Genre of the Corpora of Early English Correspondence

Correspondence as a genre can be described through its external qualities. Personal letters are real communication, with an identifiable writer and recipient, across distance and time. Letters have a specific form, including opening and closing formulae, dates and endorsements to direct the mail carrier. Besides communication of information concerning various subject matters, letters also maintain social relations. These two purposes are both seen in the composition of most letters.

The letters included in the corpus range from truly private (such as love letters) to the official (regal and administrative letters), but the emphasis is on the private end of the continuum. There are also some business letters between trading partners or merchants and clients. Many letters are not restricted to one particular type of subject matter: the wool trade was a family business, so details of buying and selling are included in a letter to brother or wife along with family matters and local gossip. Similarly, gentry families will write about managing the family estate, the shopping list for the one visiting London and the births and marriages of neighbours in one and the same letter. Even administrative letters between men who know each other will include details of the writer's and recipient's (and their family members') health and circumstances.

Letters as a text type are interactive, yet written, showing linguistic features typical of both, such as first- and second-person pronouns (interaction) and complex sentence structures (writing). Particularly the letters written by inexpert writers show a wide range of features usually associated with spoken language, such as add-on strategies, while the more literate writers show greater familiarity with the conventions of the genre.

More information on correspondence as a genre and text type can be found in

Nurmi, Arja & Minna Palander-Collin. 2008. "Letters as a text type: Interaction in writing". In Studies in Late Modern English Correspondence: Methodology and Data, ed. by Marina Dossena & Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade. Bern: Peter Lang, 21-49.

Palander-Collin, Minna, Minna Nevala & Arja Nurmi. 2009. "The language of daily life in the history of English: Studying how macro meets micro". In The Language of Daily Life in England (1400–1800). (Pragmatics and Beyond New Series 183), ed. by Arja Nurmi, Minna Nevala & Minna Palander-Collin. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1-23.