Intra-Writer Variation in Historical Sociolinguistics

by Markus Schiegg (Volume editor) Judith Huber (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection XXII, 552 Pages
Open Access
Series: Historical Sociolinguistics, Volume 5


Intra-individual variation is an emerging research field in linguistics with a rapidly growing number of studies. In historical sociolinguistics, this trend has been slow, as it is still largely dominated by the macroscopic approaches of earlier sociolinguistics. Microscopic studies focusing on intra-individual variation in writing, i.e. intra-writer variation, however, are able to reveal how writers functionalize social or text-type variation for reasons such as audience design or persona creation. They may also provide insights into how ongoing changes were perceived by speakers and writers. In general, micro-approaches are able to uncover a wide array of possible factors influencing variation, which may not always carry sociolinguistic functions.
This volume comprises twenty-two research articles on a wide range of languages and periods, all closely connected by their focus on intra-writer variation in historical texts and by their use of empirical and corpus-based approaches. The studies demonstrate that the challenges that historical material have for research on intra-individual variation can certainly be met and that the insights gleaned from analysing variation in individual writers are considerable.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of figures
  • List of tables
  • Acknowledgements
  • 1. Intra-writer variation in historical sociolinguistics: The emergence of a new research field (Markus Schiegg & Judith Huber)
  • PART I Intra-writer variation in letter writing
  • 2. A qualitative approach to intra-writer variation in late Babylonian letters: Two near-duplicate letters from the Eanna archive (528 BCE) (Martina Schmidl)
  • 3. The use of discourse-ending formulae: Exploring intra-writer variation in Michelangelo Buonarroti’s correspondence (Eleonora Serra)
  • 4. Intra-writer variation and the real world of epistolary interaction in historical sociolinguistics: John Paston I’s use of the orthographic variable (TH) (Juan M. Hernández-Campoy)
  • 5. Patterns of stylistic variation in the use of synthetic and analytic comparative adjectives: Evidence from private letters in sixteenth- to eighteenth-century England (Tamara García-Vidal)
  • 6. Patterns of linguistic variation in Late Modern English pauper petitions from Berkshire and Dorset (Anita Auer, ANNE-CHRISTINE GARDNER & Mark Iten)
  • 7. Petitioning for the education of the poor: Self-corrections as stylistic choices in a Late Modern English draft letter (ANNE-CHRISTINE GARDNER)
  • 8. Intra-writer variation in the requestive behaviour of two Early Modern Scottish letter-writers (Christine Elsweiler)
  • 9. Between societal constraints and linguistic self-awareness: Stylistic variation in the letters of Prince Ludwig von Anhalt-Köthen (1638–1646) (Lucia Assenzi)
  • 10. Intra-writer variation in clitics in German patient letters from the nineteenth and the early twentieth century (Katharina Gunkler-Frank)
  • PART II Intra-writer variation in contact and migration settings
  • 11. Intra-writer variation and linguistic accommodation in the letters of the Milanese merchant Giovanni da Pessano to the Datini network (1397–1402) (Joshua Brown)
  • 12. Eighteenth-century Scots in correspondence during the Union Debates: An intra-writer perspective (Sarah van Eyndhoven)
  • 13. Variation in verbal inflection in the private writings of the Scottish emigrant Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald (1762–1841) (Nora Dörnbrack)
  • 14. Assessing Dutch-French language choice in nineteenth-century private family correspondence: From intra-writer variation to the bigger picture (Andreas Krogull, Jill Puttaert & Gijsbert Rutten)
  • 15. Intra-writer variation in the multilingual Diary of Vytautas Civinskis (1887–1910) (Veronika Girininkaitė)
  • 16. Picnick and Sauerkraut: German–English intra-writer variation in script and language (1867–1900) (Doris Stolberg)
  • PART III From intra-writer variation to variation beyond the individual
  • 17. Intra-writer variation in Early Modern Greek notary acts: Morphosyntactic patterns of accommodation (Theodore Markopoulos)
  • 18. What shall we do with the ‘writing’ sailor?: Style-shifting and individual language use in a French navigation journal from the eighteenth century (Laura Linzmeier)
  • 19. The linguistic choices of an early nineteenth-century Basque writer (Oxel Uribe-Etxebarria)
  • 20. Linguistic repertoires and intra-writer variation in Old English: Hemming of Worcester (Christine Wallis)
  • 21. Intra-text variation as a case of intra-writer variation: Middle English scribal behaviours, with a focus on the spelling variation of woman in MS Pepys 2125 (Yoko Iyeiri)
  • 22. Intra-writer variation in Old High German and Old Swedish: The impact of social role relationship on constructing instructions (Phil Beier, Gohar Schnelle & Silke Unverzagt)
  • 23. On the indexical meaning of literary style shifting: The case of word order variation in the sixteenth-century Welsh Bible translations (Oliver Currie)
  • Notes on contributors
  • Index

←xx | xxi→


The chapters of this thematic volume are based on a selection of papers presented at the tenth conference of the Historical Sociolinguistics Network, Intra-Writer-Variation in Historical Sociolinguistics, at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in 2021. We thank the series editors, particularly Nils Langer, for their encouragement and intellectual stimuli during the creation of this book. The two anonymous referees provided helpful advice on the draft volume. Kerstin Kazzazi’s and Samantha Litty’s linguistic expertise facilitated significant improvements. Carima Jekel, Julian Mader and Regina Meyer provided further important corrections and assisted the editing process of this book. We also thank Laurel Plapp and her colleagues at Peter Lang for their editorial advice. Finally, we are grateful for the generous financial support from the Bavarian State Ministry for Education and Culture (Elite Network of Bavaria) and the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg for the publication of this volume.

Markus Schiegg and Judith Huber

Erlangen and Munich, February 2023

←xxi | xxii→Markus Schiegg & Judith Huber

1 Intra-writer variation in historical sociolinguistics: The emergence of a new research field


Intra-individual variation is an emerging research field in linguistics with a rapidly growing number of studies. This chapter provides an overview of different linguistic approaches to intra-individual variation and links them to the notion of stylistic variation in sociolinguistics. It discusses the challenges and opportunities of applying these concepts to historical sociolinguistics, where intra-individual variation in writing, that is, intra-writer variation, has long been neglected. Presenting twenty-two empirical, corpus-based research articles, all focusing on intra-writer variation, but in a wide range of languages and periods, the present volume contributes to the extension of this growing research area in historical sociolinguistics.

1 Introduction

Intra-individual variation, that is, observable variation within individual behaviour, has long been an under-researched phenomenon in linguistics. In traditional dialectology, for example, the individual was considered a factor that obstructs the researcher’s access to the intended object of study, the oldest layers of a regional dialect. This focus on regional variation led to traditional dialectology’s exclusion of both social and individual dimensions of variation (Chambers & Trudgill 1998: 45). Similarly, macroscopic approaches in sociolinguistics have focused on linguistic patterns in speech communities and factored out the individual, as they considered ‘intraspeaker variation to be evidence of inherent variability in a communal grammar’ (Meyerhoff 2006: 37).

In recent years, this view has changed and intra-individual variation has attracted increased attention and interest in different areas of linguistics. Therefore, intra-individual variation has reached ‘the centre of sociolinguistic theorization and method’ (Bell 2014: 297) and is ‘a key ingredient of variationist sociolinguistic research’ (Hernández-Campoy 2016: 30). In historical sociolinguistics, however, this trend has been delayed. Historical sociolinguistics has predominantly followed the macroscopic approaches of present-day sociolinguistics, while intra-individual variation in writing, which we label intra-writer variation, has often been neglected.

This volume contributes to the emergence of this new and promising research field in historical sociolinguistics. Section 2 of this introductory chapter presents the concept of intra-individual variation in linguistics in general. Section 3 explores the relation of intra-individual variation and stylistic variation in sociolinguistics. Section 4 gives an overview of existing work on intra-writer variation in historical sociolinguistics and discusses the challenges and opportunities of applying this concept to historical data. Finally, Section 5 presents the structure and contents of this volume, which consists of three thematically arranged parts with twenty-two research articles on a wide range of languages and periods. They are all closely connected by their focus on intra-writer variation (and sometimes also variation beyond the individual) in historical texts and by their use of empirical and corpus-based approaches.

2 What is intra-individual variation?

Intra-individual variation is a universal phenomenon in language, as two utterances are never the same, both with regard to their production and perception (Ulbrich & Werth 2021: 10). This was already described in Hermann Paul’s (1898: 51) metaphor of a shooter who never hits exactly the same point of the bull’s eye, just as the configuration of the articulatory organs will typically not be exactly the same in two utterances of the same sequence. Paul related this observation with his theory of sound change that often results from the accumulation of such unnoticed variation by individual speakers.1


XXII, 552
ISBN (Softcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2023 (August)
historical sociolinguistics variationist linguistics intra-writer variation in historical texts intra-individual variation in writing
Oxford, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, New York, 2023. XXII, 552 pp., 6 fig. col., 77 fig. b/w, 53 tables.

Biographical notes

Markus Schiegg (Volume editor) Judith Huber (Volume editor)

Markus Schiegg works in German Linguistics at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. He currently leads the junior research group «Flexible Writers in Language History» that is compiling a corpus of historical patient texts from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. His research focuses on historical sociolinguistics, in particular on language variation and change in the history of German. Judith Huber works in English Historical Linguistics at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU). She holds a PhD from LMU and worked in English Historical Linguistics at FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg and KU Eichstätt-Ingolstadt before returning to Munich. Her research focuses on variation and change in the history of English from a usage-based perspective, including syntax, lexicology, pragmatics and language contact.


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