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Jane Austen’s Language


Admission requirements

A relevant BA degree, with an interest in language and sociolinguistics, and basic linguistic skills.


The year 2013 marks the publication of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. As a writer Jane Austen is enormously popular today. This is evident from films and BBC television series but also from cookery and etiquette books that carry her name in their title. But her language is of considerable interest, too. This is clear from her presence in the Oxford English Dictionary, but also from the fact that she is among the earliest authors to record the use of please in the language of a servant: Jane Austen must have had a good ear for language. Yet while all her novels have been widely studied from almost every conceivable angle, her language has received relatively little attention. The only book-length study to date, Jane Austen’s Englishby K.C. Phillipps, was, moreover, published well over forty years ago, in1970, and approaches to the study of language have largely shifted from the adoption of qualititative to quantitative methods of analysis.

In this course we will study Jane Austen’s language from as many perspectives as possible, and we will do so by treating her as a sociolinguist avant la lettre: how did she distinguish between the language of the different characters in her novels? To what extent does the spoken language in her novels reflect actual speech at the time? How does her own usage, as evident from her most intimate letters, relate to the language of her novels? How did her language change between her earliest (unpublished) fiction and her published novels? How conservative/advanced was her usage with respect to certain grammatical features that were in the process of change at the time? How do scriptwriters render the language of her novels?

Basic source material for all this will be electronic versions of her novels and her letters which we will analyse with the help of the concordancing program WordSmith Tools, as well as LIWC (Linquistic Inquiry and Word Count); we will also study the text of her upublished novels (see the database “Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts”, at Primary background reading will consist of Phillipps’s book, though this is no longer available in print. Analyses done during the course will serve to update the information provided by this forty-year old book.

Course objectives

Using Jane Austen’s language as a case study, this course aims to equip students with tools and methodologies to study the language of Late Modern English (and other) authors. Building on insights gained during BA programmes in English language and literature studies, particularly in relation to developments in the history of the English language, a critical and objective approach will be adopted that will enable students to study topical questions in historical sociolinguistics.

After completion of the course, students will
1. have a good insight into sociolinguistic aspects relating to the language use of a popular Late Modern English author
2. have developed critical insight into the differences between applying qualitative and quantitative methods of linguistic analysis
3. have developed a good working skill with two state-of-the-art electronic research tools (WordSmith Tools, LIWC)
4. have gained experience in setting up a small corpus for the analysis of private and published writing from the Late Modern English period
5. be well equipped to write a master’s thesis in a topic of central interest to this field.


The timetable will be available by June 1st on the website.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

  • hours spent on attending lectures and seminars: 26 hours

  • time for studying th ecompulsory 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

  • a presentation (including giving peer feedback) 20%

  • a final paper 70%

  • course contribution 10%


This course is supported by Blackboard.

Reading list

  • Phillipps, K.C. (1970) Jane Austen’s English. André Deutsch (if available as a used book; a copy will be present in the University Library.

  • Bree, Linda, Peter Sabor and Janet Todd (eds.) (2013) Jane Austen’s Manuscript Works. Broadview Press.


Students should register through uSis. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 5272144 or mail

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration via Studeren à la carte
Registration via Contractonderwijs


MA Linguistics departmental office, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144;