Chapter published in:Late Modern English: Novel encounters
Edited by Merja Kytö and Erik Smitterberg
[Studies in Language Companion Series 214] 2020
► pp. 296–314
What it means to describe speech
Pragmatic variation and change in speech descriptors in Late Modern English
This article explores the form, frequency, and function of “speech descriptors” (such as softly in “It matters little,” she said, softly; CLMET3.0, A Christmas Carol, Period 2: 1839) in Late Modern English. Drawing on the narrative fiction category in the CLMET3.0 corpus, I show the rise of speech descriptors across the period, their linguistic characteristics, and their various pragmatic functions. Most descriptors are evaluative in that they indicate the narrator’s or author’s assessment of how the speech was delivered. Often, the usage is connected with characterization, demonstrating the evaluation of the original speaker in addition to the speech. I also stress the importance of approaching speech descriptors using variationist principles rather than word normalization.
Published online: 18 March 2020
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