Letters in mechanically-schooled language

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Linguists normally assume print to be the only written mode and therefore describe only the Standard varieties of the minority higher classes, thereby mistaking those varieties for languages. But recently linguists in many countries began studying handwritten, Late Modern documents, particularly letters. Focusing on English letters 1800–1834, which the majority lower classes wrote in “non-Standard”, this paper examines the schemes of ideas, theories, ideologies and terminologies which linguists developed to analyse printed language, and argues that those concepts are biased towards the Standards, autonomous and in part untrue. It proposes a sociolinguistic concept – literacy – and illustrates one type of problem a new scheme must describe objectively, by discussing how class and schooling affect the use of Anglo-Saxon and Latinate words.


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