Volume 1, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1566-5852
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9854
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In this paper we want to develop a model for the diachronic analysis of speech acts by tracing one particular speech act through the history of English, viz. insults. Speech acts are fuzzy concepts which show both diachronic and synchronic variation. We therefore propose a notion of a multidimensional pragmatic space in which speech acts can be analyzed in relation to neighboring speech acts. Against this background we discuss both the changing cultural grounding in which insults occur and the changing ways in which they are realized. Our data is drawn from the Old English poem Beowulf and the Finnsburh fragment, from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and from Shakespeare’s plays, and from a variety of non-literary sources such as personal letters, court records and an internet discussion group. The scale ranges from everyday communication to ritualized behavior. When written materials of the past periods are analyzed, the bias towards the conventionalized insults is evident. Most early examples are found in literary texts and seem to reflect generic conventions of the time and the culture that gave rise to these literary forms.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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