Nineteenth-century institutional (im)politeness

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This contribution aims to assess the possibility of filtering reflexive, i.e. intentional and strategic linguistic choices from the politic and highly conventionalised language of historical letters (see Wood 2009). As I would like to argue, an analysis of some “backstage” epistolary data could be helpful in tracing the former type of behaviour. The contribution presents a case study into the responses of the British government agency, the Colonial Office, to the letters from Mr William Parker, a Cape of Good Hope emigration scheme candidate (1819). The small set of letters addressed to Parker are weighed against a larger volume of the internal correspondence of the Colonial Office (1819–1823). Following Held (1989), the universal tension between the parties involved in communication, i.e. the clash between the needs of ego vs. alter, is used as a diagnostic of the orientation of (im)politeness norms and strategies in the analysed data. The results of this investigation are confirmed by means of a corpus tool, the UCREL semantic tagger, USAS (see Rayson 2009; Archer 2014). Its application shows that it is sensitive to those linguistic manifestations of the pragmatic space of a specific speech act property which is characteristic of the responses of the Colonial Office.


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