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Card-index course

Linguistics : The Language of Jane Austen and her Contemporaries

Responsible Faculty: Faculty of Arts

Teacher(s): Anita Auer
Lecturer(s): -

Validity: 2019 -> 2019

No timetable defined.


Spring semester
2 hours per week
28 hours per semester

Teaching language(s): English
Public: Yes
Credits: 0


Upon completion of the course students will
- have a good understanding of the socio-historical processes in the Late Modern English period (on the British Isles and other English-speaking countries) that contribute to language variation and change;
- be able to analyse and interpret sets of linguistic and socio-historical data using sociolinguistic theory (and quantitative measures), with a particular focus on the effects of variables such as gender, social class, education, and region;
- have developed the ability to present their research results both orally and in written form;
- be well prepared for (linguistic) studies on an MA level.


Jane Austen (1775-1817) lived and wrote at a time, i.e. the Late Modern English period (1700-1900), during which the written (and spoken) English language was codified in spelling books, grammars, and dictionaries. In this course we will be concerned with the precepts (rules) found in these normative works and compare them to the actual language usage of Jane Austen, as well as her contemporaries. We will view the historical data through a sociolinguistic lens and discuss language usage (in the form of electronic corpora) from different social layers, notably the elite, the middling sort and the labouring poor. We will also consider how the language of the time - and its use in the different social groups - is portrayed in historical TV dramas such as adaptations of Jane Austen's and Charles Dickens's works, as well as the Cornwall-based series Poldark. As the Late Modern English period is also crucial for the development of English into a world language, we will also consider different emerging varieties of English, as well language use across the social spectrum, e.g. Early American English as written by the « white elite » as well as letters written by slaves. All in all, this course will familiarise you with linguistic variation and change as well as codification of English grammar during the period 1700-1900, while also giving you the opportunity to work with primary sources, i.e. in the form of grammars, dictionaries and empirical data such as letters, diaries, etc.


a) Assignment (30%): Transcription of a manuscript letter incl. analysis and commentary
b) Individual research paper (70%): 3000 (+/- 10%) words


The accompanying literature will consist of a range of articles on the various topics discussed during the course; the relevant information is available on moodle.

Programme requirements

- Introduction to English Language and Linguistics (1st year) - The Development of English (2nd year) - A Synchronic Linguistics course (2nd year)

Additional information


Canton de Vaud
Swiss University
Unicentre  -  CH-1015 Lausanne  -  Suisse  -  Tél. +41 21 692 11 11  -  Fax  +41 21 692 26 15