Discourse on a par with syntax, or the effects of the linguistic organisation of letters on the diachronic characterisation of the text type

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This paper deals with the integration of functional (discourse-based) and formal (syntactic and statistical) phenomena in an overall linguistic explanation which accounts for the distribution of ‘marked’ declarative sentences in the epistolary genre, where ‘markedness’ implies deviation from the unmarked clausal pattern ‘(non-dummy) subject + verb (+complements)’. Discourse- and sentence-based issues such as information packaging (principle of end focus), constituent length (principle of end weight), syntactic complexity and the organisation of the sentence are investigated in a corpus of late Middle, Modern and Present-day English letters. The conclusions drawn from the analysis of the corpus data provide an interesting insight into the possibility of characterising a particular genre – letters – according to both its complexity and its informative and linguistic organisation.


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