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Lower-class language use in Late Modern England

Author Mark ITEN
Director of thesis Prof. Anita Auer
Co-director of thesis
Summary of thesis

This PhD thesis is being written as part of the SNSF-funded research project “The Language of the Labouring Poor in Late Modern England”. The project is rooted in the fields of historical sociolinguistics and the history of the English language and is particularly interested in the role of social stratification in real-time linguistic change during the period c. 1780-1840. The thesis, as well as the overall project is concerned with language data from the lower social classes in Late Modern England. For the purposes of this project, a searchable corpus will be produced based on a collection of c. 2050 English pauper petition letters from the Old Poor Law period (c. 1795-1834). These pauper petition letters have previously been transcribed but will have to be digitalized in order to render the corpus searchable.


This thesis will investigate these pauper petitions from a normative perspective, by (a) comparing the lower-class language – in terms of orthography and selected linguistic variables – to the language of letters by the middle class and the social elite of the times, and by (b) taking the socio-historical context into consideration, i.e. education opportunities and literacy levels between the different social orders. Additionally, the thesis will also be concerned with linguistic precepts that were aimed at the lower social classes.

Status beginning
Administrative delay for the defence 2024