LINGUIST List 21.3781

Sun Sep 26 2010

Review: Historical Linguistics: Culpeper and Kytö (2010)

Editor for this issue: Anja Wanner <>

        1.    Joanna Kopaczyk, Early Modern English Dialogues

Message 1: Early Modern English Dialogues
Date: 26-Sep-2010
From: Joanna Kopaczyk <>
Subject: Early Modern English Dialogues
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Announced at

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, Pozna?, 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, e.g. 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.


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).

Page Updated: 26-Sep-2010