In Search of Jane Austen: The Language of the Letters

ISBN : 9780199945115

Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade
304 Pages
162 x 240 mm
Pub date
Mar 2014
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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 as close 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 in her 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 wrote to, 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 must have been between the editors of her novels and her own linguistic preferences, in the field of spelling and otherwise.


Preface and acknowledgements
Chapter 1. Introduction
1.1. Introduction
1.2. The language of the letters
1.3. A sociolinguistic analysis
1.4. Jane Austen's language
1.5 A single-author, focussed corpus
1.6. The wider perspective
Chapter 2. Letter-writing
2.1. Introduction
2.2. The surviving letters and those that were lost
2.3. Letter-writing materials
2.4. The postal system
2.5. Letter-writing: a social activity
2.6. Being dependent on the post
Chapter 3. A social network of letter writers
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Jane Austen's correspondents
3.3. Letter-writing formulas
3.3.1. An index of formality?
3.3.2. Opening formulas
3.3.3. Closing formulas
3.3.4. Dating and signing letters
3.4. The correspondence network and the lost letters
Chapter 4. The letters as a corpus
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Types of letters
4.3 Self-corrections
4.4 Short forms
4.5 Dashes and capitalisation
4.6 Two corpora for analysis
Chapter 5. The language of the letters: Spelling
5.1. Introduction
5.2 A dual spelling system
5.3. Epistolary spelling in the letters
5.3.1. Tho' and thro'
5.3.2. Older spellings
5.3.3. Other epistolary spelling features
5.4. More variable spelling features
5.5. Problems with the apostrophe
5.6. Spelling as evidence of pronunciation
5.7. A consistent if idiosyncratic speller
Chapter 6. The language of the letters: Words
6.1. Introduction
6.2. Jane Austen in the OED
6.3. Creative language use
6.4. Vulgar words and intensifiers
6.5. Linguistic involvement
6.6. Referring to close relatives
6.7. Jane Austen's linguistic fingerprint?
Chapter 7. The language of the letters: Grammar
7.1. Introduction
7.2. Developing grammatical awareness
7.3. Variable grammar in the letters
7.4. Verbal -ing forms
7.5. Changing grammar
Chapter 8. Authorial identity
8.1. Introduction
8.2. The discarded Persuasion chapters
8.3. Different house styles for Mansfield Park?
8.4. Dating The Watsons
8.5. Why analysing spelling matters
Chapter 9. Conclusion
Appendix 1. Letters referred to in the text
Appendix 2. Letters (sent and received) referred to by Jane Austen
Appendix 3. Transcription of letter 139
Appendix 4. Jane Austen's epistolary network

About the author: 

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 currently the director of the research project Bridging the Unbridgeable: Linguists, Prescriptivists and the General Public.

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