Chapter published in:Keeping in Touch: Emigrant letters across the English-speaking world
Edited by Raymond Hickey
[Advances in Historical Sociolinguistics 10] 2019
Singular, plural, or collective?
Grammatical flexibility and the definition of identity in the correspondence of nineteenth-century Scottish emigrants
Emigrants’ letters have finally become the object of linguistic investigation since language historians have joined historians in their study of correspondence as a valuable research tool. In historical sociolinguistics and historical pragmatics, in particular, letters have proved useful in studies of interaction strategies meant to convey greater or lesser distance from other participants in the exchange. In this contribution I intend to further my analysis of such strategies in a corpus of nineteenth-century Scottish emigrants’ letters, currently in preparation at the University of Bergamo, Italy; the aim is to study how the use of personal pronouns may vary depending on the topics at hand and the author’s attitude towards them. After an overview of the material currently available, my contribution will follow an integrated approach in which basic quantitative findings provide preliminary data; this will be supplemented with an outline of what pragmatic moves appear to be most prominent, in order to define how morphosyntactic patterns are used in different communicative contexts with different illocutionary aims. To that end, both close readings of the documents and qualitative analyses are shown to be indispensable.
Keywords: Late Modern English, Scotland, Scottish English, correspondence, vernacular usage, person deixis, pronominal forms, nineteenth century, transatlantic emigration, self-representation
Published online: 28 November 2019
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