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Review of  Historical Sociopragmatics

Reviewer: Lelija Socanac
Book Title: Historical Sociopragmatics
Book Author: Jonathan Culpeper
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Historical Linguistics
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 22.4944

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EDITOR: Culpeper, Jonathan
TITLE: Historical Sociopragmatics
SERIES TITLE: Benjamins Current Topics, 31
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2011

Lelija Socanac, Centre for Language and Law, Faculty of Law, University of
Zagreb, Croatia

The book was originally published as a special issue of ''Journal of Historical
Pragmatics'', 10:2 (2009), as the first book to present different methods and
approaches to historical sociopragmatics. Historical sociopragmatics concerns
itself with any interaction between specific aspects of social context and
particular historical language use that leads to pragmatic meanings. It focuses
on historical language use in its situational contexts and analyzes how those
situational contexts produce norms which speakers engage in or exploit for
pragmatic purposes. It can be either synchronic, describing how language use
shapes and is shaped by context at a particular point of time in the past, or
diachronic, describing how shifts in language use shape context, shifts in
context shape language use, and/or shifts occur in the relationship between
language use and context over time. An important issue for historical
sociopragmatics concerns the (re)construction of contexts on the basis of
written records. The chapters in this book represent a range of ways in which
historical sociopragmatics can be understood and investigated. The analyses are
based on English texts from the 15th to the 18th century, including a variety of
genres such as personal correspondence, trial proceedings and plays.

In the first chapter, ''Structures and expectations: A systemic analysis of
Margaret Paston's formulaic and expressive language'', Johanna L. Wood examines
the late fifteenth-century letters of Margaret Paston, spanning 37 years. None
of the letters were written in her own hand so that it is assumed that she could
not write. Drawing from Tannen's (1992) work on frame analysis and Fairclough's
(1992) work on discursive and social practices, Wood examines the concept of
local context, placing it within the framework of macro-sociological notions of
context encompassed within the field of Critical Discourse Analysis. It is
argued that in this framework all contexts are ''local contexts'' because it
appears that anything that is culture specific has to be local, so that it is
only when we look for universal pragmatic principles that apply in all societies
that we are not in a ''local'' context. An innovation here is that Wood uses the
metacommentary of participants (e.g. their evaluations) to reveal their
perspective on what would count as normal or expected. Letters present
particular difficulties because they are partly formulaic and partly expressive.
It is shown that this characteristic may be exploited to facilitate the
identification of expressive text. It is further shown that variation in the
formulae has a practical application. The formulaic parts of letters that
scribes wrote for Margaret Paston may be compared with letters they wrote for
themselves. This provides evidence that Margaret was responsible for the wording
of her letters. Thus Wood shows how historical pragmatics can help with
sociohistorical questions, such as how much control women who used scribes had
over the forms produced. Since little scribal influence was found in the
rhetorical formulae, where it would be expected most, the language appears to be
attributable to Margaret Paston, not the scribes. It was also apparent,
especially when looking at the ending in letters, and from the contrast between
the formulae and the creativity, that the more expressive parts are sometimes
contained within the conventional.

In ''The sociopragmatics of a lovers' spat: The case of the eighteenth-century
courtship letters of Mary Pierrepont and Edward Wortley'', Susan M. Fitzmaurice
also uses the participants' commentary, to be more specific, their responses, as
a source of evidence of their understandings. She examines the
eighteenth-century courtship of Mary Pierrepont and Edward Wortley through
letters, focusing on the sociopragmatic roles afforded the participants in their
correspondence and on ways how sociopragmatic meanings expressed by participants
might be reconstructed. What makes this courtship correspondence different is
that it was illicit, and hence some of the usual conventions did not apply, thus
calling for some rather complex negotiating of role relationships. The chapter
shows how Relevance Theory (Sperber and Wilson 1995) can be applied in the
explanation of the complex interactions between language and contexts.
Uncovering the meanings of the letters consists of negotiating multiple
literary, cultural, historical and linguistic contexts. The first, most local
contextual layer is the context created by the discourse of the letters. The
second is the situational context constructed by the process involved in the
original exchange of letters. The third is the broader historical context in
which the social constraints, linguistic complexity and historically specific
circumstances of the correspondence are embedded. The method of analysis relies
on identifying key historical and cultural reference points in order to
understand how communicative practices are embedded in the local material
context. The goal is to construct a later (con)textual setting in which later
readers can ascertain the extent to which original participants were able to
calculate their correspondents' intentions and how they in turn responded. It is
also a warning that the analyst must carefully consider the historical evidence
in order to ascertain the credibility of an interpretation.

''Altering distance and defining authority: Person reference in Late Modern
English'' by Minna Nevala studies the use of nominal terms and pronouns as a
means to refer to a third party, as well as to the writer and the addressee in
written interaction. The purpose is to discuss the concepts of person reference
and social deixis by looking at how the interactants' social identities and
interpersonal relationships are encoded in the use of referential terms in Late
Modern English, drawing from data from the Corpus of Early English
Correspondence Extension and other sources. Her approach is based on the
hypothesis that the use of reference is deeply rooted in social hierarchy as
well as in individual social roles. She focuses on third person referential
terms but also shows how these have implications for social identities mediated
between the addresser and the addressee. She also examines the term ''friend'' and
shows that it may be used when the writer has something to gain from it: an
actual favour, a reciprocal act of solidarity, or an access to the
addressee's/referent's in-group. Shifting between in-group/out-group memberships
appears to be a common function for the use of ''friend''. The use of addressee-
and self-oriented reference is in turn determined by the social and contextual
aspects of appearance, attitude, and authority.

In ''Variation and change in patterns of self-reference in Early English
correspondence'', Minna Palander-Collin focuses on referential expressions,
specifically on the self-referential first-person pronoun ''I'' and its usage in
the Corpus of Early English Correspondence and its Extension. Starting from the
claim that ''I'' not only indexes the speaker or writer in place and time but also
situates them in the moral order of speaking as the person responsible for what
is uttered, she examines what participants could attribute to themselves, and
how that might vary in family and non-family letters, across time, and in other
contexts where the participants' rights and obligations might be different. She
stresses the importance of integrating macro-social structures with local
practices in understanding meanings, and discusses self-reference in the light
of early modern socio-historical research. The study relies on integrationist
social theory and employs a set of quantitative and qualitative methods in the
analysis of recurrent word clusters. As a methodological innovation, she uses
the cluster facility in WordSmith Tools to reveal the words that frequently
co-occur with the pronoun ''I''. The results point to increasing self-reference
and the prominence of mental verb clusters that often serve interpersonal

In the final chapter,'' Identifying key sociophilological usage in plays and
trial proceedings (1640-1760): An empirical approach via corpus annotation'',
Dawn Archer and Jonathan Culpeper use the contextual categories captured by a
set of tags appended to participants' utterances to discover how historical
contexts, including the co-text, genre, social situation and/or culture, shape
the functions and forms of language use. They label this approach
''sociophilology''. To be sure, the relationship between context and language is
not one-way (i.e. context shaping language); rather, it is interactive (i.e.
language can also shape context). Using the Sociopragmatic Corpus (1640-1760),
an annotated subsection of comedy plays and trial proceedings taken from the
Corpus of Dialogues (1560-1760) which offer interactive, face-to-face,
speech-related data, they combine two corpus linguistics techniques, namely
corpus annotation and a ''keyness analysis'' (i.e. identifying the key words, key
parts of speech and key semantic fields) as a means of identifying the
statistically-based style markers, or key items, associated with a number of
social role dyads (including examiner to examined in trials and master/mistress
to servant in plays). They show how such approach can be used to reveal
differential distributions of personal pronouns, interjections, imperative
verbs, politeness formulae, etc. In a more qualitative fashion, they scrutinize
these results for pragmatic meanings, and in particular point out how their
results establish local contextual norms which can be exploited to generate
particular meanings and effects.

This is the first book to map out historical socio-pragmatics, a
multidisciplinary field located within historical pragmatics and overlapping
with socially-related fields, such as sociolinguistics and critical discourse
analysis. Overall, it could be said that the aim of the book, namely to raise
the profile of historical sociopragmatics, give it more solidity and inspire
future research efforts, has been achieved.

As far as methodology is concerned, the chapters aim to show that diversity is
possible. They are organized so that they vary from the more qualitative to the
more quantitative. 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, social history and the history of English
who want to familiarize themselves with recent methodological advances in the
field. By offering a wide range of approaches and methodologies, the book opens
the way to future research in the field of historical socio-pragmatics.

Jacobs, Andreas; Jucker, Andreas H. 1995. The historical perspective in
pragmatics. In: Andreas H. Jucker (ed.). Historical Pragmatics: Pragmatic
Developments in the History of English. (Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 35).
Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 3-33.

Fairclough, Norman. 1992. Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Leech, Geoffrey. 1983. Principles of Pragmatics. London: Longman.

Sperber, Dan; Wilson, Deirdre. 1995. (2nd ed.) Relevance: Communication and
Cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Tannen, Deborah. 1993. What's in a frame? Surface evidence for underlying
expectations. In: Tannen, Deborah (ed.). Framing in Discourse. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 14-56.

Wodak, Ruth. 2001. What CDA is about – A summary of its history, important
concepts and its development. In: Ruth Wodak; Michael Meyer (eds.) Methods of
Critical Discourse Analysis. London: Sage Publications, 1-13.

Lelija Socanac is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb, Croatia. She is the coordinator of the Centre for Language and Law, and she currently directs the project Legal and Linguistic Aspects of Multilingualism. Her main research interests include sociolinguistics, historical sociolinguistics, contact linguistics and legal linguistics.