Forms of early mass communication: The religious domain

Tanja Rütten

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of English

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199922765
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Forms of early mass communication: The religious domain

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  • Linguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics
  • Sociolinguistics


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“Early mass communication” is generally believed to be a phenomenon of the Early Modern period. In the religious domain, the kind of mass communication found in pamphlets and newspapers has obvious predecessors. One example is the Late Middle English cycle sermon, which provides a form of mass communication before the advent of print but has so far received little attention from scholars. This article looks at late medieval cycle sermons from the perspective of mass communication. It first introduces the various settings, audiences and purposes of such sermons, linking individual cases of sermonizing to the centrally designed doctrinal program upon which they were contingent. It then describes prominent linguistic features such as discourse structures, text functions, interactive properties, and aspects of performativity. The article concludes by demonstrating how sermon discourse was adopted as a textual scheme by early pamphleteers and shows that the advent of the new print technology in Early Modern English is more a “catalyst” than an “architect” of mass communication.

Keywords: mass communication; mass media; sermons; pamphlets; newspapers; Early Modern English; print; performativity; text functions; discourse structures

Article.  3952 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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