Project

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The Language of the Labouring Poor in Late Modern England

English title The Language of the Labouring Poor in Late Modern England
Applicant Auer Anita
Number 188879
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Section d'anglais Faculté des lettres Université de Lausanne
Institution of higher education University of Lausanne - LA
Main discipline German and English languages and literature
Start/End 01.03.2020 - 29.02.2024
Approved amount 819'400.00
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Keywords (6)

Language Variation and Change; Historical Sociolinguistics; Language Standardisation; Corpus Linguistics; English Linguistics; Digital Humanities

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
Le projet vise à mieux comprendre le rôle de la stratification sociale dans la variation et le changement linguistiques en temps réel et à compléter l’histoire «traditionnelle» de l’anglais écrit lors de sa codification, en particulier pendant la période c. 1780-1840. Basée sur une collection d’env. 2050 lettres de « pétitions pour démunis », le projet examine systématiquement les langages des démunis (leur morpho-syntaxe, orthographe, réflexions phonologiques en orthographe) et les compare à l’utilisation du langage dans toutes les couches sociales (lettres écrites par les gens aisés et des classes moyennes).
Lay summary

Le projet vise à mieux comprendre le rôle de la stratification sociale dans la variation et le changement linguistiques en temps réel et à compléter l’histoire «traditionnelle» de l’anglais écrit lors de sa codification, en particulier pendant la période c. 1780-1840. La perspective «traditionnelle» qui prévalait de longue date concernait la description de la variation et du changement de langue dans l’imprimé et le rôle joué par l’élite éduquée dans le processus de standardisation. Les sources de manuscrits nouvellement disponibles émanant des travailleurs pauvres, à savoir les pétitions pour démunis qui ont été rédigées en vertu de la « Old Poor Law », peuvent toutefois offrir une perspective nouvelle et complémentaire de l’histoire linguistique existante en se concentrant sur le groupe majoritaire de la société. Les données des démunis permettent d’enquêter sur le rôle de la stratification sociale dans la variation et le changement linguistiques grâce à la comparaison de l’utilisation de la langue à travers différentes couches sociales. À cette fin, une collection d’env. 2050 lettres de « pétitions pour démunis » de la période allant de 1795–1834 (The Old Poor Law) sera converti en un corpus interrogeable qui servira de base à de nouvelles enquêtes linguistiques. L’objectif principal du projet est de déterminer le rôle de la variable de stratification sociale dans la variation et le changement de la langue au cours de la période allant de 1795–1834 (niveau théorique). Pour répondre à cette question, il est nécessaire d’examiner systématiquement les langages des démunis (leur morpho-syntaxe, orthographe, réflexions phonologiques en orthographe) et de les comparer à l’utilisation du langage dans toutes les couches sociales (lettres écrites par les gens aisés et des classes moyennes) (niveau descriptif).

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 16.01.2020

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
The project investigates the role of social stratification in linguistic variation and change during the period c. 1780-1840 in England. Based on a corpus of approx. 2050 pauper petition letters, the language of the labouring poor (morpho-syntax, orthography, phonological reflections in spelling) is systematically investigated and compared to the language use of the higher social strata, i.e. letters written by the middling sort and the elite.
Lay summary

The project aims at gaining a better understanding of the role of social stratification in real-time linguistic change and at complementing the ‘traditional’ history of written English during its late codification and early prescription stages, particularly the period c. 1780–1840. The long-prevailing ‘traditional’ view has been concerned with the description of language variation and change in print and the role that the educated elite played in the standardisation process. Newly available manuscript sources by the labouring poor, i.e. pauper petitions written under the Old Poor Law, can however now provide a new and complementary perspective on the existing language history by focusing on the majority group in society. Importantly, the data from the lower social orders allow for the investigation of the role of social stratification in linguistic variation and change through the comparison of language use across different social layers. To this end, a collection of c. 2050 pauper petition letters from the period c. 1795–1834 (The Old Poor Law) will be converted into a searchable corpus that will serve as the basis for new linguistic investigations. The main aim of the project is to determine the role of the social stratification variable in language variation and change in the period c. 1795–1834 (theoretical level). To answer this question, the systematic investigation of lower-order language (morpho-syntax, orthography, phonological reflections in spelling) and a comparison to language use across the social strata (in letters written by the elite and middling sort) is required (descriptive level).

 

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 16.01.2020

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

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Abstract

Rooted in the fields of historical sociolinguistics and the history of the English language, the proposed project aims at gaining a better understanding of the role of social stratification in real-time linguistic change and at complementing the ‘traditional’ history of written English during its late codification and early prescription stages, particularly the period c. 1780-1840. The long-prevailing ‘traditional’ view has been concerned with the description of language variation and change in print and the role that the educated elite played in the standardisation process. Newly available manuscript sources by the labouring poor, i.e. pauper petitions written under the Old Poor Law, can however now provide a new and complementary perspective on the existing language history by focusing on the majority group in society. Importantly, the data from the lower social orders allow for the investigation of the role of social stratification in linguistic variation and change through the comparison of language use across different social layers. To this end, a collection of c. 2050 pauper petition letters from the period c. 1795-1834 (The Old Poor Law) will be converted into a searchable corpus that will serve as the basis for new linguistic investigations. The main aim of the project (Q1) is to determine the role of the social stratification variable in language variation and change in the period c. 1795-1834 (theoretical level). To answer this question, the systematic investigation of lower-order language (morpho-syntax, orthography, phonological reflections in spelling) and a comparison to language use across the social strata (in letters written by the elite and middling sort) is required (descriptive level). This research will be divided into two complementary sub-projects that are carried out by a senior postdoctoral researcher and a PhD student: Q2 (Senior postdoc): How does the language found in the pauper petitions compare to reflections of lower-class language (spoken and written) in contemporary literature and depositions, as well as meta-linguistic comments found in pronunciation grammars and other contemporary manuals? Q3 (PhD): To what extent and in what ways does “lower-class language” differ from contemporary language use by grammatically educated members of society? In what ways are the different education possibilities (literacy levels; different linguistic repertoires) reflected in the pauper petition corpus? The project outcome will be a PhD thesis, a number of international peer-reviewed articles, a special journal issue, and conference proceedings. In addition, the pauper petition corpus (plain text and xml format (philologically accurate), including optional spelling normalisation, the addition of meta-linguistic information, and a user-friendly search interface) will be made available to the academic community, including not only linguists, but also (cultural) historians and other related disciplines. The project is expected to have an important impact on and relevance for several inter-related research fields such as language variation and change, historical (socio)linguistics, historical (literary) stylistics, history of the English language and corpus linguistics.
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