Discourse and context in a historical perspective

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The article stresses the importance for historical discourse linguistics of contextualising texts, using the Salem witchcraft documents of 1692 as an example. A contextual analysis presupposes taking into account a number of variables with a potential impact on the discourse. Here I discuss the following issues: (a) the historical, social and cultural context, involving not only the historical background and social structures of Salem, but also considerations of the “invisible” world of witchcraft; (b) the legal context, involving the genre conventions shaping the records; (c) the scribal context, involving the representation of original spoken discourse in writing, and (d) the communicative context, involving the discourse strategies of the actual trials. Such considerations will be crucial both for the interpretation of the documents and for understanding the verbal behaviour of the parties at the trials.


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