Late Modern English death notices

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Death notices are traditional texts that have become conventionalised withina certain speech community. They use highly standardised expressions andestablished structural patterns to fulfil the function of informing about anindividual’s death. This paper traces the development and linguistic realisationof this text type throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The study is based on aqualitative analysis of a diachronic corpus, the Corpus of English Death Notices(CEDN), which consists of 400 death notices published between 1801 and 2012in four English newspapers (The Morning Chronicle, The Daily News, The Times,and The Guardian). The pre-set macrostructure of the text type can be describedin terms of a template consisting of thirteen different structural elements. Theanalysis of the text samples shows that many of these structural elements displaysocial and cultural norms and conventions. Ten of the elements can already befound at the beginning of the 19th century; a further three elements start toappear within the period of investigation, adding new communicative functionsto the texts. Based on their frequency of occurrence, they can be categorised asobligatory or optional elements of the text type. The diachronic investigationshows that some of these components remain stable whereas others change status.As regards their linguistic realisation, tendencies towards greater precision,e.g. when mentioning the date of death, as well as tendencies towards morevague expressions, e.g. when referring to the circumstances of the death, can beobserved.


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