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Late Modern English Letters


Admission requirements

A BA degree in English Language and Culture or in English Linguistics (or equivalent).


Sociolinguists want to get access to informal spoken language – an impossible aim for the historical sociolinguist. In this course we will look at the next-best option: the language of private, informal letters, and we will draw on these letters as an object of sociolinguistic analysis. The focus will be on the Late Modern English period (17001900), and on published and unpublished letters by famous and not-so-famous people, ranging from Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Horace Walpole, Mrs Thrale and Robert Lowth to William and Elizabeth Clift. We will study handwriting, letter-writing conventions and the postal system; the spelling, vocabulary and grammar of the language of letters; and we will correlate our findings with sociolinguistic variables such as the writer’s social and regional origin, age, gender and education as well as social network membership.

Course objectives

By analysing Late Modern English letters, as well as reading relevant background literature on the subject, students will gain insight into the sociolinguistic diversity of the language of the period as well as into linguistic changes which occurred at all linguistic levels. In doing so they will gain experience in the use of current research methods relevant for the study of historical sociolinguistics, including corpus linguistics. After completion of the course, students will be well equipped to write a master’s thesis on a topic of central interest to historical sociolinguistics.


The timetable is available on the website of the MA Linguistics website

Mode of instruction

    • Seminar

Course Load

  • Time spent on attending the seminars: 26 hours

  • Time for studying the weekly background literature and doing weekly assignments: 130 hours

  • Time to prepare for making a presentation (40 hours) and writing a paper (84 hours) (including reading/research): 124 hours

Assessment method

  • presentation (including giving peer feedback) 20%

  • a final paper 60%

  • course contribution (including the writing of blog posts) 20%
    To pass, no component mark should be lower than 5. Please note that weekly attendance is compulsory. Should any classes (with a maximum of three) have been missed due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, a summary of the background reading will have to be submitted. In case of an insufficient mark for either the essay or the blog posts, these may be rewritten. There will be no opportunity to resit the presentation.

Exam Review

Students are entitled to view their marked examination within a period of 30 days, following publication of the results of a written examination.


Blackboard will be used for all information provided during the course, such as the weekly reading and the assignments as well as other relevant information. Presentations will be submitted though Blackboard, and we will make use of Discussion Board

Reading list

Most of the reading for the course, including collections of letters that will be studied, will be available through the university library.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Prof. I.M. Tieken-Boon van Ostade, (

Please contact Student administration van Eyckhof


Students will be expected to contribute their research findings to the Late Modern English letters blog (