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The role of context in the meaning specification of cant and slang words in eighteenth-century English

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Abstract

This paper aims to explore the ways in which context is necessary for the meaning construction and understanding of the cant lexis (&#8220;thieves&#8217; slang&#8221;) in actual language use. Taking a historical pragmatic approach, I investigate the use of one cant term (<i>cull</i>) in eighteenth-century texts drawn from two electronic resources: <i>The Old Bailey Proceedings Online</i> and <i>The Eighteenth Century Collections Online</i> (ECCO). My historical discourse analysis of <i>cull</i> demonstrates that context plays a dynamic role in the meaning specification of the term and that different layers of context (linguistic, textual, socio-historical, and cultural) need to be considered in relation to each other for understanding how the meanings of <i>cull</i> are negotiated and appropriated in real language use.

References

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