Exploring the characterisation of social ranks in Early Modern English comedies

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


This study explores the representation of two groups of social ranks in the Early Modern English period. It draws on a corpus of drama comedy samples to discover differences and similarities in the depiction of the upper and lower ranks in the period from 1500 to 1760 by carrying out a keyword analysis. For this purpose, the speech turns of all upper and lower rank characters were extracted separately from the sociopragmatically annotated Drama Corpus to serve as the target subcorpus and reference subcorpus, needed to create the wordlists for the keyword analysis. Comparing the speech of these two social ranks reveals linguistic features that are characteristic of their language use in the constructed text type of drama comedy and allows insights into the stylistic representation of characters from these groups. This article therefore illustrates the interplay of stylistics and sociopragmatics in the study of historical data of a fictional nature and discusses findings pertaining to the interactive nature of characters’ language use (e.g. terms of address and proper nouns), to the typical focus of their interactions (e.g. discussing topics of love vs. lack) and to specific pragmatic means of situating them in a specific social rank (e.g. the discourse marker forsooth).
Original languageEnglish
JournalStudies in Variation, Contacts and Change in English
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 602011 Computational linguistics
  • 602
  • 602004 General linguistics

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