Attitudes, judgements and mental models

Organizer: Jane Hodson (Sheffield)

The growth of quantitative corpus methodologies in recent years means that significant strides have been made in describing how English has changed over the centuries. This workshop will focus on qualitative approaches to the history of the English language, seeking to understand what such approaches offer to the field, what innovations are currently taking place and what the agenda is for future work.

Within the field of contemporary sociolinguistics, there is currently significant interest in joining up quantitative work on language variation and change with qualitative work on perceptual dialectology. Johnstone and Pollack have written about the ways in which “particular material facts and lived experiences shape the ideas about language that can lead to sociolinguistic stereotyping and to the loss or preservation of socially marked linguistic features” (2016: 254).  In a similar vein, Campbell-Kibbler and Bauer have summarised current work that examines the different models available for speakers and listeners to adopt in relation to language variation, writing that “such models create the sociolinguistic spaces available for speakers to inhabit, thereby shaping their sociolinguistic worlds” (2015:97). This panel will consider how we can interrogate the ways in which “material facts and lived experiences” shape ideas about language in in historical contexts, and how we can seek to understand the “sociolinguistic worlds” of the long dead.

A key focus of the panel will be that of the types of evidence that we use in addressing such questions. In the context of contemporary sociolinguistics the attitudes that people hold towards language can be addressed by undertaking empirical work with living speakers. In the written historical record it is much harder to find evidence for the ways in which participants in a language events are shaped by “material facts and lived experiences” or how they respond to “the sociolinguistic space” available to them. One important question that this workshop will consider therefore is that of evidence: what kinds of text will enable us to investigate questions of intention and interpretation? which text types provide evidence for the ways in which people have historically thought about language variation and change? what resources for doing so remain underexploited?

A second focus of the panel will be that of methodology. Compared to the explicit statistical procedures of quantitative methods, qualitative methods can sometimes seem like an absence of methodology. So which methods are appropriate to qualitative approaches and what new methods are currently being developed? What perspectives and ideas can be draw from related disciplines? And how can we ensure that we are getting beyond our own understanding of language?

We aim to bring together people working at the cusp of a number of related subdisciplines, including historical pragmatics, history of linguistic thought and historical stylistics. We are aiming to respond to current interest by asking three overarching questions: how are texts are shaped by the linguistic landscapes within which they are produced? how are interpretations of texts shaped by the attitudes, judgements and mental models that readers bring to texts? and how can a better understanding of these issues help us to understand language variation and change in historical contexts?

We invite scholars who are active in this area to share their work and discuss what they have in common. We therefore invite papers that respond to one or more of this set of questions:

  • What are the questions that qualitative approaches to the history of the English language can seek to answer? What work is needed?
  • Which types of evidence are appropriate for qualitative approaches? Are new types of evidence currently being explored? Can we read existing evidence types in new ways?
  • Which methodologies are appropriate for qualitative approaches to language change? What are the methodological challenges of this type of work?
  • When reading in the cracks and gaps of the historical record in order to understand historical attitudes, judgements and mental models, what are the possibilities? What are the pitfalls?
  • What is the appropriate relationship between quantitative and qualitative approaches? To what extent and in what ways can qualitative approaches help us to understand quantitative findings?



Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn and M. Kathryn Bauer. 2015. Competing reflexive models of regional speech in northern Ohio. Journal of English Linguistics. Vol 43, Issue 2, 95-117.

Johnstone, Barbara and Calvin Pollak. 2016. Mobilities, Materialities, and the Changing Meanings of Pittsburgh Speech. Journal of English Linguistics. Vol 44, Issue 3, 254 – 275.