Overt and Covert Prestige in Late Middle English: A Case Study in East Anglia

Juan Manuel Hernández-Campoy

University of Murcia, Spain


The preservation of some collections of late fifteenth century private correspondence –like the Paston letters, the Cely letters or the Stonor letters– involving writers of different sex, age, social extraction, personal circumstances and geographical location, offers a very useful corpus to carry out quantitative sociolinguistic analysis. The historical and philological interest of these documents is outstanding, not only because they offer data on the political and domestic history of fifteenth century England, but also because they were composed at a crucial period in the development of the English language (during the expansion of the Chancery English variety). In the Paston Letters, William Paston II represents the social manifestation of the development of the awareness of a well-established standard with his ‘Memorandum on French Grammar’ (Letter 82), written between 1450 and 1455. This is an exceptional document that provides us with a description of the English language of the late ME period by a user of that time too and written with non-standard traits, which highlights the cover versus overt prestige motivations in his contradictory sociolinguistic behaviour and social psychology of that late Middle English speech community and society.

Session: Paper session
History / Planning and Policy
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 01