Flexible Writers in Language History

We constantly vary in our use of language and thereby adjust to diverse social situations and conversational partners, applying language purposefully. This re­search group transfers the observations made on internal linguistic variability in modern socio­lin­guistics into the context of language history and asks the question of whether historical writers showed linguistic flexibility.

The Junior Research Group at a Glance

Place of researchFAU Erlangen-Nürnberg
AssociationElite Graduate Program “Ethics of Textual Culture”
Project duration2017 to 2022
Group leaderDr. Markus Schiegg
Contact the group leader 
Further informationWebsite of “Flexible Writers in Language History”

Flexible Writers and Language History

The data used in this project are drawn pre­do­mi­nan­tly from letters and texts written by patients at psychiatric hospitals in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These institutions, founded in the context of the in­sti­tu­tio­na­li­sa­tion of psychiatry in the 19th century German states, withheld certain letters that were then put into the patients’ files, where they have remained largely unnoticed until today.

This research project of the Junior Research Group "Flexible Writers in Language History" examines these letters from an interdisciplinary per­spec­tive.

Firstly, we are com­pi­ling a digital, open access letter cor­pus with ma­te­rial from southern Ger­many (psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal Irsee/ Kauf­beu­ren), north­ern Germany and the United King­dom (http://copadocs.de).

Portrait photo: Dr. Markus Schiegg

The structure of a junior research group offers optimal conditions for independent work on an innovative research project together with a diverse team of junior scientists.

Dr. Markus Schiegg

Thereafter, we shall analyse this corpus on the basis of the hypothesis that ‘ordinary writers’ were able to make conscious decisions about linguistic registers and the choice between different (groups of) variants.

Methods, Objectives and Ethical Relevance

The project is developing methods to combine functional and structural approaches to linguistic variation, linking to integrated theories in variationist linguistic research. Be­yond that, the nature of the corpus creates the scope for analysing the influence of age and/or illness on language use and thus offers the potential for pioneering work in the area of historical patholinguistics.

The project also has an ethical dimension, namely the examination of evaluations of texts, practices of censorship, and the legitimisation of knowledge and power. The voices of the patients themselves, once stifled, can now be heard again.

The research group cooperates with the Elite Graduate Program „Ethics of Textual Cultures“ at the Universities of Erlangen-Nuremberg and Augsburg.

Further cooperations

University of SalzburgDepartment of German Studies, Stephan Elspaß
University of FlensburgInstitute for Language, Literature and Media, Nils Langer
Université de LausanneEnglish Linguistics, Anita Auer
University of WisconsinDepartment of German, Joseph Salmons
University of RegensburgDepartment of German Linguistics, Paul Rössler
Kaufbeuren HospitalAlbert Putzhammer