Article published in:Changing Genre Conventions in Historical English News Discourse
Edited by Birte Bös and Lucia Kornexl
[Advances in Historical Sociolinguistics 5] 2015
► pp. 103–134
Late Modern English death notices
Transformations of a traditional lay audiences
Death notices are traditional texts that have become conventionalised within a certain speech community. They use highly standardised expressions and established structural patterns to fulfil the function of informing about an individual’s death. This paper traces the development and linguistic realisation of this text type throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The study is based on a qualitative analysis of a diachronic corpus, the Corpus of English Death Notices (CEDN), which consists of 400 death notices published between 1801 and 2012 in four English newspapers (The Morning Chronicle, The Daily News, The Times, and The Guardian). The pre-set macrostructure of the text type can be described in terms of a template consisting of thirteen different structural elements. The analysis of the text samples shows that many of these structural elements display social and cultural norms and conventions. Ten of the elements can already be found at the beginning of the 19th century; a further three elements start to appear within the period of investigation, adding new communicative functions to the texts. Based on their frequency of occurrence, they can be categorised as obligatory or optional elements of the text type. The diachronic investigation shows that some of these components remain stable whereas others change status. As regards their linguistic realisation, tendencies towards greater precision, e.g. when mentioning the date of death, as well as tendencies towards more vague expressions, e.g. when referring to the circumstances of the death, can be observed.
Keywords: English death notices, prototypicality, template, traditional text type
Published online: 24 July 2015
CEDN = Corpus of English Death Notices, 1801–2012
Compiled by Sarah Borde. Rostock: University of Rostock.
Eckkrammer, Eva Martha
Enkvist, Nils Erik
1994 Untersuchungen zur Textsorte ‘Todesanzeige’. Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Kiel.
Jupp, Peter C. & Tony Walter
von der Lage-Müller, Kathrin