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Shifting patterns of 'you' and 'thou': Modelling address in the English sonnet

Hosting organisations
Uni Innsbruck - Institut für Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft
Responsible persons
Ass.-Prof. Dr. Brigitte Rath

The starting point of this project is the well-known observation, described in diachronic grammars, that “thou”, one of the two personal pronouns of the 2nd person singular in English, disappears from everyday language and prose in the course of the 17th century in favour of “you”. Nevertheless, “thou” continues to be used in poetry for two more centuries. However, there is no description yet of the connotations of the use of “thou”, no longer anchored in everyday language after the language change of the late 17th century, and of the semantic difference between “you” and “thou”.

The project aims to work out statistical tendencies regarding the usage patterns and thus the connotations of “thou” vs. “you” through processing appropriately annotated English-language sonnets from 1530 to 1910. Only a statistical evaluation and thus the description of regular usage allows us to make well-founded statements about whether the use of “you” or “thou” in an individual sonnet conforms to norms or not, and is thus more or less marked. Such a statistical analysis is a prerequisite for a seriously data-based text interpretation, especially in close reading; it also identifies particularly interesting individual cases for individual analysis. The project thus contributes to the lively discussion in literary studies about the role of address in lyric poetry.

Contributors to this project Marina Höfler Serena Obkircher Teresa Wolf Ario Santoso