“So moche ye owe me”: Speech-Like Representation in Caxton’s Dialogues in French and English

Colette Moore


Historical pragmatics of the last two decades has continued to refine its tools for examining the relationship of speech and writing (e.g. Culpeper and Kytö 2010). As our methodology has improved, it is helpful to return to case studies to see how different models apply to particular materials, and the particular constraints of each text. One depiction of the everyday English of people on the street in late-medieval England can be found in William Caxton’s Dialogues in French and English, a late fourteenth-century printed edition of a thirteenth-century French/Flemish manual for conversation and vocabulary. Caxton’s text provides a two-column format in French and English which contains, among other things, an illustrative marketplace dialogue between a fictional seller and a hypothetical buyer. This interchange, between a female cloth merchant and a male purchaser, exemplifies many of the features that we might expect in colloquial English: a higher number of pragmatic lexical items and interpersonal words, a more highly connected style of second-person pronouns and vocatives, and a greater use of sentence structures like questions and exclamations. And yet, it is fundamentally constructed speech rather than a faithful reporting of an actual conversation, and the very features that serve as markers of its colloquial style (like vocatives) also characterize its nature as written discourse. This analysis examines the textual context of speech-like representation, presenting an account of the pragmatic aspects of genre, style, and discourse that shape the depiction of the mercantile conversation in Caxton’s text.

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