nl en

The Sociolinguistics of Late Modern English Letters


Admission requirements

A relevant BA degree.


Sociolinguists want to get access to informal spoken language – an impossible aim for the historical sociolinguist. In this course we will look at the next-best option: the language of private, informal letters, and we will draw on these letters as an object of sociolinguistic analysis. During the course we will study published and unpublished letters by famous and not-so-famous people, ranging from Jane Austen, Mrs Montagu and Robert Lowth to William and Elizabeth Clift. We will study handwriting, letter-writing conventions and the postal system; the spelling, vocabulary and grammar of the language of letters; and we will correlate our findings with sociolinguistic variables such as the writer’s social background and regional origin, their age, gender and education as well as their social network membership. Though the main focus will be on the Late Modern English period (1700–1900), we will also make a brief excursion into the language use of one well-known young non-native speaker of English, the former Dutch Queen Wilhelmina (1890-1962). (If possible, a visit will be arranged to the Royal Family Archive in The Hague to view the letters.) Students will be expected to report some of their findings on the Late Modern English Letters blog: which has been set up specifically for this purpose.

Course objectives

By analysing letters from the Late Modern English period, as well as by reading relevant background literature on the subject, students will gain insight into the sociolinguistic diversity of the language of the period as well as into linguistic changes which occurred on all linguistic levels. In doing so they will gain experience in the use of current research methods relevant for the study of historical sociolinguistics, including corpus linguistics. By writing blog posts on their findings, they will moreover learn to make use of online modern media to communicate their research to a wider public. After completion of the course, students will be well equipped to write a master’s thesis on a topic of central interest to historical sociolinguistics.


The timetable will be available by June 1st on the website

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Attending the weekly seminars: 26 hours
Studying the compulsory literature and doing weekly assignments: 125 hours
Writing 3 blogposts on the basis of the weekly reading and the research done for the presentation and the final paper: 9 hours
Prepare for a presentation (40 hours) and writing a paper on the basis of that presentation (80 hours): 120 hours

Assessment method

Active course participation, including a presentation: 20%
Writing of blog posts: 10%
Written essay: 70%

Resit: students who fail the course may resit the written essay.


There will be a Blackboard module for the course, which contains relevant course information such as the weekly reading and assignments. Since Blackboard makes use of umail for communication, students are advised to forward their umail to their regular email address:

Reading list

  • Marina Dossena & Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade (2008), Studies in Late Modern English Correspondence: Methodology and Data. Bern: Peter Lang.

  • Additional background reading: details to be announced in the Blackboard module.

The book may be ordered directly from the publisher or through the regular channels. Please note that it will be used from week 1 onwards, and that books often take longer to arrive than might be expected.


Enrolment in uSis is obligatory. If you have any questions, please contact the student administration, tel. 071 5272144 or mail:

When registering, students that are registered for the specialisation that this course belongs to, or the Research Master, take priority. The deadline for registration is August 15. All other students should contact the coordinator of studies

Contact details

Master Linguistics student administration, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144;