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Review of  Linguistic Variation in the Shakespeare Corpus

Reviewer: K Aaron Smith
Book Title: Linguistic Variation in the Shakespeare Corpus
Book Author: Ulrich Busse
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Issue Number: 14.945

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Date: Mon, 31 Mar 2003 15:23:04 -0600
From: K. Aaron Smith
Subject: Linguistic Variation in the Shakespeare Corpus: Morphosyntactic
Variability of Second Person Pronouns

Busse, Ulrich (2002) Linguistic Variation in the Shakespeare Corpus:
Morphosyntactic Variability of Second Person Pronouns, John Benjamins
Publishing Company, Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 106.

K. Aaron Smith, Illinois State University

Linguistic Variation in the Shakespeare Corpus: Morphosyntactic Variability
of Second Person Pronouns is a monograph written mainly for theoretical
linguists interested in variationist theory, diachronic linguistics,
historical pragmatics and/or politeness theory. The book would also be
appropriate for Shakespeare scholars, although they would benefit most if
they had some prior knowledge of the book's linguistic framework.

The book is comprehensive, as Busse's data are nearly exhaustive (e.g.
Chapter 6); his analysis looks at the problem of 'you/thou' in the
Shakespeare corpus from several important philological and linguistic
angles: text, genre, character, audience, and lexical and semantic
collocation, inter alia. His study extends into a few related issues as
well, namely the development of 'pray you/prithee' as discourse markers,
the synchronic distribution of the determiners 'thy/thine', and the
nominative/oblique uses of 'you/ye'. It is difficult to summarize Busse's
conclusions concisely because each chapter tests more or less different
hypotheses. Therefore, I address his findings in the chapter-by-chapter
description below.

Overall, I think the book is important as it informs our knowledge of
Shakespeare's language. Furthermore, since Busse compares his findings in
the Shakespeare corpus to other Early Modern English corpora, the study
carries import for our understanding of the history of English more
generally. Busse's presentation proceeds logically and his claims are well
supported by the data he presents. One of the most beneficial aspects of
Busse's work is that it provides the reader with a lot of material that
could lead to further research or prove useful for in-progress studies
among individual researchers.

In Chapter 1, Busse begins by setting up the focus and the central problem
of his study, some of which has already been mentioned in my general
discussion above. Through his presentation in this chapter (and really
throughout the work), it seems obvious that Busse regards the synchronic
variation of pronominal use in Shakespeare to be the result of on-going
diachronic changes in the language. One of the most attractive aspects of
this study is that Busse tests his hypotheses using both quantitative and
qualitative data, the latter of which is the result of Busse's
pragmaphilologically informed inquiry into the textual usage of individual
tokens. Such an approach is especially important, in my opinion, because
while modern corpus and conconcordancing methods allow for the collection
and organization of large numbers of tokens, it does not tell us anything
about the specific use of those tokens in a given text, which is also
necessary for understanding language change.

In Chapter 2, Busse surveys previous literature concerning 'you' and 'thou'
in Shakespeare. Some of the important works that he considers in detail
include Brown and Gillman's concept of power and solidarity semantics
(Gilman and Brown 1958, Brown and Gilman 1960, and Brown and Ford 1961) and
politeness theory (Brown and Levinson 1987 and Brown and Gilman 1989). In
Busse's opinion, such approaches have generally not taken into account a
comprehensive view of variation in pronoun usage, and I think that it is
fair to say that Busse's comprehensive approach to the problem sets it
apart from previous scholarship on the topic.

Chapter 3 presents quantitative data on the occurrence of the two pronouns
in Shakespeare's works along with a breakdown of the numbers by genre and
date. A very general conclusion of this chapter is that the use of 'thou'
forms is not primarily a matter of social power semantics, i.e. a person of
power speaking to a person of a lower social rank, which has been suggested
by some. Instead, pronoun selection would appear to be motivated by the
signaling of emotive stance between social equals, especially among the
upper classes in those cases where the characters are expressing anger or
affection. According to the data in Busse, the pronoun of choice in
horizontal interactions among the lower classes in Shakespeare is, in fact,

Chapter 4 considers quantitative (and some qualitative) data on 'you' and
'thou' according to their occurrence in prose and verse. From this
research, Busse finds that 'thou' forms are more frequent in Shakespeare's
verse while 'you' forms predominate in prose. In this chapter too, Busse
looks at current work in markedness theory (e.g. Andersen 2001) from which
he concludes that 'you' is the unmarked member of the 'you/thou' set, and
as such, it has a tendency to occur more often in prose, the unmarked
genre. Furthermore, Busse's data support the idea that prose, as the
unmarked genre, is the locus for the on-going shift in pronominal use and
that verse tends to be more conservative.

In Chapter 5, Busse builds on his research of 'you' and 'thou' in verse,
where he looks specifically at their use in Shakespeare's sonnets. By
contrasting the use of pronouns in the set of sonnets addressed to the
"fair youth", for whom Shakespeare has an intimate affection, Busse
concludes that the shift of pronouns works primarily to build affective
nuance. Chapter 5 includes a comparison of Shakespeare's use of pronouns
to that of other Elizabethan poets. The numbers from this comparison show
that although Shakespeare's verse appears to be linguistically more
conservative, relative to that of his contemporaries, the use of 'thou'
forms by Elizabethan poets supports the thesis developed in Chapter 4
concerning the conservative and archaizing nature of verse in general.

Chapter 6 (the longest of the book at 85 pp.) looks at the collocation of
'you/thou' with nominal forms of address. Busse's presentation in this
chapter is a very detailed listing of quantitative data concerning such
collocations. In sum, Busse finds that rules of variability can be
established, but that pronoun use is not totally predictable from nominal
forms of address because of several factors, including mock or ironic
language where the nominal forms of polite address are used to indicate
just the opposite of politeness. This, of course, underscores the need for
a pragmaphilological approach, taking into account qualitative data as well
as quantitative data.

In Chapter 7, Busse studies the evidence from Shakespeare concerning the
development of 'prithee' and 'pray you' as discourse markers. From this
study, Busse draws a number of conclusions. For instance, he is able to
determine that 'pray you' is the more frequent of the two in Shakespeare
and that it had already undergone quite a bit of grammaticization by that
time. For instance, Busse's data show that 'pray you' had changed from a
matrix stem introducing a that-clause or infinitive to a parenthetical
marker expressing "an adverb-like" quality (211-212). Further indications
of an advanced grammatical stage for 'pray you', according to Busse, are
found in its degree of semantic bleaching and pragmatic strengthening. His
study of 'pray you' and 'prithee' have also uncovered a "good deal of
overlap" (211) between the uses of the two. (See the Critical Evaluation
section for more on this part of Busse's study.)

In Chapter 8, Busse investigates the hypotheses set up by researchers such
as Mulholland (1967) and Barber (1981), who suggest that intralinguistic
factors, such as co-occurrence of pronoun forms with open/closed class
verbs and/or other syntactic categories, are important factors to
consider. In Busse's sampling of 8 plays from different genres and
periods, he concludes that such intralinguistic factors do not come to bear
on the selection of pronouns.

In Chapter 9, Busse turns his attention to the selection of 'thy' and
'thine', which has often been explained in terms of morphophonological
conditioning, i.e. 'thy' before consonants and 'thine' before vowels, cf.
'an'~'a' in Modern English. As Busse's data indicate, this distinction is
no longer tenable by Shakespeare's time when the selection of 'thy' and
'thine' had changed from intralinguistic phonetic conditioning to
extra-linguistic factors, such as "formality, text type, etc." (247). In
fact, as Busse's investigation found, by Shakespeare's time, the most
frequent uses of 'thine' were in certain fixed expressions, e.g. 'thine
own', 'thine eyes', etc.

Chapter 10 looks at the use of nominative 'ye' versus oblique
'you'. Busse's investigation shows that case is not strictly observed by
Shakespeare's time in so far as 'ye' occurs around 30% of the time in
non-nominative contexts. The stronger correlation of 'ye' in nominative
contexts, however, is bolstered by its use in certain verbal imperatives,
'hark ye', 'look ye' and in set optative expressions like 'fare ye
well'. Busse suggests that from such emotive contexts, 'ye' had become the
affective form of the 'ye'~'you' dyad by Shakespeare's time and
consequently one finds it more often collocated with vocative terms of
abuse and affection.

Chapter 11 presents a summary of Busse's study and conclusions.

While overall I find great worth in Busse's study, I think the reader
should be aware of the following issues. In his attempt at
comprehensive coverage, Busse's presentation is sometimes elliptical in
ways that limit the potential readership of the book. First, Busse's
presentation of data in his many graphs, charts and diagrams is not
generally well explained, making the reader stop to make the necessary
connections. This is problematic for those readers not trained in
statistical methodology and particularly in the ways that statistical
information is graphically presented.

For instance, on page 124, Graph 1, we find the first of several summary
graphs on the use of 'you/thou' with nominal forms of address. It is a
figure with bars extending upward from a line marked '0'. Each bar is
labeled with one of the forms of address (e.g. 'Lady', 'Goodman', etc.).
A legend on the graph indicates that darkly shaded areas represent +you
(x1000) and lightly shaded areas represent you (x1000). An endnote
explains that the graph represents a ratio of 'you' to 'thou' and it
explains the formula used to arrive at that statistic. The endnote does
tell us explicitly that '0' indicates 1:1 ratio. In my view, however,
unless one is quite familiar with this type of statistical presentation,
the information given by Busse does not lend itself to easy
interpretation. Thus, since the data in this first (of several) graph(s)
shows only instances where 'you' has a higher frequency in the 'you:thou'
ratio, all of the bars are darkly shaded and rise above the '0' line. It
is not until several pages later that one sees bars extending both above
and below '0' with different shadings, thus allowing the reader to make
sense of the information given, i.e. he is essentially contrasting nominal
forms that show a predominant collocational pattern with 'you' as opposed
to 'thou'. This potential confusion could easily be cleared up with a
sentence or two interpreting the data in the graph and unfortunately this
is not done throughout.

Another area in Busse that is underdeveloped is explanation of his use of
statistical tests and inference in support of his claims. I should mention
that Busse is not unique in this regard and one finds many instances of
similarly underdeveloped integration of statistics into linguistic inquiry
throughout the literature. While I generally support the use of statistics
in linguistic analysis involving variation, the use statistical methodology
is not very meaningful unless it is well understood and the interpretations
of that data are made clear. I do not think a book that could potentially
engage linguists from diverse backgrounds and even Shakespeare scholars can
assume such familiarity with statistics.

Finally, I think that the reader should also be aware that despite
his otherwise very comprehensive treatment, including a generally
good incorporation of previous research on the topics he investigates,
his discussion of the development of 'prithee' and 'pray you' as
discourse markers is limited. My criticism here concerns the fact that
he does not consider a lot of literature that is directly germane to his
topic (e.g. Bybee and Scheibman 1999 and Haiman 1998), even in those areas
where his data clearly point to well-studied theoretical constructs within
the fields of grammaticization and pragmaticization, such as the phenomena
of "layering" (Hopper 1991) and "subjectivization/intersubjectivization"
(Traugott and Dasher 2002). To be fair, however, I should say that he does
quote work by Traugott and Dasher, although he does not use their
terminology or any of their examples; Brinton's (1996) work on the
development of discourse markers in English is cursorily incorporated by
Busse in a similar way. Thus, he does not really present his data here
within a bigger picture of language change, i.e. documented cases of
analogous change from other languages, or within the context of the very
theories he invokes, i.e. grammaticization/pragmaticization. To have done
so would validate his claims about 'pray you' and 'prithee'
cross-linguistically, making his conclusions stronger and giving the
chapter theoretical focus. The resulting problem, then, is that without
prior knowledge about this area of historical linguistics, Busse's
arguments about the use and development of 'pray you' and 'prithee' are
difficult to evaluate.

Andersen, Henning. 2001. "Markedness and the theory of linguistic change".
In H. Andersen (ed.), Actualization. Linguistic Change in Progress.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Barber, Charles. 1981. 'You' and 'thou' in Shakespeare's Richard III. Leeds
Studies in English, New Series 12: 273-289.

Brinton, Laurel. 1996. Pragmatic Markers in English: Grammaticalization and
Discourse Functions. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Brown, Roger W. and Albert Gilman. 1960. "The pronouns of power and
solidarity". In T.A. Sebeok (ed.), Style in Language, 253-276. Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press.

Brown, Roger W. and Marguerite Ford. 1961. "Address in American English".
Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 62: 375-385.

Brown, Penelope and Stephen Levinson. 1987. Politeness: Some Universals in
Language Use. Cambridge: CUP.

Brown, Roger W. and Albert Gilman. 1989. "Politeness theory and
Shakespeare's four major tragedies". Language in Society 18: 159-212.

Bybee, Joan and Joanne Scheibman. 1999. "The effect of usage on degrees of
constituency: the reduction of 'don't' in English". Linguistics 37: 575-596.

Gilman, Albert and Roger W. Brown. 1958. "Who says 'tu' to whom?" ETS: A
Review of General Semantics 15: 169-174.

Haiman, John. 1998. Talk is Cheap: Sarcasm, Alienation and the Evolution of
Language. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hopper, Paul J. 1991. "On some principles of grammaticization". In
Elizabeth Traugott and Bernd Heine (eds.) Approaches to Grammaticalization,
vol. 1, 17-35. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Mulholland, Joan. 1967. "'Thou' and 'you' in Shakespeare: A study in the
second person pronoun". English Studies 48: 34-43.

Traugott, Elizabeth and Richard Dasher. 2002. Regularity in Semantic Change.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER K. Aaron Smith, assistant professor in the Department of English at Illinois State University, has published on a number of topics concerning issues in the development of the English language. His research interests also include grammaticization theory, typology and universals. He is currently working on revising his PhD dissertation on the development of the English progressive into a book.