Egodocuments in historical sociolinguistics
Gijsbert Rutten (Universiteit Leiden)
Letters, diaries and travelogues have been central to historical sociolinguistics since the emergence of the field in the 1980s and 1990s. A convenient cover term to refer to such private writings, including also memoirs and autobiographies, is egodocument, borrowed from the Dutch historian Jacques Presser (1899-1970). Historians use egodocument to refer to texts written in the first person that reveal a personal perspective on historical events, and the individual experiences of historical actors. As historical sociolinguists, we are less interested in the contents of such first-person sources than in their formal characteristics. We assume that their closeness to the private life of historical individuals co-occurs with proximity to informal and less standardized language, and perhaps even reveals the spoken language of the past. In this Masterclass, we will critically analyse the value of egodocuments for historical sociolinguistic research. We will first theorize egodocuments. Then we’ll discuss how informal or unstandardized they actually are, and explore differences between various types of egodocument. Most examples and case studies will be taken from the history of Dutch. The main reference for the historical sociolinguistics of Dutch private letters is:
Rutten, Gijsbert & Marijke van der Wal. 2014. Letters as Loot. A sociolinguistic approach to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: Benjamins. Free online access through http://www.jbe-platform.com/content/books/9789027269577.