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Review of  Horace Walpole and his correspondents


Reviewer: Imogen Julia Marcus
Book Title: Horace Walpole and his correspondents
Book Author: Froukje Henstra
Publisher: Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics / Landelijke (LOT)
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 26.1173

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Review:
Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

SUMMARY

In this book, Froukje Henstra focuses on the language of the eighteenth century author Horace Walpole (1717 – 1797) and his correspondents. For the purposes of her analysis, Henstra has compiled a corpus of the correspondence of Walpole and his correspondents, called the Corpus of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence (henceforth CHWC). She has done this by digitizing much of the text from the Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence (ed. Lewis 1937 – 1983).

Henstra has adopted a social network based approach (cf. Milroy 1987), which she has applied to the results of an analysis of several types of linguistic variation in the corpus. She focuses on two types of variation: alternation between use of “you was” and “you were” for the first person singular form of the verb BE, the distribution of the verbs BE and HAVE with mutative intransitive verbs in the perfect, and variation in the use of preterite forms for the past participle in perfective and passive constructions in the irregular verb paradigm. She looks at this variation in relation to the developing linguistic norms of the time, in particular the rise of normative grammar in England, as codified in Lowth’s grammar, one of the most popular grammars of the eighteenth century (cf. Auer 2008).

There are three main aims of Henstra’s study. Firstly, she seeks to test the validity of the claim that upper-class language use in England in the eighteenth century conformed to a uniform standard. Secondly, her study seeks to investigate the extent to which variation between the language use of the correspondents within the Walpole collection can be explained in a social network context. Finally, the study seeks to establish the usefulness of the social network model for historical data, and to determine whether any improvements could be made to the model.

The introductory chapter outlines why Walpole and his correspondents, who included Sir Horace Mann (1706 – 1786), Lady Mary Coke (1727 – 1811) and Henry Seymour Conway (1719 – 1795), are objects of linguistic interest. Next, it succinctly describes why Walpole’s letters are a good source for historical sociolinguistic analysis of the sort presented in the book. It then begins the work that is taken up in later chapters, namely problematizing the assumption that Walpole and his correspondents were writers of the standard language. Henstra points out that Walpole is interesting not just because he provided the modern day reader with a large sample of contemporary linguistic usage in the form of letters, but also because he seems to have been a very linguistically conscious individual. For example, the evidence suggests that he appears to have consciously rejected non-standard varieties of English. Finally, the first chapter presents the book’s research questions and outlines its structure.

In Chapter 2, Henstra addresses the important issue of how the letters within the Yale Edition were edited. Like Sairio (2008), Henstra points out that it is essential to test hypotheses about linguistic influence and the influence of network structure on existing linguistic data. However, the issue is that many of these data may have been normalised by previous editors. After evaluating the edition, Henstra finds that the normalisation was restricted to spelling and capitalization. She therefore concludes that the edition (and the corpus that she created from said edition) is suitable for the kind of analysis undertaken in her study.

Chapter 3 explores how two upper-class language users, namely Horace Walpole and Horace Mann, were using strong verb forms. It does this in order to ascertain how their usage relates to the codified norm. She had expected to find similar usage in the letters of both men, because they were both part of the educated upper classes in the eighteenth century. However, what she actually found was that although the degree of standard usage was greater in the language of Walpole than in that of Mann, there were also a greater number of variations in Walpole’s language. This suggests that Walpole had a more variable idiolect that he used in a more standard way.

The chapter as a whole strengthens the argument that Warpole’s language usage reflected the linguistic climate of the eighteenth century, in which ‘the language was codified as part of the ongoing standardisation process, ‘which in turn significantly influenced that same linguistic climate, giving rise to an interest in prescriptivism among the general public’. ‘Mann’s usage can be interpreted as providing an example of a kind of negative evidence of what was going on at the time, in displaying usage that was more stable, and did not develop in line with the changing norm’. Studies undertaken confirm the premise of Tieken-Boon van Ostade (2006) that ‘the input for the norm as codified in the grammars was influenced by the language of the upper classes and educated users’.

Chapter 4 gives a good overview of previous studies in historical sociolinguistics that have utilised the social network analysis model, including early work such as Tieken-Boon van Ostade (1991) and later work in which the original model was refined, such as Bax (2002). She concludes the chapter by suggesting that social network analysis needs to be predominantly quantitative and objective, because a qualitative approach leaves too much potential for free interpretation of what could be unclear and/or inconclusive results.

In Chapters 5 and 6, Henstra focuses on two specific network clusters in the greater Walpole network. Chapter 5 concentrates on the Walpole Family Network, and describes how an adapted Network Strength Scale was applied to it. Henstra is careful to point out that there are many gaps in the data , which have the effect of creating a certain amount of uncertainty in most of the total network strength scores. Despite this, some interesting results emerge from the analysis, including the fact that in this particular network cluster, usage of “you was” and “you were” is about equally divided, a finding in line with Tieken-Boon van Ostade’s analysis of this feature as a bridge phenomena (2002b). Maria Walpole was in an interesting informant in relation to variation in use of be and have in perfective constructions with various mutative intransitive verbs such as “change”, “come” and “arrive” (cf. Ryden and Brorstrom 1987: 234 – 65), because her usage of these features was found to be the most innovative of all the members of the Walpole Family Network. The conclusion of the chapter suggests that the analysis of linguistic influence within this particular network was hindered by the issue of incomplete data. Furthermore, Henstra suggests that Fitzmaurice’s notion of a coalition formation may be a more useful approach to family networks of this sort.

Chapter 6 applies social network analysis to the Walpole Eton Network Cluster, which consists of Walpole’s friends from Eton as opposed to his family members. In this chapter, Henstra adapts the classical network strength scale by combining it with a version of linguistic involvement analysis (cf. Chafe (1985), Palander-Collin (1999a, 1999b) and Sairio (2005)). By doing this, she creates what she calls an involvement strength scale. Similar results were obtained for this cluster as were obtained for the family network cluster, in that the results of the “be/have” variation with certain verbs show a number of gaps, and a number of either zero or very low token counts.

Henstra’s discussion of the results therefore suggests how the model for historical social network analysis could be revised in order to yield more token counts. Specifically, she suggests that it would be useful to adopt a combination model when dealing with historical data. This model would ideally combine the classical network strength model with linguistically based methods such as involvement analysis. A combination model of this sort would be a more layered model that would provide the researcher with a more complex (and therefore true to life) representation of reality than either the classical Network Strength Scale or the linguistic involvement model can provide on their own.

The conclusions of the study in relation to both functionality of social network analysis in an historical context and the presupposed uniformity of upper-class language use in Walpole’s network are presented in Chapter 7. Henstra addresses the issue of low token counts, and the other issue of the relatively small amount of background data available, which meant that it was difficult to socially embed the data that was produced in the study. She also shows how her study has successfully challenged the assumption that upper class language use in eighteenth century England was uniformly standard. She highlights the fact that there were important differences in usage among members of Walpole’s social network, differences that could be accounted for when a micro-level approach was taken. The book closes with a re-emphasis that for best results, future studies should endeavour to adopt combination models in which sociometric, cognitive and linguistic data are all taken into account.

EVALUATION

Henstra’s book expertly meets its three goals. It provides strong evidence that any claims about a uniform standard at this point in the development of the English language need to be problematized. It clearly explains the variation between the language use of the correspondents within the Walpole collection in a social network context, whilst simultaneously pointing out the limits of the social network model as it stands. Finally, it suggests improvements to the said model which would increase its functionality. Indeed, the real strength of Henstra’s book lies in its recognition that the social network model as it currently exists is not a particularly useful tool to explain linguistic variation on a micro-level, at least in an historical context. This is due to the fact that it often fails to produce statistically significant results when applied to historical data. The suggested adaptation of this model for application in a socio-historical context (i.e. to combine it with other, more linguistically-orientated models) is innovative, and will be of immense value to scholars working within the field of historical sociolinguistics. The book will also be of interest to linguists interested in the development of strong verb forms in the history of English more generally, to literary scholars interested in correspondence networks in the eighteenth century, and to historians interested in the biographical details of Horace Walpole’s life.

Henstra contextualizes her research within the framework of previous work that has applied social network analysis both in a modern context (Milroy 1987) and in an historical context (e.g. Sairio 2005). However, a shortcoming of the book is that the chapters that focus heavily on previous work can tend towards being overly descriptive and not led by the author’s argument. This is particularly true of Chapter 4. ‘Social network analysis and the history of English’. This is a relatively long chapter, and because it is not argument led, it can at times become quite dense to read. Furthermore, although it is a valuable chapter, giving as it does a thorough overview of how social network analysis has been applied in an historical context, it could have perhaps come earlier in the book. Specifically, placing it before Chapters 3 and 5, two predominantly analytical chapters, would have made more sense from a reader’s perspective, particularly as it is discussing methodological issues.

The other shortcoming of the book is that it possibly covers too much ground in terms of number of informants and different network clusters. There are three analytical chapters, (3, 5 and 6), which all look at different informants and in the case of the latter two chapters, different network clusters (although they all have Horace Walpole in common). The study could have been improved by a slightly narrower focus on fewer informants and/or clusters. This narrower focus would perhaps have allowed Henstra to do more with her innovative involvement strength scale, or would perhaps have allowed more micro-level analysis of what she identifies as important differences in usage among individual informants in particular network clusters. Despite these issues, Henstra’s book makes a thorough, well-researched and valuable contribution to the field of historical sociolinguistics. It provides a fascinating insight into the different networks that Walpole belonged to. It also throws some much-needed light on his language use and the language use of his correspondents at a time when immense changes were taking place within the English language.

REFERENCES

Auer, Anita (2008). “The Development of the Progressive in the 19th Century English: A Quantitative Study.” Language Variation and Change 10, 123 – 52.

Bax, Randy C. (2002). “Linguistic accommodation; the correspondence between Samuel Johnson and Hester Lynch Thrale”. In: Fanego, Teresa, Belen Mendez-Naya and Elena Seoane (eds.). Sounds, Words, Texts and Change, Selected papers from the 11 ICEHL, Santiago de Compostela, 7-11 September 2000, Amsterdam: Benjamins, 9-23.

Chafe, Wallace (1985). “Linguistic Differences produced by Differences between Speaking and Writing.” In: Olson, Torrance, and Hildyard (eds.), Literacy, Language and Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Palander-Collin, Minna (1999a). Grammaticalization Social Embedding. I THINK and METHINKS in Middle and early Modern English. Helsinki: Societe Neophilologique.

Palander-Collin, Minna (1999b). “Male and Female Styles in 17th-Century Correspondence: I think”. Language variation and change 11. 123 – 141.

Milroy, Lesley (1987). Language and Social Networks. Second edition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Sairio, Anni. (2005). “‘Sam of Streatham Park’ A linguistic study of Dr. Johnson’s membership of the Thrale family”. In: Palander-Collin, Minna and Minna Nevala (eds.) Letters and letter writing, special issue of EJES, 9.1, 21 – 35.

Sairio, Anni. 2008. “A social network study of the eighteenth century Bluestockings: the progressive and preposition stranding in their letters” in HSL/SHL 8. Via: http://www.let.leidenuniv.nl/hsl_shl/articles.htm

Ryden and Brorstrom (1987). The be/have variation with intransitives in English: With special reference to the late modern period. Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell International.

Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid (1991). 'Samuel Richardson's role as linguistic innovator: A sociolinguistic analysis'. In: Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade and John Frankis (eds.), Language: Usage and Description. Studies Presented to N.E. Osselton on the Occasion of his Retirement. Amsterdam/Atlanta, GA: Rodopi. 47-57.

Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid (2002b). “You was and eighteenth century normative grammar”. In: Lenz, Katja and Ruth Mohlig (eds.) Of Dyuersite and Chaunge of Language: Essays Presented to Manfred Gorlach on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday. Heidelberg: C. Winter Universitatsverlag, 88 – 102.

Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid. (2006). “Eighteenth century prescriptivism and the norms of correctness”. In: Ans van Kemenade and Bettelou Los (eds.), Blackwell Handbook of the History of English. Oxford: Blackwell.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Dr. Imogen Marcus is an historical linguist currently working as the post-doctoral research assistant on a new project investigating the bi-lingual lexicon of pre-modern England, based at Birmingham City University. Her research interests include historical semantics, pragmatics and sociolinguistics.