Linguistic evaluation of earlier texts
Assessing non-standard texts from previous centuries of necessity involves examining the notion of ‘standard’ which existed before the present. The modern notion of standard English is an eighteenth-century development which builds on formal usage prior to that. The prescriptivism which arose at this time led to the social marginalisation of dialects and their literature. Works written in dialect or containing dialect can be examined in an attempt to reconstruct vernacular features for different regions at various times. Here the central question is how reliable are the written representations which have been handed down. There are a number of criteria for classifying and evaluating earlier texts. Rendering these explicit helps to prepare the ground for later linguistic analysis.