“if You think me obstinate I can’t help it”

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This paper discusses the formality of epistolary spellings in the correspondence of Elizabeth Montagu and Sarah Scott, eighteenth-century sisters of similar backgrounds yet different social positions. I examine their use of full vs contracted auxiliary verb forms, preterite and past participle spelling variants, and other epistolary contractions and abbreviations in four decades of correspondence.  Contractions and abbreviations indicate the level of informality and intimacy in eighteenth-century epistolary spelling. Montagu’s social prominence appears to show even in intimate and familiar communication, whereas Scott’s less significant social standing might have provided more linguistic flexibility. Scott’s style was significantly more informal and leaning towards oral mode than Montagu’s, which suggests that her relative exclusion from the polite society influenced the level of formality in her spelling.


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