Historical sociolinguistics and authorship elucidation in medieval private written correspondence:
Theoretical and methodological implications for and from Forensic Linguistics
Keywords:forensic linguistics, historical sociolinguistics, authorship, holograph/autograph letters, scribal/secretarial letters
Corpora of historical correspondence and their social metadata offers a very useful archival source to carry out studies in Historical Sociolinguistics. However, illiteracy among female population and the subsequent use of scribes make authorship and gender constitute some of the most controversial socio-demographic issues when doing sociohistorical research. Letters might not have been autographs but rather dictated to a scribe, which can lead to the distortion of findings concerning authorship and gender-based patterns, from the perspective of sociolinguistic variation. On the other hand, Forensic Linguistics appeared as a branch of Applied Linguistics to assist the law in legal processes, where authorship elucidation is often one of the most disputed questions. In this paper we will present an overview of the main approaches to authorship attribution within Forensic Linguistics and relate them to sociohistorical data in the case of the letters by Margery Paston, putting their theorical tenets and techniques to the test of time. The data suggests that formal (spelling) features are less indicative of authorship than other morphosyntactic markers. Forensic Linguistics and Historical Sociolinguistics can mutually benefit each other, by sharing their expertise in authorship research and its application to current and historical texts in their social context
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