Article published in:Historical (socio)pragmatics at present
Edited by Matylda Włodarczyk and Irma Taavitsainen
[Journal of Historical Pragmatics 18:2] 2017
► pp. 271–294
Initiating contact in institutional correspondence
Historical (socio)pragmatics of Late Modern English literacies
When addressing family members or friends, letter writers enter a common ground of some sort, where, as research has shown, the rules of everyday interaction apply (Nurmi and Palander-Colin 2008). In different historical periods, familiar correspondence is thus very much about maintaining existing bonds and about phatic communion. The situation is likely to be very different in the case of institutional recipients, in particular if somebody addresses a given institution for the first time. The data selected for the study, the 1819 applications to the British Colonial Office for the Cape of Good Hope colonisation scheme (TNA 48/41–6), include many letters written by “first timers” (i.e., the encoders who have not addressed the institution before). These letters may provide some insights into the specific participation framework of the first-time writers in their interaction with the institution.In the paper, I propose that contact initiation may be related to the literacy levels of letter-writers, focusing on what I refer to as “technical literacy”. Based on some parameters thereof, I distinguish between two broad groups of informants, reflecting what may be described as standard and non-standard literacies, respectively. The two groups, I assume, do not operate within the same participation framework and, therefore, display pragmatic and linguistic differences in constructing the initial encounters. Moreover, the analysis of these initiations offers a new perspective on the routinisation of institutional correspondence.
Keywords: Cape Colony, epistolary initiations, Late Modern literacies, petitions, requests
Published online: 09 February 2018
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