Letters as loot
Confiscated Letters filling major gaps in the History of Dutch
In this contribution, we will introduce the recently rediscovered collection of Dutch documents from the second half of the seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries, comprising over 38,000 letters, both commercial and private ones. The socio-historical linguistic value of these private letters, kept in the National Archives (Kew, UK), will be indicated by discussing a few illustrative cases. Examining the linguistic phenomena of h-dropping and n-deletion in a selection of letters from the Letters as Loot-corpus, compiled at the University of Leiden, we will show that they reveal the linguistic variation of the past and give access to the everyday language of people from all social ranks, thus filling major gaps in the history of Dutch. A social and gender distribution found for the usage of formulaic language suggests a connection with socially stratified writing experience.