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.