The Nonverbal Shift in Early Modern English Conversation

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This is the first historical investigation on the nonverbal component of conversation. In the courtly society of 16<sup>th</sup> and 17<sup>th </sup>century England, it is argued that a drift appeared toward an increased use of prosodic means of expression at the expense of gestural means. Direct evidence is provided by courtesy books and personal documents of the time, indirect evidence by developments in the English lexicon. The rationale of the argument is cognitively grounded; given the integral role of gestures in thinking-for-speaking, it rests on an isomorphism between gestural and prosodic behavior that is established semiotically and elaborated by insights from neurocognitive frequency theory and task dynamics. The proposal is rounded off by an illustration from present-day conversational data and the proof of its adaptability to current theories of language change. The cross-disciplinary approach addresses all those interested in (historical) pragmatics, cognitive linguistics, cultural semantics, semiotics, or language change.

Subjects: Pragmatics; Historical linguistics; English linguistics; Germanic linguistics; Discourse studies

  • Affiliations: 1: University of Jena

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