Studies in Variation, Contacts and Change in English

Volume 17 – The Pragmatics and Stylistics of Identity Construction and Characterisation



Edited by Minna Nevala, Ursula Lutzky, Gabriella Mazzon & Carla Suhr


Lutzky, Ursula
Exploring the characterisation of social ranks in Early Modern English comedies

This study explores the representation of two groups of social ranks in the Early Modern English period. It draws on a corpus of drama comedy samples to discover differences and similarities in the depiction of the upper and lower ranks in the period from 1500 to 1760 by carrying out a keyword analysis. For this purpose, the speech turns of all upper and lower rank characters were extracted separately from the sociopragmatically annotated Drama Corpus to serve as the target subcorpus and reference subcorpus, needed to create the wordlists for the keyword analysis. Comparing the speech of these two social ranks reveals linguistic features that are characteristic of their language use in the constructed text type of drama comedy and allows insights into the stylistic representation of characters from these groups. This article therefore illustrates the interplay of stylistics and sociopragmatics in the study of historical data of a fictional nature and discusses findings pertaining to the interactive nature of characters’ language use (e.g. terms of address and proper nouns), to the typical focus of their interactions (e.g. discussing topics of love vs. lack) and to specific pragmatic means of situating them in a specific social rank (e.g. the discourse marker forsooth).

Froehlich, Heather
“Thus to make poor females mad”: finding the ‘mad woman’ in Early Modern drama

This article explores how the phrase ‘mad woman’ is used to construct gendered face-threatening actions in Early Modern dramatic writing. Although literary scholars are familiar with the more canonical mad women, I show that feminine madness in Early Modern dramatic writing is not always described so bluntly. Using the simple quantitative technique of counting instances of lexical realizations of ‘mad woman’ in the Shakespeare His Contemporaries corpus (Mueller 2015), this article shows that while we can easily recognize the so-called mad women in drama, the characters we expect to find are not always named as such. Finally, I suggest that accusations of madness in women can be used to identify a variety of politeness strategies in use in Early Modern drama.

Evans, Mel
Tudor women writing: Multimodal style and identity in the English letters and prose of Queen Katherine Parr and Princess Elizabeth

This paper investigates how the stylistic choices of sixteenth-century female writers can be understood as an act of identity when read in their local and public contexts. Focusing on the mid-sixteenth-century writings of two elite women, Princess Elizabeth, and her stepmother, Queen Katherine Parr, I investigate the extent to which each woman develops a distinctive “voice” for their religious prose in contrast to their vernacular epistolary writing, and how such stylistic efforts can be interpreted within the contemporary constraints of permitted female literary practice and vernacular language norms. The analysis uses the sociolinguistic concept of style to explore how features combine to achieve particular stylistic goals, as realised within written documents. Material features (such as layout and ink colours) combine with morphosyntactic properties to suggest that each woman had an idea of a specific vernacular style for her religious prose writing, as opposed to her correspondence, and that Parr and Elizabeth shared a similar concept of what this style should constitute. The article concludes by considering how quantitative stylometric findings cohere with the fine-grained analyses, and identifies similarities between Parr’s and Elizabeth’s prose and Coverdale’s English Bible, suggesting its stylistic influence on their work.

Csulich, Gabriela
(Im)politeness, social status, and roles in the Early Modern English courtroom: Your Lordship and traitor in high treason and ordinary criminal trials

This paper studies the influence of trial participants’ social status and role on the negotiation of (im)politeness in Early Modern English high treason and ordinary criminal trials. The data is drawn from the first two sub-periods of the trial section of A Corpus of English Dialogues 1560-1760 (CED), additional court records, which were both annotated socio-pragmatically to extend the SPC to the beginning of the Early Modern English period, i.e. 1560-1639, and the trial section of the Socio-Pragmatic Corpus 1640-1760 (SPC). The analysis of the concordance of your Lordship, a deferent form of address, and traitor, an epithet, gives insights into language use in different types of trials and shows a possible influence of the trial participants’ social status on the negotiation of (im)politeness in trial proceedings. This study presents authentic dialogues from the Early Modern English courtroom, which was characterised by formality and its own linguistic rules, and explores the influence of social status as a socio-pragmatic parameter on forms of address, epithets and on the role of trial participants. It discusses the results from the viewpoint of different types of trial proceedings and from the perspective of the Early Modern English society, which was based on a strict social code and defined by rules of socially accepted behaviour.

Nevala, Minna
Solidarity in evaluation: The portrayal of murderers and their victims in late nineteenth-century newspapers

This article studies the terms used to refer to murderers and their victims in late nineteenth-century British newspapers, comprising of 200 articles from both London and provincial papers. The material consists of news features about such notorious murder cases as those of the Mannings (1849), William Palmer (1856), Charles Peace (1876/9), and Jack the Ripper (1888). The aim is to study the terms from a socio-pragmatic perspective, on the basis of the notions of intensity, solidarity, and objectivity. The purpose is thus to describe what public descriptions existed of the chosen murderers and their victims in late nineteenth-century newspapers, and how the readers’ evaluation of the crimes seems to have been influenced and even manipulated by the use of person reference.

The results of the study suggest that the social identities of the murderers and their victims have been constructed by the help of two main perspectives for linguistic evaluation. Firstly, the influential factor, which relates to the manner in which the press referred to the mu rder events themselves, thu s affecting the public’s opinion. In language use this was shown by a decrease within the evaluative parameter of objectivity, which is related to an increase within the parameter of intensity. Secondly, by the personal perspective, which means the way in which the press described the criminals and victims in order to show personal involvement in the matter. In general, there seems to have been low solidarity for the murderers and medium or high solidarity for the victims. Thus it is more common to find negative labelling used of the murderers than positive evaluation denoting in-group membership. As for the victims, they are mostly labelled positively, regardless of their social standing.

Virdis, Daniela Francesca
Interactive Strategies in Victorian Academic Discourse: Citation in J. Ruskin’s The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century (1884)

This article analyses the Victorian writer J. Ruskin’s expression of identity in the written version of his academic lectures The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century (1884). His identity as a distinguished scholar emerges particularly from his interaction with the authors and works he cites in his text. The article therefore presents a quantitative and qualitative examination of the citation practices in the lectures, which are studied as an example of Late Modern academic discourse, by applying Hyland’s (2000) model of citation to the instances in the text. Background information is also provided on historical genre analysis, identity construction, the presentation and application of Hyland’s model and of the different categories and sub-categories of citation. Linguistic and discursive investigation of the lectures demonstrates that citations are used to give both positive and negative evaluations of the work of other authors. Above all, they are the main interactive strategy deployed by Ruskin to construct his own professional identity and to confirm his reputation as an eminent academic and public figure.

Tyrkkö, Jukka
Looking for rhetorical thresholds: Pronoun frequencies in political speeches

The deliberate and considered use of personal pronouns is one of the primary linguistic features used by political speakers to manage their audiences’ perceptions of in-groups and out-groups. In this diachronic study of political speeches over the last two centuries, I will argue that a notable shift took place in politicians’ use of personal pronouns around the 1920s, immediately following the time broadcast media emerged on the scene.

University of Helsinki