Prestige in Language and History: Explorations in 18th- and 19th-century Europe

28–29 April, 2011, Tieteiden talo, Helsinki.

Invited keynote speakers:

Dr. Elizabeth Eger, King’s College London

Professor Susan M. Fitzmaurice, University of Sheffield

Studies of prestige comprise a multidisciplinary enterprise with links to research fields like sociolinguistics, network studies, social history, and cultural evolution. In Henrich & Gil-White (2001), prestige is defined as “noncoerced, interindividual, within-group, human status asymmetries”, or as freely conferred deference on an individual who excels in valued domains of activity. Prestige is a salient factor in human societies and networks. It affects our everyday lives, as prestigious groups or individuals serve as valued models e.g. for the choices we make and the attitudes we hold on many levels including lifestyles, consumer habits, affiliations, and language varieties. But how is prestige conferred on individuals or groups; who are the prestigious in different conditions; what sorts of consequences does prestige have in different domains of activity; and how do prestige patterns change in time and how can we study prestige in language and history? Understanding prestige as a multifaceted factor in human behaviour and interpersonal relationships will ultimately help us see prestige patterns as culturally and socially conditioned changing constructs.

Organizers: Minna Palander-Collin, Minna Nevala, and Anni Sairio (Language and Identity research group), the Department of Modern Languages, University of Helsinki.

The seminar is free and open to all. Please register online by April 17th:

The language of the seminar is English.


Henrich, J. & F. Gil-White. 2001. ‘The evolution of prestige: Freely conferred deference as a mechanism for enhancing the benefits of cultural transmission’. Evolution & Human Behavior 22: 165−196.


Thursday 28.4.

10-10.30        Registration

10.30-11        Introduction to the seminar

11-12              Elizabeth Eger: ‘Queen of the Bluestockings’: Elizabeth Montagu, power and prestige

12-13             Lunch break

13-13.30        Anders Ahlqvist: Prestige and language in Finland and Ireland

13.30-14        Alex Snellman: Prestige as status capital: Interconnected power resources and the events of 1808-1809 in Finland

14-14.30        Coffee break

14.30-15        Arja Nurmi & Päivi Pahta: Multilingualism and prestige in women’s eighteenth-century English

15-15.30        Sara Nordlund-Laurent: Sisters in life and letters: Roles and relations in the correspondence of Anna and Helena Westermarck in 1879 and 1899

Friday 29.4.

9-10              Susan M. Fitzmaurice: ‘Varnished vice’: Aristocracy, prestige and reputation in eighteenth-century England

10-10.15        Coffee break

10.15-10.45   Taru Nordlund: Sub-elite writers and elite genres: Lower-class writers and the regimes of literacy in nineteenth-century Finland

10.45-11.15    Anni Sairio: Letters of the ‘polite’ and the ‘learned’: influence of social and linguistic prestige in eighteenth-century English correspondence

11.15-11.45     Maria Vainio-Kurtakko: Aristocracy as a strategy and an ideal: A case study of Albert Edelfelt

11.45-13         Lunch break

13-13.30        Jacques Van Keymeulen: Naming languages: an innocent activity?

13.30-14        Doris Stolberg: Why German? European encounters in the Pacific

14-14.30        Coffee break

14.30-15        Christel Björkstrand: Politeness pinpointing social utopia: An interdisciplinary analysis of Friedrich Schiller’s play Wilhelm Tell

15-15.30        Irma Tapaninen: An author who lost his prestige in 1909

15.30-16        Minna Nevala: How to behave like a gentleman: Seventeeth- and eighteenth-century conduct books in focus

Venue: Kirkkokatu 6

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