In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Historical Pragmatics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Early Edited Volumes
  • Journals
  • Data and Methods
  • Pragmatic Pathways of Linguistic Change
  • Genres, Text Types, and Thought Styles
  • Terms of Address
  • Interjections
  • Discourse Markers

Linguistics Historical Pragmatics
Andreas H. Jucker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0284


Pragmatics is a branch of linguistics. In a narrow sense it studies the way in which the linguistic properties of an utterance interact with its context to provide situational interpretations for the recipient of the utterance. In a wider sense, pragmatics studies all aspects of language use in an interactional and a social context. Historical pragmatics as a well-established subfield of pragmatics focuses on language use in historical contexts. This includes the study of usage patterns at particular points in the history of a given language, the study of the diachronic developments of such usage patterns and the study of the underlying principles of such developments. Work on historical pragmatics has a long history but until the mid-1990s relevant publications were rare and did not describe themselves as historical pragmatics. In the second half of the 1990s and in the early 2000s, the field quickly established itself as an important branch of pragmatics. Several factors were instrumental in this development. After the early focus of pragmatics on philosophical methods on the one hand and on spontaneous face-to-face interactions on the other, it opened its scope to a broader range of data, including written data. At the same time, the 1990s brought an increased availability of language corpora and, in particular, the availability of historical corpora. This opened up new ways of investigating language histories. In the early work of historical pragmatics, researchers regularly justified their choice of data. Plays, courtroom proceedings, and personal correspondence were considered to be particularly good, albeit imperfect, approximations to natural spoken interactions and therefore the privileged data for historical pragmatics. Today, data is no longer assessed solely in terms of its proximity to natural spoken interaction, but each type of data is considered in its own right and within its own communicative contexts. Topics of interest in historical pragmatics have always covered a broad range of pragmatic entities, including speech actions (greetings, promises, requests, apologies, and the like), discourse markers and interjections, nominal and pronominal terms of address, and issues of politeness and impoliteness. Researchers investigate such elements at specific points in time or in their diachronic developments over longer periods. And they also try to isolate general underlying principles of diachronic change that explain these developments within a larger theoretical framework.

General Overviews and Early Edited Volumes

In the early years of historical pragmatics, much of the relevant research appeared in edited volumes that were often the result of small, dedicated conferences or seminars that had been organized in the context of larger conferences (e.g., conferences organized by the International Pragmatics Association or the European Society for the Study of English). Initially, the conferences and seminars covered the whole breadth of historical pragmatics, for example, Jucker 1995; Jucker, et al. 1999; Hiltunen and Skaffari 2003; Fitzmaurice and Taavitsainen 2007; and Skaffari, et al. 2005. But as early as the 2000s, such conferences, seminars, and edited volumes became more focused on specific subfields of historical pragmatics, such as speech actions, terms of address or (im)politeness (see the headings for specific topics). Historical pragmatics consolidated quickly as an important branch of pragmatics through its own dedicated journal that was inaugurated in 2000 (see Journal of Historical Pragmatics under Journals). Jucker and Taavitsainen 2010 is a handbook with twenty-two articles summarizing the state of the art of specific subfields of historical pragmatics, and Jucker and Taavitsainen 2013 is a textbook intended as an accessible introduction to the entire field.

  • Fitzmaurice, Susan M., and Irma Taavitsainen, eds. 2007. Methods in historical pragmatics. Topics in English Linguistics 52. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    Brings together papers from several dedicated workshops and panels at larger conferences. Contains a very substantial and influential overview by the editors with the title “Historical Pragmatics: What It Is and How to Do It.” The papers all deal with English data. They cover both micro issues (discourse markers, speech acts) and macro issues (text types and discourse domains), and they all carefully discuss problems of data and methodology.

  • Hiltunen, Risto, and Janne Skaffari, eds. 2003. Discourse perspectives on English: Medieval to modern. Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 119. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

    Brings together contributions from the Discourse Perspectives on Early English project team at the University of Turku, Finland. The seven contributions (plus introduction) cover Old English, Middle English, and Early Modern English and cover a range of different topics, including orality and literacy and lexical borrowings, as well as specific genres and discourses, but always from a discourse-pragmatic perspective.

  • Jucker, Andreas H., and Irma Taavitsainen. 2013. English historical pragmatics. Edinburgh Textbooks on the English Language. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

    DOI: 10.1515/9780748644704

    The first textbook intended for students. Focuses on data in the history of English and provides a detailed introduction to the problems of data and methodology of historical pragmatics. Covers both micro pragmatic issues (discourse markers, terms of address, and speech acts) and macro pragmatic issues (genres and the discourse domains of medicine, news media, and fictional writing).

  • Jucker, Andreas H., ed. 1995. Historical pragmatics: Pragmatic developments in the history of English. Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 35. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

    The inaugural volume of historical pragmatics, which established the subfields “Pragmaphilology,” “Diachronic form-to-function mapping,” and “Diachronic function-to-form mapping.” The introduction provides a comprehensive overview of historical pragmatics avant la lettre. The twenty-one remaining articles cover a broad range of approaches. Not all articles are devoted to English. It also contains an article by Noriko Onodera on Japanese and one by Gerd Fritz on German.

  • Jucker, Andreas H., Gerd Fritz, and Franz Lebsanft, eds. 1999. Historical dialogue analysis. Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 66. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

    An early volume that was based on a workshop dedicated specifically to historical pragmatics or—more specifically—to historical dialogue analysis. It brought together scholars working on English, Dutch, German, French, and Spanish. The focus is on various forms of dialogues in the history of these languages. Two papers are written in German.

  • Jucker, Andreas H., and Irma Taavitsainen, eds. 2010. Historical pragmatics. Handbooks of Pragmatics 8. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter Mouton.

    Fifteen years after the inaugural volume of historical pragmatics, this handbook consolidated the field with twenty-two large overviews covering data and methodology, diachrony, pragmaphilology, micropragmatics, interactional pragmatics, and discourse domains.

  • Skaffari, Janne, Matti Peikola, Ruth Carroll, Risto Hiltunen, and Brita Wårvik, eds. 2005. Opening windows on texts and discourses of the past. Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 134. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

    Like Hiltunen and Skaffari 2003, this volume is a result of the Turku-based Discourse Perspectives on Early English project team. The papers of this volume were first presented at one of their conferences. They cover a broad range of topics, especially on different types of domains of discourse (mass media, scientific and academic discourse, and correspondence). A few papers also cover micro pragmatic issues (discourse markers) as well as politeness and language contact.

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