5dez 2022
06:30 UTC

“I have scarce heart or strength enough left me to write down my greif”: A Historical Pragmatic Investigation of Indirect Complaints in Letters

Even though indirect complaints (in their stigmatized form also known as whining, griping, and moaning) constitute an inherent part of our present-day social life, previous research has focused heavily on direct complaints in general and conversation analytical perspectives on indirect complaints, much to the neglect of other approaches. This study remedies this gap from the perspective of historical pragmatics.
In this Linguistweets presentation, I introduce the results from my investigation of indirect complaints in the letter subsection of ARCHER, A Representative Corpus of Historical English Registers (Biber, Finegan & Atkinson 1994, Yáñez-Bouza 2011. More specifically, I focus on British texts from the 17th to 19th century to explore indirect complaint strategies and components. More than 200 indirect complaints were identified in the 125,000-word dataset via close reading and were analyzed using a diachronic speech act analysis framework (Jucker & Taavitsainen 2000). Besides showing up common indirect complaint themes through time (such as health and third-party complaints) and identifying lexical strategies for complaint realization (such as intensification, extreme case formulations), my research demonstrates that mitigation of indirect complaints was common, for example, via giving additional attenuating information. I also show how indirect complaints are used by the letter writers to set up requests to the recipient (e.g., for money) or to establish a connection to the reader (similar to present day notions of small talk, cf. Boxer 2006). As outlook, I present information on the rest of the project, including the drama dataset of ARCHER (which allows for the investigation of complaint responses) and meta-discursive discussions of the speech act of complaining in historical ego documents as well as conduct manuals.