Sociolinguistics and Language History

Studies based on the Corpus of Early English Correspondence


What role has social status played in shaping the English language across the centuries? Have women also been the agents of language standardization in the past? Can apparent-time patterns be used to predict the course of long-term language change?
These questions and many others will be addressed in this volume, which combines sociolinguistic methodology and social history to account for diachronic language change in Renaissance English. The approach has been made possible by the new machine-readable Corpus of Early English Correspondence (CEEC) specifically compiled for this purpose. The 2.4-million-word corpus covers the period from 1420 to 1680 and contains over 700 writers.
The volume introduces the premises of the study, discussing both modern sociolinguistics and English society in the late medieval and early modern periods. A detailed description is given of the Corpus of Early English Correspondence, its encoding, and the separate database which records the letter writers' social backgrounds.
The pilot studies based on the CEEC suggest that social rank and gender should both be considered in diachronic language change, but that apparent-time patterns may not always be a reliable cue to what will happen in the long run. The volume also argues that historical sociolinguistics offers fascinating perspectives on the study of such new areas as pragmatization and changing politeness cultures across time.
This extension of sociolinguistic methodology to the past is a breakthrough in the field of corpus linguistics. It will be of major interest not only to historical linguists but to modern sociolinguists and social historians.

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PART I: FRAMEWORK. Terttu NEVALAINEN: Introduction. Helena RAUMOLIN-BRUNBERG: Historical sociolinguistics. Terttu NEVALAINEN & Helena RAUMOLIN-BRUNBERG: The Corpus of Early English Correspondence. PART II: TESTING THE MODELS: SOCIAL VARIABLES. Terttu Nevalainen: Social stratification. Terttu NEVALAINEN: Gender difference. Helena RAUMOLIN-BRUNBERG: Apparent time. Kirsi HEIKKONEN: Regional variation in standardization: A case study of Henry V's Signet Office. PART III: INDIVIDUAL CHANGES IN SOCIAL FOCUS. Minna PALANDER-COLLIN: The rise and fall of METHINKS. Arja NURMI: Periphrastic DO and BE + ING: Interconnected developments? Helena RAUMOLIN-BRUNBERG: Forms of address in early English correspondence. Appendix. References. Index.