Social roles, identities, and networks

Minna Palander-Collin

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

Social roles, identities, and networks

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  • Linguistics
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics



One of the relatively new approaches to understanding the history of the English language is to look at language as a social practice. In recent years, there has been increasing attention to linguistic construction of social roles and identities in earlier periods as well as the role of networks in language change and variation. According to this approach, language is connected to its users and to what they do with language in specific situations and socio-historical contexts within the confines of their linguistic repertoires. This article investigates the contextualization of language users in the history of English based on the idea that identities and social roles are time and place specific constructs that can be analyzed, for example, in networks. It considers solutions that are needed to systematize historical sociolinguistic research, including corpus methods. The article concludes by analyzing styles of self-reference in order to understand identity construction in Early Modern English with possible links to broader sociocultural changes.

Keywords: English; social roles; identities; networks; language change; language users; corpus methods; self-reference; Early Modern English; socio-cultural processes; linguistics

Article.  3977 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Sociolinguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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