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  • The language of Queen Elizabeth I: A sociolinguistic perspective on royal style and identityby Mel Evans
  • Graham Williams
The language of Queen Elizabeth I: A sociolinguistic perspective on royal style and identity. By M elE vans. ( Publications of the Philological Society 46.) West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Pp. 262. ISBN: 1118672879. $39.95.

One might say that Renaissance English has over the last few decades been undergoing something of a renaissance of its own, particularly in the study of language and linguistics (for a recent survey of work on letter writing alone, see Del Lungo Camiciotti 2014). The creation and use of the Corpus of Early English Correspondence (CEEC), beginning in the 1990s, unquestionably marked a new phase in the historical study of language and acted as the main catalyst in legitimizing the field of historical variationist sociolinguistics that Mel Evans takes as a point of departure (in particular, see the ground-breaking Nevalainen & Raumolin-Brunberg 2003). Yet, as E’s study proves, the range of analysis and the questions that may fruitfully be brought to bear on what might be termed the sociolinguistics of writing (see Lillis 2013) very clearly have yet to be exhausted from the historical perspective. Indeed, after reading E’s study, I am left with the impression that some of the most interesting work has only just begun. In particular, while most of the previous linguistically orientated monographs approach language from a predominantly quantitative perspective, now is the time for analyses that put individual language users back in the picture. Whereas we continue to gain a clearer picture of the diffusion of macro-level changes in Early Modern English (a period we now know was ripe with change) and of the possible role of social variables therein, the actuation, or why, of individual variation in context remains for the most part an open question, as does how this informs our appreciation of macro-level trends.

This monograph study of the correspondence, speeches, and translations of Queen Elizabeth I goes some way toward addressing this and other questions. Furthermore, E’s study is one of the first to explore multiple genres of writing in order to inform our picture of individual language users—this is an advantage of investigating one of the few women for whom writing survives across genres. The study is split into three clear sections: Part 1 outlines the study’s point(s) of departure and the corpora and methods used to address its research questions; Part 2, ‘Results and analysis’, presents the data and interpretation for ten well-chosen linguistic variables; and Part 3, ‘Research questions’, revisits the research questions in light of the analyses, drawing out the larger threads to have emerged in the course of the individual analyses in Part 2.

Part 1 begins by introducing the study’s cross-disciplinary approach and the key questions involved. At the outset E convincingly juxtaposes an undeniably widespread perennial interest in Elizabeth I’s legacy (i.e. her historical celebrity) with a general lack (both popular and academic, for the most part) of engagement with the key materials needed to reconstruct a more ‘authentic’ portrait of the queen as figured across genres of her own writing. New and refreshing here is E’s immediate engagement with the concept of idiolectand its relationship to the more common corpus-based variationist approach that has come to dominate this type of historical research over the last few decades. E’s central thesis is that ‘the idiolectal data … will capture the intersection between social identity and linguistic meaning, and thus offer a new window from which to perceive and understand Elizabeth’s sociolinguistic position in sixteenth-century society’ (2). Within this general rubric, her questions for the book are threefold: (i) Does Elizabeth’s idiolect change in response to her accession? (ii) Can a sociolinguistic analysis of Elizabeth’s idiolect provide a useful means for assessing authorship? and (iii) What can idiolectal analysis contribute to historical sociolinguistics?

To address these questions, E’s methodology balances close reading with quantitative analysis in a comparative framework. For the idiolectal material, E compiled her own electronic Queen Elizabeth I Corpus (QEIC) using original manuscript...


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pp. 961-963
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