Beiträge zur Geschichte der gesprochenen Sprache
Edited By Elmar Eggert and Jörg Kilian
“Well! Burn me, or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ”: Investigating early spoken English (Merja Kytö)
Merja Kytö (Uppsala) “Well! Burn me, or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ”: Investigating early spoken English Abstract: This paper focuses on the study of early spoken English. Central issues in the study of past spoken language will be addressed, and electronic sources containing early speech‑related English will be introduced. Attention will be drawn to witness depositions, an important speech‑based genre. 1. Introductory remarks “Well! Burn me, or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ” were the words allegedly uttered in a distressed situation by a speaker of an early variety of American English. It was George Jacobs Sr., an old, illiterate farmer, who defended himself in these terms when standing accused of the crime of witchcraft in Salem Village on 10 May 1692; the examination was recorded by Reverend Samuel Parris, the minister of Salem Village since 1689 (RSW, p. 252). Such documents provide an example of the type of records that have preserved instances of past spoken language, or at least an approximation of it, to us. The aim of this paper is to discuss aspects of the study of early spoken English and assess the status and availability of early English speech‑related texts. I will start by addressing issues of relevance to the theoretical and methodological framework of studying early spoken language. Recent advances in linguistic theory and methodology, among them the consolidation of historical pragmatics after the mid‑1990s and the even earlier developments in corpus...
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