In Search of Jane Austen: The Language of the Letters

Hardcover | March 6, 2014

byIngrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade

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Along with Shakespeare, Jane Austen (1775-1817) can be said to be the most widely studied author in the history of English literature. But unlike Shakespeare, her language has received little scholarly attention. This is especially true for the language of her letters. Jane Austen's letters,mostly addressed to her sister Cassandra but to various other people as well, have been described as the equivalent of telephone conversations, and if you read them, you can almost hear her speak. We do not have access to actual speech from the time in which she lived, but the letters take us asclose to the spoken language of the period as you might hope to get. They are therefore a veritable linguistic goldmine.This study, for the first time, offers a detailed sociolinguistic account of all aspects of the language of her letters: spelling, vocabulary and grammar. It also produces some evidence of pronunciation as well as of local dialectal usage. The analysis shows Jane Austen to be rather idiosyncratic inher language use: she was consistent in her spelling (though she had unusual spelling preferences), not very innovative in her vocabulary (though she did coin a few new words), and not quite representative of grammatical developments of the times (though her usage differed depending on who she wroteto, her sister, her publisher or her nieces and nephews). This study of Jane Austen's private language use shows the extent to which she varied in her language use, just like any of us do today, while is also provides evidence both for a date of her unfinished novel The Watsons (for the first time on linguistic grounds) and for the interplay there musthave been between the editors of her novels and her own linguistic preferences, in the field of spelling and otherwise.

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Along with Shakespeare, Jane Austen (1775-1817) can be said to be the most widely studied author in the history of English literature. But unlike Shakespeare, her language has received little scholarly attention. This is especially true for the language of her letters. Jane Austen's letters,mostly addressed to her sister Cassandra but ...

Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade has a chair in English Sociohistorical Linguistics at the University of Leiden Centre for Linguistics (Leiden, The Netherlands). Her two most recent books include The Bishop's Grammar: Robert Lowth and the Rise of Prescriptivism (OUP, 2011) and An Introduction to Late Modern English (EUP, 2009). She is cu...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:320 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 0.98 inPublished:March 6, 2014Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019994511X

ISBN - 13:9780199945115

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Table of Contents

Preface and acknowledgementsAbbreviations1. Introduction1.1. Introduction1.2. The language of the letters1.3. A sociolinguistic analysis1.4. Jane Austen's language1.5 A single-author, focussed corpus1.6. The wider perspective2. Letter-writing2.1. Introduction2.2. The surviving letters and those that were lost2.3. Letter-writing materials2.4. The postal system2.5. Letter-writing: a social activity2.6. Being dependent on the post3. A social network of letter writers3.1. Introduction3.2. Jane Austen's correspondents3.3. Letter-writing formulas3.3.1. An index of formality?3.3.2. Opening formulas3.3.3. Closing formulas3.3.4. Dating and signing letters3.4. The correspondence network and the lost letters4. The letters as a corpus4.1 Introduction4.2 Types of letters4.3 Self-corrections4.4 Short forms4.5 Dashes and capitalisation4.6 Two corpora for analysis5. The language of the letters: Spelling5.1. Introduction5.2 A dual spelling system5.3. Epistolary spelling in the letters5.3.1. Tho' and thro'5.3.2. Older spellings5.3.3. Other epistolary spelling features5.4. More variable spelling features5.5. Problems with the apostrophe5.6. Spelling as evidence of pronunciation5.7. A consistent if idiosyncratic speller6. The language of the letters: Words6.1. Introduction6.2. Jane Austen in the OED6.3. Creative language use6.4. Vulgar words and intensifiers6.5. Linguistic involvement6.6. Referring to close relatives6.7. Jane Austen's linguistic fingerprint?7. The language of the letters: Grammar7.1. Introduction7.2. Developing grammatical awareness7.3. Variable grammar in the letters7.4. Verbal -ing forms7.5. Changing grammar8. Authorial identity8.1. Introduction8.2. The discarded Persuasion chapters8.3. Different house styles for Mansfield Park?8.4. Dating The Watsons8.5. Why analysing spelling matters9. ConclusionAppendix 1. Letters referred to in the textAppendix 2. Letters (sent and received) referred to by Jane AustenAppendix 3. Transcription of letter 139Appendix 4. Jane Austen's epistolary networkReferences