14.945, Review: Historical Ling/Pragmatics: Busse (2002)

LINGUIST List linguist at linguistlist.org
Tue Apr 1 00:49:04 UTC 2003

LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-945. Mon Mar 31 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.945, Review: Historical Ling/Pragmatics: Busse (2002)

Moderators: Anthony Aristar, Wayne State U.<aristar at linguistlist.org>
            Helen Dry, Eastern Michigan U. <hdry at linguistlist.org>

Reviews (reviews at linguistlist.org):
	Simin Karimi, U. of Arizona
	Terence Langendoen, U. of Arizona

Home Page:  http://linguistlist.org/

The LINGUIST List is funded by Eastern Michigan University, Wayne
State University, and donations from subscribers and publishers.

Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <naomi at linguistlist.org>

To give you an incentive to donate, many of our Supporting Publishers
have generously donated some amazing linguistic prizes. As a donor you
are automatically entered into this prize draw. To find out what's on
offer and the rules etc., visit:


We still have a long way to go, however, to reach our target of
$50,000. Please make a donation at:


The LINGUIST List depends on the generous contributions from
subscribers like you; we would not be able to operate without your

The moderators, staff, and student editors at LINGUIST would like to
take this opportunity to thank you for your continuous support.

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book
Discussion Forum.  We expect discussions to be informal and
interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited
to join in.

If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books
announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact
Simin Karimi at simin at linguistlist.org.


Date:  Mon, 31 Mar 2003 17:18:39 +0000
From:  K. Aaron Smith <kasmit3 at ilstu.edu>
Subject:  Linguistic Variation in the Shakespeare Corpus

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Mon, 31 Mar 2003 17:18:39 +0000
From:  K. Aaron Smith <kasmit3 at ilstu.edu>
Subject:  Linguistic Variation in the Shakespeare Corpus

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

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-121.html

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

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:

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.


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.


If you buy this book please tell the publisher or author
that you saw it reviewed on the LINGUIST list.

LINGUIST List: Vol-14-945

More information about the Linguist mailing list