Michael Farrelly and Elena Seoane

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


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  • Linguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics
  • Sociolinguistics



This article discusses the “democratization” of discourse in the history of the English language. An important aspect of rethinking the study of the history of English, in terms of democratization, is the relationship between the democratization of language and the wider democratization of social life and of politics. This article first considers the duality in the way language and discourse can be understood in the context of socio-cultural processes: people alter their use of language in response to social change and people influence social change through their use of language. Through a greater recognition of both sides of the language/socio-cultural change duality, historical linguists could come to a richer account of democratization. The article summarizes work that has addressed the first half of the duality: democratization understood as a discourse-pragmatic process present in the evolution of English as a response to social change and which is different from colloquialization and informalization. It then suggests areas in which study of the democratization of discourse could engage with work on the study of wider social and political democratization.

Keywords: democratization; politics; discourse; social change; colloquialization; informalization; oralization; formal registers; socio-cultural processes; English; linguistics

Article.  3855 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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