Sociolinguists want to get access to informal spoken language – an impossible aim for the historical sociolinguist. In this course we will look at the next-best option: the language of private, informal letters, and we will draw on these letters as an object of sociolinguistic analysis. The focus will be on the Late Modern English period (1700 – 1900), and on published and unpublished letters by famous and not-so-famous people, ranging from Jane Austen, Mrs Montagu and Robert Lowth to William and Elizabeth Clift. We will study handwriting, letter-writing conventions and the postal system; the spelling, vocabulary and grammar of the language of letters; and we will correlate our findings with sociolinguistic variables such as the writer’s social and regional origin, age, gender and education as well as social network membership.
You will find more information on the course here.
The letter shown in this post is from Mrs Montagu, one of the members of the Bluestocking Circle to which she belonged. The letters is currently on display on the website for Dr Johnson’s House in London, in connection with a display on Elizabeth Carter, one of Mrs Montagu’s fellow Buestockings. Attempts at transcribing it will we welcome, and are encouraged by means of a comment on this blog.
Thanks to Marian Rietdijk for her correction!