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Old and Middle English in Context

Alexander Bergs (University of Osnabrück)

This course supplements the more structural approaches offered by the other seminars in that it focuses on the historical speakers in their individual contexts. What do we know about their sociolinguistic background? What kind of evidence do we have for language variation and change in connection with different social groups? And what kind of conclusion can we draw on that basis? What can we say about the sociology of language, including aspects such as standardization, perceptual dialectology, language ideology and the like? What do we know about pragmatics and language use in Old and Middle English? For example, how did people in Anglo-Saxon England insult each other? How did they apologize? What politeness strategies did Chaucer use? Why were speakers so afraid of curses?

We will explore these and other related questions on the basis of primary texts from the periods and by reading some of the milestones in historical sociolinguistics/sociology of language, historical pragmatics, and general (social) history.