Plenary speakers:

Elizabeth Eger, King’s College London

‘Queen of the Bluestockings’: Elizabeth Montagu, power and prestige

This paper will explore questions of prestige and power in the circle of Elizabeth Montagu, ‘Queen of the Bluestockings’.  As her soubriquet suggests, Montagu acquired regal status in her lifetime, famous as a patron of literature and the arts and for her conspicuous acts of charity.  Yet as the history and etymology of the word ‘bluestocking’ conveys, Montagu’s identity incorporated more subversive aspects and connotations.  At her famous London assemblies, Montagu managed to create a social space that was parallel to court culture yet highly distinctive in allowing a relatively open attitude to the traditional hierarchies of rank. My paper will explore the role of prestige in female friendships and literary culture more broadly.  I will also explore the importance of Queens as historical models of female rule that acquired particular prestige and cultural authority in the eighteenth century.  From Cleopatra and Octavia to Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great, eighteenth-century bluestockings were fascinated by figures of female power. At the same time, Montagu placed new value on other kinds of social currency, including literary merit and professional vocation.

Susan M. Fitzmaurice, University of Sheffield

‘Varnished vice’: Aristocracy, prestige and reputation in eighteenth-century England

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, prestige was arguably embodied in ‘people of quality’, those individuals whose title, rank and fortune set them apart from the rest of society and made them models of behaviour, dress and speech.  ‘People of quality’ were assumed to have desirable attributes, labelled in the period’s code as ‘influence’, ‘reputation’, ‘character’, ‘parts’, and ‘rank’ and those who identified them as models, accorded them respect, willingly deferred to them, and if they had the wherewithal and ambition, also sought to imitate them. One of the indicators of ‘quality’ was politeness, explained by a contemporary manual as ‘a system of behaviour polished by good breeding [which] disposes us on all occasions to render ourselves agreeable. It does not constitute merit, it shews it to advantage, as it equally regulates that manner of speaking, and acting, which convey[s] grace and command[s] respect’ (Brewer, 1997: 102).  Members of the aristocracy commanded due deference and respect from others on the presumption that their good breeding rendered them virtuous and honorable. However Langford (1991: 521) notes that ‘[w]hen noblemen betrayed their moral duty they were bestowing a dangerous legitimacy on immorality’. In the course of the century, as politeness became more associated with self interest and less concerned with the public good (Fitzmaurice, 2010), so aristocrats began to lose their claim to any moral authority.

In this paper, I explore the separation of the notion of nobility from virtue in the course of the period.  I focus on the changing understanding of politeness in connection with social prestige by drawing upon the evidence provided by eighteenth-century constructions and contemporary appraisals of particular prestigious individuals and groups. One aim is to historicize the notion of ‘prestige’ by examining changes in its meaning and application in the context of the complex systems of patronage and influence exemplified in some eighteenth-century social networks. Exemplars to be considered include Lord John Somers, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough in the early part of the century and the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield and Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire in the second half of the century.


Brewer, John (1997) The Pleasures of the Imagination. English Culture in the Eighteenth century. London: Harper-Collins.

Fitzmaurice, Susan (2010) Changes in the meanings of politeness in eighteenth-century England: discourse analysis and historical evidence. In J. Culpeper & D. Kadar (eds.)Historical (Im)politeness. Bern: Peter Lang. 2010. Pp. 87-115.

Langford, Paul (1991) Public Life and the Propertied Englishman 1689-1798. (Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Session papers:

Anders Ahlqvist, University of Sydney

Prestige and Language in Finland and Ireland

This presentation will deal with prestige as a sociolinguistic phenomenon in the diverse contexts of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Finland and Ireland, taking into account such factors as the rise of the middle class, nationalism, and the increasing interest in the vernacular languages of the two countries. Special reference will be made to Börje Colliander’s little-known but important 1963 monograph Modersmålet som massrörelse[‘The Mother-tongue as Mass Movement’]. It emphasizes how much the teachings of Johann Gottfried von Herder influenced the rise of European vernaculars during that period; as is well known, the number of fully fledged European languages rose from about seventeen around 1800 to at least thirty a hundred years later. Further, the role of national epics such as the Finnish Kalevala and its equivalents elsewhere will be discussed, as will the reasons behind the remarkable differences that may be observed regarding their variable degrees of acceptance from their respective milieus. Finally, attention will be paid to the significant changes in respect of prestige that have occurred in the language situations of Finland and Ireland, and some possible reasons for them.

Christel Björkstrand, Åbo Akademi University

Politeness pinpointing social utopia. An interdisciplinary analysis of Friedrich Schiller’s play Wilhelm Tell

My research project is an interdisciplinary analysis of Friedrich Schiller’s play Wilhelm Tell(1804). The main part of the analysis is based on the linguistic theory of Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson as presented in their work Politeness. Some universals in language usage. (1978, 1987).

An initial macro analysis of Schiller’s play draws attention to a change in the communication between the nobles and the peasants in the play. In order to describe the steps of this change (from a state of non-communication to agreements on common action), a micro analysis based on the theory of Brown and Levinson is conducted. Thus, the key persons (as representatives of social classes) and the most important scene(s) as concerns the development of the relationship between the persons in the play are identified. The results of the micro analysis are in focus in my presentation.

However, I base my study on only a part of Brown’s and Levinson’s theory, and this is the part defining the different strategies of positive and negative politeness. According to Brown and Levinson, the use of positive politeness strategies decreases the distance between the speaker and the hearer, whereas the choice of negative politeness strategies (e.g. Give deference) increases the distance between the communicants. Thus, the occurrence of positive and negative politeness strategies confirms or rejects the presumed decreased distance between the persons in the play.

The micro analysis of Schiller’s play confirms the decreased distance between the communicants. Additionally, it indicates that the utopian change in society must be considered a main achievement in the play. Curiously, my results also draw attention to the insignificant role of Wilhelm Tell as concerns the social utopia.

Jacques Van Keymeulen, Ghent University

Naming languages: an innocent activity?

Belgium has three official languages: French (Wallonia and 90% of Brussels), Dutch (Flanders and 10% of Brussels) and German  (eastern fringe of Wallonia). Why is it then that Flemings so often have to explain to foreigners that they do not speak ‘Flemish’ but Dutch? The French-speaking Belgians in Wallonia do not have a similar  problem; everybody agrees they speak French.

In my lecture I will dwell on the ‘natiolects’ in Western Europe, a natiolect being a national variety of a so-called pluricentric language. To give some examples: French is spoken in France, Belgium and Switserland, German is spoken in Germany, Austria, Switserland, Belgium, Luxemburg and Liechtenstein, Swedish is spoken in Sweden and Finland. I will investigate the relation between the prestige of a language and the name of it. My main focus will be the complex linguistic situation in Belgium, the case of the term ‘Flemish’, and the 19th-century Belgian language policy that is reflected in the name given to the language of the Flemings.

Minna Nevala, University of Helsinki

How to Behave like a Gentleman: Seventeeth- and Eighteenth-century Conduct Books in Focus

The first English letter manual and conduct book, Fulwood’s The Enimie of Idlenesse(1568), as well as Peacham’s The Garden of Eloquence (1577), Hoskyns’s (c. 1600) treatise on rhetoric, Jonson’s (1889 [1640]) account of de stylo epistolari and Hoole’s Centuria Epistolarum Anglo-Latinarum (1660), were all based on classical modes of composition. Despite their added emphasis on rhetoric, these manuals were primarily intended for a wider public, and they included advice on not only letter composition but also advice on proper manners and conduct for all occasions. Some manuals were solely collections of model letters, and especially the earlier ones were translations of Latin, Italian and French originals.

A hundred years later The Art of Letter-Writing reminded the reader that one should avoid “these pretended Ornaments, which were formerly so studiously sought after” (1762: 3). Letter-writers were also advised how poorly these kinds of formulae could be understood by recipients from lower social classes. Already in the latter part of the 16th century, Fulwood (1568: 6) warned the reader that one must not use too difficult terms when writing to “simple and stupid people”, because they may otherwise think that they are being mocked. In general, these books were full of advice on how to behave like a gentleman, often by way of describing how badly the people from the lower classes were lacking of proper manners and decent character. This way, the authors drew a very sharp distinction between their proposed readers: they did not wish for the readers from the upper classes to be confused with those from the lower end of the social scale. For example, Fleming (1576) directs his manual to both the learned and unlearned, “to reade for thy recreation, and peruse at thy pleasure”. Similarly, Fulwood (1568) and Day (1586) address both “the learned” and “the ignorant”.

It is the purpose of this paper to introduce and discuss some of the most prominent letter-writing manuals and conduct books printed in England from the 17th to the 18th century, mainly from the perspective of social class/group description. Special attention will be paid to the manuals intended for members of the lower social class, who began to be acknowledged as letter-writers and readers of these books only from the late 17th century onwards.

Taru Nordlund, University of Helsinki

Sub-elite writers and elite genres: lower-class writers and the regimes of literacy in the 19th-century Finland

In 1858 and 1860, the Finnish Literature Society (FLS) launched a writing contest for “all competent writers to write an essay on the reasons for crop failure in the country, as well as means and aids to relieve and prevent their sorrow consequences for the people”. In this paper, I will look at the texts submitted for the writing contest, as well as their reception in the board of examiners in the FLS.

The calls resulted in 16 Finnish texts (as well as 2 in Swedish) that were sent to the Finnish Literature Society. The texts were written by well-to-do yeomen and small landowners, but also by a tenant farmer, a tailor, a sub-officer, and several writers whose occupations remain unknown. What was common to these writers, however, was their position in the economy of literacy in the 19th-century Finland: none of them, perhaps counting out the writer who ultimately won the contest and whose text was later published, were professional and competent writers, i.e. they attempted to write an elite genre with sub-elite literary resources.

In this paper, I will argue that while models for writing in the (currently emerging) standard Finnish apparently were available for the writers – e.g. preliminary schooling, religious and administrative books and discourse, as well as newspapers – these models were not properly accessible for the writers, and more importantly, they were not fully exploitable in their own writings. To describe the gap between the texts submitted for the contest, and prestige or elite forms of writing, I will study the conditions of writing in the 19th-century Finland, the linguistic features of the texts, as well as their reception in the Finnish Literature Society. The research is largely inspired by the studies on grassroots literacy and sociolinguistic studies on linguistic inequality (e.g. Blommaert 2008, Hymes 1996).

Blommaert, Jan 2008: Grassroots Literacy. Writing, Identity and Voice in Central Africa. London & New York: Routledge.

Hymes, Dell 1996: Ethnography, Linguistics, Narrative Inequality. Toward an Understanding of Voice. Abingdon & New York: Taylor & Francis.

Sara Nordlund-Laurent, University of Helsinki

Sisters in life and letters: roles and relations in the correspondence of Anna and Helena Westermarck in 1879 and 1899

Sisterhood is frequently referred to in the early letters of Anna (1867–1942) and Helena (1857–1938) Westermarck. They are members of the Swedish speaking academic bourgeoisie in Helsinki. They are sisters in real life and both position themselves as sisters in their letters. The word sister is mentioned as often as 25 times in the first ten letters written by Anna in 1879 and 29 times in the first ten letters by Helena. Sister often occurs with my, your, own, dear or beloved and it is especially frequent in the openings and the closings of the letters. The concept of sisterhood also brings on the asymmetrical relation of the letter writers as both explicitly refer to Anna as little sister.

Twenty years later, i.e. 1899, the roles and the relations of the letter writers are somewhat different. This is a consequence of the letter writers being older and having gained positions in public life, but also of the radically changed contexts that surround the correspondence. The letter writers still define them selves as sisters in their letters, but the sisterhood is partly replaced by other roles.

In my presentation I analyse the roles of Anna and Helena Westermarck in their letters from 1879 and 1899. I specifically focus on the sisterhood in the correspondence and cast light on how the sisterhood is explored, how the letter writers orient themselves towards the concept of sisterhood, how they draw upon the roles of being sisters and how their attitudes about sisterhood change over time. I also discuss the aspect of prestige related to sisterhood in the correspondence.

Arja Nurmi (University of Helsinki) and Päivi Pahta (University of Tampere)

Multilingualism and prestige in women’s eighteenth-century English correspondence

Our paper discusses the ways in which women’s use of foreign languages can be seen as an expression and negotiation of prestige in eighteenth-century English correspondence. While education was clearly stratified according to social status, there were also increasing opportunities for independent studies through the variety of books published. This lead to foreign-language skills being available to wider circles of society than during previous centuries. Multilingualism can be seen as an expression of identity and group membership, but there are also constraints to the use of foreign languages.

Our data comes from the Corpus of Early English Correspondence Extension (CEECE), a computer-readable collection of electronic texts collected to be as socially representative a sample of the literate social groups as is possible. The corpus is accompanied with a database containing data on the letter writers and recipients, which allows us to look at the social status of our informants and to discuss the ways in which women’s multilingual practises are related to their possession and expression of prestige.


Corpus of Early English Correspondence Extension (CEECE). Compiled by Samuli Kaislaniemi, Mikko Laitinen, Minna Nevala, Terttu Nevalainen, Arja Nurmi, Minna Palander-Collin, Helena Raumolin-Brunberg and Anni Sairio at the Department of English, University of Helsinki. http://www.helsinki.fi/varieng/CoRD/corpora/CEEC/index.html

Anni Sairio, University of Helsinki

Letters of the ‘polite’ and the ‘learned’: the influence of social and linguistic prestige in eighteenth-century English

In 1769, Elizabeth Montagu (1718-1800) published the Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear, a defense of Shakespeare against Voltaire’s recent criticism. The Essay was published anonymously, but Montagu’s identity as the author was soon revealed, and the “critical Amazon” was widely admired and congratulated by leading philosophers and critics (Eger 2003: 132). At the time Montagu was already known as one of the Bluestocking hostesses. These assemblies were dedicated to intellectual conversation instead of the usual pastime of gossip and cards, and by successfully taking on the French philosopher Montagu ventured towards further acknowledgement as one of the ‘polite’ and the ‘learned’ (two key terms in eighteenth-century English discourse).

This was also a period of language standardization and normative grammar writing. With linguistic uniformity as their ideal, grammarians strived to fix and to codify the English language. Robert Lowth’s Introduction to English Grammar (1762), which promoted the usage of the aforementioned ‘polite’ and the ‘learned’ as a model for good language use, became an instant bestseller, and Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language(1755) was received with admiration. However, while printers’ practices and the spelling of published texts shifted towards greater uniformity, private spelling retained retained a lot of the variation that was otherwise disappearing (Osselton 1984).

This paper deals with prestige as a social and linguistic phenomenon in eighteenth-century genteel England, and considers how these factors influenced language use in the sphere of private writing. Shakespeare boosted Elizabeth Montagu’s social standing as a woman of letters during a time when the English language was being “polished and refined” towards uniformity, and I will discuss how this overt, status-oriented prestige and the normative tradition and subsequent changes in what was considered (non)prestigious language use are reflected in Montagu’s use of variant, non-standard spellings.

Beal, Joan C. 2004. English in Modern Times, 1700-1945. OUP.

Eger, Elizabeth. 2003. ‘‘Out rushed a female to protect the Bard’: The Bluestocking defense of Shakespeare’. In Pohl, Nicole & Betty A. Schellenberg (eds.), Reconsidering the Bluestockings. San Marino: Huntington Library.

Osselton, Noel. 1984. ‘Informal spelling systems in Early Modern English: 1500-1800.’ In Blake, N.F. and Charles Jones (eds.), English Historical Linguistics: Studies in Development. CECTAL Conference Papers Series, No. 3. University of Sheffield. pp. 123-137.

Alex Snellman, University of Helsinki

Prestige as Status Capital: Interconnected Power Resources and the Events of 1808–1809 in Finland

In my presentation I show that if we define prestige as status capital, a concept inspired by Pierre Bourdieu, we can more closely analyze the links that exist between prestige and other forms of power resources.

Capitals are not vague metaphors; they are essential resources for the exercise of power. Bourdieu introduced in addition to economic also cultural, social and symbolic capitals (and their sub-types: e.g. political capital). The production and exchange of capitals was formulated as an extended “economy”. In this type of economy, prestige can be defined as a form of capital that can produce other capitals.

Bourdieu, of course, used the concept of symbolic capital for similar purposes. It seems, however, that it is not totally comparable with other forms of capital, because it is “a form which is assumed by different kinds of capital when they are perceived and recognized as legitimate”. In other words, other capitals can act as symbolic capital, but symbolic capital is not an independent power resource. As I perceive symbolic capital to be problematically formulated, I use the concept status capital instead.

My aim is not to discover what Bourdieu “really” meant with his capitals. Rather, I wish to complement and redefine the model. In my presentation I shall illustrate this system of interconnected capitals with the events of 1808–1809 when the Russian Empire conquered the Finnish territory of the Kingdom of Sweden. Resources of prestige, i.e. status capital, played an important role in the events. Noble ranks, imperial gifts, orders of merit and other honours were instruments that the Russian occupiers used for pacifying and charming the local Finnish elites. This has been already recognized in previous research, but the connections that prestige had with other forms of power resources remain mostly uncharted.

Doris Stolberg, Institut für Deutsche Sprache, Mannheim

Why German? European encounters in the Pacific

Several of the languages spoken in Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia contain German loanwords, originating from language contact between (roughly) 1880 and 1914 when Germany administered a colonial area in the Pacific. While such forced language contact can be expected to induce temporary linguistic interference – due to the colonial power’s administrative and military dominance –, it is surprising that these loanwords took hold, and even survived subsequent (colonial) powers, despite quite unfavourable borrowing conditions:

– English (also a colonial language) was already an established lingua franca between the local population and the Europeans, as well as among Europeans;

– native speakers of German preferred (Pidgin) English to German in various settings

(Samoanische Zeitung, July 8, 1911:1f.; Engelberg 2006:7);

– German colonial administration in the Pacific was short-lived (approximately 30 years);

– German-speaking manpower was low in numbers (cf. StJbDR 1910/11:24-33; DKAJb 1905:18ff.);

– although German was to be taught as a foreign language in schools, in various areas it was never really implemented.

I suggest that there must have been an additional incentive to adopt German borrowings than just dominance by virtue of colonial power because this dominance was not spelled out strongly in terms of language use. In order to overcome such unfavourable conditions for borrowing, German must have held noticeable prestige for the local population.

In my paper I investigate German borrowings in some languages spoken in the Pacific area (Tok Pisin, Nauruan, Samoan), tracing the types of interaction that (may) have led to the integration of German loanwords where English borrowings were equally available. Language attitudes among the local population, missionaries, and colonial administratives are analysed, considering different aspects of prestige and dominance, and clarifying (some of) the factors that led to the adoption and preservation of German loanwords in the presence of its strongest European competitor, English.


Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft (ed.). 1905. Deutscher Kolonialatlas mit Jahrbuch (= DKAJb). Berlin

Engelberg, Stefan. 2006. The Influence of German on the Lexicon of Palauan and Kosraean. – In: Keith,Allen (ed.): Selected Papers from the 2005 Conference of the Australian Linguistic Society.

Kaiserliches Statistisches Reichsamt (ed.). 1890ff. Statistisches Jahrbuch für das Deutsche Reich (=StJbDR), Vol. 1910/11. Berlin

Samoanische Zeitung. 1901-1915. Apia, Samoa

Irma Tapaninen, University of Helsinki

An Author who lost his prestige in 1909

Finnish author Algot Untola (1868 – 1918) is better known as Irmari Rantamala and especially Maiju Lassila because he didn´t use his real name after he started his career as an author.  Untola got very confuse critics from his first novel Harhama in 1909.  After long discussions literary critics interpreted the novel as a confession of the author. I started my study because in my opinion their interpretation was wrong. According to my hypothesis Untola was a dissident of his time. His whole literary production seems to include meanings which were directed against the contemporary elitist culture.

At the beginning my huge problem was that the main part of available sources written by Untola was novels or other fictional writings. I had to resolve how to produce new historical information about this kind of material. Mihail Bakhtin´s language and literature theory and his ideas about dialogism have solved this problem.

Untola and Eino Leino (1878 – 1926), the other Finnish author, belonged to the opposed political and cultural groups.  They were different also on a more personal level, because Leino was the admirer of the philosophy of Nietzsche while the worldview of Untola was – as Bakhtin calls it – “carnivalesque”. Their opinions seem to differ for example about the role of the intellectuals and “masses” in democracy. I have shown how Untola spoke to Leino with many clear intertextual connections to his novel Jaana Rönty (1907). Leino was one of the literary critics of Harhama. He was also a very prestigious person especially among the younger cultural circles, and that way his nasty interpretation about Harhamabecame wide accepted. After that Untola lost his prestige also among his own intellectual group.

Maria Vainio-Kurtakko, University of Helsinki

Aristocracy as a strategy and an ideal – a case study of Albert Edelfelt

In this presentation I study the painter Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905) – a celebrated figure of the so called golden age of Finnish art – and his strategies for maintaining his social positions and make a living with his art in Finland, Scandinavia and France. Edelfelt is known as a chameleon with the air of a gentleman, always adapting to his surroundings and his company, always being polite and correct, never forgetting the ideal of liberty, equality and fraternity. Edelfelt is also known for his large social network in the cultural and political spheres of his own country as well as in Scandinavian and French circles.

However Edelfelt’s starting point was not the best. When he was aged 14 his father lost the family fortune – originally gained from Edelfelt’s mother who was the daughter of a successful tradesman and shipowner – and died, leaving his widow with four children and massive debts. In this situation, how did the Edelfelt family maintain their prestige and by that escape falling out of their estate? How did Edelfelt himself turn from an impoverished aristocrat without manor and wealth into a celebrated painter both in Finland, Scandinavia and France? This presentation answers the questions of how Edelfelt built his career, usingboth his aristocratic name and the ideal of liberty, equality and fraternity, in a time when society was shifting towards more democratic ideals.

Earlier research on Edelfelt has recognized some of his strategies, but far from all of them. In this presentation I will follow Edelfelt throughout his life, illuminating and explaining his strategies of maintaining and increasing his prestige.

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