e.g.
, Biber et al. (1998) (p. 19). The theoretical basis for data interpretation
corresponds well to the varied character of the material and sets it deeply in
extralinguistic context, which is achieved through a meticulous study of the
background of the texts employed, including frequent reference to scholarly,
linguistic, social and literary commentary of the time. Thus, the major
paradigms relevant in the discussion are historical pragmatics and discourse
analysis as well as historical sociolinguistics.

The authors devote some of the Introduction and the whole of Chapter 2 to
theoretical issues and explaining their own approach. Their cautious procedures
for text selection for the 1.2mln-word CED are combined with a commendable
attention to detail in sketching out historical and social backgrounds: always
sensitive to the means of production and circulation, the tastes and habits of
potential audiences, the ratio of literacy, and other important extra-linguistic
factors for all the genres present in the corpus. The three-fold distinction
between genres -- speech-like, speech-based and speech-purposed (p. 17) --
neatly captures the complexity of the relationship between the written medium
and speech representation. The genres selected for the corpus include the
reflection of authentic dialogue (trial proceedings and witness depositions,
although there should be more reflection on how dialogic depositions are) and
constructed dialogue (drama comedy, didactic works, prose fiction), both of
which may also be approached from the angle of minimal versus considerable
narratorial intervention (p. 23) (the term 'genre' has not been clearly
differentiated from 'text type' throughout the book; see, however, the
definitions of both on p.21-22). The corpus is built out of 10,000 samples of
168 texts. The authors are aware of the discrepancies in representativeness
across periods and genres. They check assumptions by drawing on other sets of
data e.g. the Helsinki corpora or the LION corpus. It would have made sense to
include a general introductory note on the additional materials as well as
subcorpora used in the book, as they vary from chapter to chapter.

In Chapter 3, C&K draw on the work of Koch and Oesterreicher (1985-86; 1990),
which is a rare case of acknowledging a different research tradition than the
Anglophone one. A classic source, Ong (2002 [1982]), would have helped to steer
out of the simple dichotomy of speech and writing -- after all, the ''writing''
comprised in the CED is in a large part printed, and this specific medium exerts
other pressures on its users and on the language than speaking or handwriting.
The authors do not notice the need to explore the difference between handwritten
and printed texts, and their respective relationship with speech. However, they
discuss the issue of reliability in the context of text transmission, copies,
editions, circulation, circumstances of the recording process, etc. In the same
chapter, the authors choose Leech and Short's model (2007 [1981]) of
speech-presentation in order to capture how text relates to speech, and pay
attention to multiple levels of discourse.

Chapter 4 brings a well-deserved criticism of the view that spoken language has
no grammar and the rejection of 'sentence' as a unit for spoken discourse (pp.
88-102). C&K comment critically on earlier examples of historical studies into
speech-related texts (pp. 98-101) and give a useful summary of Biber and
Finegan's work on genre variation and multi-factor analysis (p.100). Also, Biber
et al.'s (1999) Longman Grammar, with its revolutionary corpus approach to the
study of language structure and function, comes in as one of the major reference
studies and theoretical backdrops. What perhaps sounds surprising but is very
much in line with modern research on formulaicity is that spoken language is
quite repetitive and formulaic -- we use prefabricated units in interaction and
speech is not so varied and creative as it may seem. This observation underlies
the methodology used in the subsequent chapters.

In Chapter 5, the method of extracting lexical bundles in order to observe
repetitive and formulaic structures in discourse has found its way into a
book-length study for the first time. The authors used various software tools,
with an important footnote that three different programs rendered slightly
different results (p. 113). I would recommend Ari (2006) for an overview of
software for bundle extraction. In my view, this methodology has a great
potential as it takes into consideration the fact that language is not built of
individual words but rather of chunks of words, often forming units larger than
a phrase or stable within a phrase, serving a specific discourse function. In
the context of automatic bundle extraction from the corpus, as well as the
key-word method used in Chapter 15, the authors pioneer a method for solving
spelling variation problems (VARD software). There are, however, some issues
which remain problematic. For reasons of space or time, C&K study ''three-word
bundles'' only, even though sometimes only a 4-gram serves as a satisfactory
illustration, e.g. GIVE AN ACCOUNT OF (p. 127) or WITH ALL MY + ALL MY HEART (p.
132). They do say towards the end that ''a full account […] would need to look at
bundles of other lengths too'' (p.140), which in a way exposes the preliminary
character of the work done in this chapter. Alongside structural considerations
priority is given to the function of bundles: interpersonal, textual and
ideational (following Halliday's original framework (1978)). The bundles point
to the change in the structure of courtroom proceedings -- from focus on the
crime narrative to cross-examination. Lexical bundles reveal intriguing
affinities between genres and periods, for example Present-Day English plays are
closest to Early Modern trials in their conversation-like character.

The idea behind Chapter 6 on lexical repetitions is that they may convey the
spontaneity characteristic of spoken discourse. The authors are, as if, proofing
the relevance of such an inquiry for the study of speech-related written texts,
which in my opinion is a prime example of rigorous inductive research. The
theoretical background here is Grice's Cooperative Principle and Relevance
Theory (p. 143), whereby lexical repetitions will appear as ''non-fluency
features'' and ''false starts.'' On the basis of comparative corpora searches and a
pilot corpus, the authors notice that lexical repetition is clearly connected
with speech-related text-types (pp. 144-145). The case study focuses on COME
COME, which the authors discuss within the theory of grammaticalisation (p.
153-154): going from the change of location, through activity change to attitude
change, by way of metonymic and metaphorical shifts of meaning and connotation.

Chapter 7 should be given a different title. The term ''cohesion'' is not used in
this chapter at all, nor is it introduced as a part of the theoretical
framework. Instead, the authors discuss coordination, while the relationship of
this phenomenon with cohesion remains unexplored. C&K concentrate on the use and
functions of AND. Earlier scholarship has noticed the clausal and phrasal
employment of AND, to which the present authors add speech-act coordination and
other discoursal functions. The major hypothesis in this chapter is connected
with the concept of a clause or sentence, which became enhanced in writing with
the evolution of punctuation (yet another research topic for the future). To
support the prediction that AND is used as a ''sentence'' marker in speech, the
authors show the similarity of proportions for AND and its immediate collocates
in historical texts and modern speech, as opposed to modern writing. When
discussing coordination of verb clauses versus verb phrases, C&K touch upon
binomial and multinomial constructions without noticing it. Expressions such as
''I vow and swear'' (6b), ''live and dye'' (6d) or ''it cracks, flaws, and cleaves''
(6c), have been the centre of attention of many studies on formulaic speech
(e.g. Danet 1984). The observation that semantic repetition in binomials serves
to ''reinforce or emphasise a particular meaning'' (p. 176) is not new nor is it
the only reason for coordination. Even though the authors see stacking of such
coordinated phrases as ''humorous, satirical or [...] stylistic'' (p. 181), it is
phonetic reinforcement, alliteration, and etymology that should really inspire
the discussion of ''instructions and intentions'' (26), ''pity and compassion''
(28a), ''toil and turmoil'' (28b), ''horn-headed and hard-headed husbands'' (28b).

In Chapter 8 the discussion of grammatical variation is based on three selected
constructions, increasing in use during the period in question and connected ''in
some way'' to spoken discourse (p.184). An interesting observation follows from
the discussion of the prop-word ONE, the second selected feature. It turns out
that speech-like texts lead in the introduction of ONE in this function. Biber
et al (1999) suggest a high degree of implicitness in spoken discourse which, in
turn, would explain low incidence of this usage in Trials where everything needs
to be explicit. It is an asset of the present book that it pays attention not
only to general trends in grammatical change, but actually looks at individual
text types.

The next four chapters focus on 'pragmatic noise' -- a practically untrodden
ground. C&K's attempt shows how difficult it is to break out of the shell of the
traditional conceptualisation of language as a neatly organised system of
hierarchically layered blocks. The authors clearly outline what they treat as
pragmatic noise, many a time using a negative definition -- what it is not (p.
199-201), relating such elements to ''natural noises'' and underlining their
sound-symbolic quality. They draw attention to the importance of pragmatic noise
for spoken interaction, and point out that texts trying to represent speech
would often employ it to make this rendition more believable. There is a very
interesting subchapter on historical perspectives and early contemporary
reactions on pragmatic noise (9.3). The authors notice the problems with
spelling in representing pragmatic noise; not only is spelling inadequate to
fully capture the sound effect and prosody, but also historical conventions may
have changed.

For a survey of functions and contexts of pragmatic noise, the authors selected
one genre only -- comedy plays. In spite of limited textual scope,
systematically collected new material emerges from this research and sheds new
light on data available, for instance, from the OED. Chapter 10 presents a truly
extensive collection of pragmatic noise elements, some of which have never made
it into the traditional accounts of language development. The authors sometimes
fall in the trap of far-fetched conclusions, as when, in their view, the single
appearance of EH in the same function as HA (seeking response) in 1707 ''raises
at least the possibility that EH is a development of HA'' (p. 235). Still, it is
interesting how AH and OH divide the emotions between each other -- positive
connotations go with the former and with the latter -- ''extreme exasperation,
anger or scorn'' (p. 240).

Chapter 11 comes across as an illuminating piece of research on the
(in)stability of pragmatic noise items and potential change in their
meaning/use. The authors are very aware of the relationship of pragmatic noise
with text type and culture, so that using Biber et al. (1999) as a background to
the striking absence of hesitators in Early Modern English data is clearly ''not
comparing like with like'' (p.263). (Still, there are several cases in the book,
where such comparisons are attempted). I agree that the short life of pragmatic
noise items may be just an impression -- some such items ''have life-spans of
hundreds of years'' (p. 273) and the same function may be taken over by a
similarly sounding element. However, I wouldn't go as far as to suggest that PDE
AARGH or YUCK ''maintain a phonetic similarity'' to previously used forms in the
same function, e.g. FIE or POOH, just because there is a fricative or stop in
these pragmatic noise items (p.266).

In the chapter devoted to the evolution of meanings expressed by pragmatic noise
items (Chapter 12), the authors successfully argue for a chronological
development from naturally induced noises, through illocutionary elements
(pragmaticisation) to discourse signals (pp. 296-302). This path of development
is only a suggestion; as the authors concede, the examples are few and it is
difficult to generalise from there.

The final chapters of the book, dealing with social variation in speech-related
texts, are its weakest part, although not devoid of interesting points. Chapter
13 promises to concentrate on identity, while it is limited to gender only. An
asset of C&K's work here is that they provide a very useful review of literature
on gender (13.2). I especially agree with their critique of a simple
variationist approach -- one cannot just record speech by males and speech by
females and compare. Audience design is a factor; context is key for the
production of specific constructions; speech often comes in response to earlier
discourse; and there is different access to social roles for men and women. In
search of an efficient historical sociolinguistic approach to gender, they
outline the major problem: the lack of texts produced by or to represent women
(apart from witch trials). In the end, the authors decide to combine qualitative
and quantitative studies within the Community of Practice paradigm with
sensitivity to social roles played by the participants, and using corpus
methodology to gather data. Here, they employ a subcorpus cleverly tagged for
situated social roles at the level of the utterance. This way it is possible to
observe the dynamics of social roles within the conversation, especially the
role of an addressee, who may change even during one turn. The discussion
incorporates a very precise outline of the labels used for social roles, and
concentrates on relationships interpreted as meaningful (asymmetric vs.
symmetric) (pp. 320-324).

Chapter 14 of the book concentrates on the amount of talk and its distribution
with regard to gender and social role. C&K make predictions about the behaviour
of participants in trials as well as the creation of characters in comedies.
They make a very interesting observation on the kinds of preceding discourse
which elicits a specific reply-length and distinguishes between sexes
(task-based discourse, pp. 336-338). A lot of attention is paid to social
detail, e.g. the pseudo-intimacy enjoyed by servants in a household. In
conclusion, the findings are parallel to modern analyses of gender and language
where ''women engage more in socio-emotional talk, whereas men prefer
status-enhancing informational talk'' (p. 346). What is worth pointing out is
that C&K employ statistical tests to their data with great frequency in this
chapter; unfortunately, in 12 calculations out of 15 tables the results are not
significant or the data pool is too small. The authors hasten to observe that
''this does not mean that the results obtained would not have any value'' (p. 334,
fn.5), which can perhaps open a debate on the ultimate source of authority for
quantitative analysis.

When it comes to Chapter 15, on pragmatic markers, the decision not to look for
elements defined a priori, but use a key-word list, is commendable.
Unfortunately, the reader doesn't really know what the authors have found in
key-word lists because at no point do the authors actually arrive at a clear
definition of pragmatic markers. The category remains blurry, especially when
the terms ''pragmatic markers'' and ''discourse markers'' are used interchangeably.
It is not very persuasive to compare Nikula's (1996) top ten pragmatic markers
in PDE conversation among young people with a set of items with a variety of
functions from Early Modern texts. Indeed, the authors admit that they are not
''comparing like with like'' (p. 375) but keep on doing it and drawing
conclusions. The authors are hedging: ''Of course, we are not attempting a full
treatment of this complex and controversial particular linguistic area'' (p.
391), but because of that Tables 15.7 and 15.8 look haphazard, including all of
a sudden such aspects as 'thou/you'.

Very few technical slips can be noticed and it is hoped they will be corrected
in subsequent editions of this book. The surname 'Mellinkoff' is misspelt as
'Mellingkoff' (pp. 52, 451, 464). Table 5.7. could have been arranged
differently, so that respective categories could be compared more easily, e.g.
Assertions, Volition, etc. The font above the table on p.170 looks too small for
the body of the text, rather like a displaced footnote. Examples (6) and (7) on
p. 194 should be switched to indicate the chronology of the illustrated pattern
of negation. In Chapter 7, a quick footnote would be useful to explain why some
instances of AND are both emboldened and underlined and some are only
underlined. The typesetter could have provided appropriate length symbols
instead of a regular colon (p. 216 and elsewhere). On p. 217 (section 9.4), ''our
remarks in the previous chapter (11.5)'' should rather be described as ''remarks
in the following chapter.'' More caution should be given to italicising
terminology and lexical examples, as in ''Old French fi'' (p. 249) or in ''The term
status in the context of this theory...'' (p. 330). The link to 'phonosemantics
literature,', (p.284) doesn't open. On p. 368,
the reader does not know what the prompt ''see section 5'' refers to.

In general, C&K's book comes across as fresh, stimulating and, in parts,
controversial. The general conclusions pertaining to the title of the book could
have been stronger but the aim of ''mapping out a research programme for the
future'' (p. 398) has definitely been achieved. The publication will familiarise
readers with the CED and its great potential for research into discourse
structure, (re)constructed speech, pragmatic noise, gender issues, turn
assignment, and other intriguing, even if not mainstream topics. The authors do
not say, though, whether the corpus is going to be publicly released. A huge
asset of the book is that many illustrative excerpts are given -- they may be
amusing, solemn, or intriguing, and they raise interest in the texts as such,
just for the pleasure of reading and/or historical information. The book is
ideological in a way; C&K want to change the thinking about language and
historical discourse. What I find very important is that this book is a step
towards a more holistic approach towards language. To expand the authors'
agenda, I believe that new methods, such as those used in the present book,
should inform the study of authoritative and standardised texts, too. This would
enable a comparative outlook on various aspects of language use, regardless of
the underlying medium. After all, the language use of the past comes down to us
mostly through handwritten and printed text.


Archer, Dawn. 2005. Questions and answers in the English courtroom (1640-1760):
A socio-pragmatic analysis. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Ari, Omer. 2006. ''Review of three software programs designed to identify lexical
bundles'', Language Learning and Technology 10/1: 30-37.

Biber, Douglas, Sarah Conrad, and Randi Reppen. 1998. Corpus linguistics.
Investigating language structure and use. Cambridge: CUP.

Biber, Douglas, Stig Johansson, Geoffrey Leech, Susan Conrad, and Edward
Finegan. 1999. Longman grammar of spoken and written English. London: Longman.

Danet, Brenda . 1984. ''The magic flute: A prosodic analysis of binomial
expressions in legal Hebrew,'' Text 4: 143-172.

Halliday, M.A.K. 1978. Language as a social semiotic: The social interpretation
of language and meaning. London: Edward Arnold.

Koch, Peter and Wulf Oesterreicher. 1985-86. Sprache der Nähe -- Sprache der
Distanz. Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit im Spannungsfeld von Sprachtheorie und
Sprachgeschichte. Romanistisches Jahrbuch 36: 15-43.

Leech, Geoffrey and Mick Short. 2007 [1981]. Style in fiction: A linguistic
introduction to English fictional prose. Harlow: Pearson Education.

Nikula, Tarja. 1996. Pragmatic force modifiers. A study in interlanguage
pragmatics. Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä.

Ong, Walter. 2002 [1982]. Orality and literacy. The technologizing of the word.
(2nd edition). London / New York: Routledge.

Włodarczyk, Matylda. 2007. Pragmatic aspects of reported speech. (Studies in
English Medieval language and literature 17). Frankfurt a. Main: Peter Lang.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Joanna Kopaczyk holds a PhD in English historical linguistics. Her research interests include the history of Scots and historical discourse analysis. She is currently working on a book on textual standardisation 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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