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Friends will be “friends”? The sociopragmatics of referential terms in early English letters

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Chapter Summary

This article studies the sociopragmatic use of the term friend in personal correspondence in Early Modern and Late Modern English, more specifically, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The analysis shows that friend may be used, firstly, for an instrumental function, as when the writer has something to gain from it: a favour, a reciprocal act of solidarity, or access to the addressee’s/referent’s in-group. Secondly, writers use friend in emotional contexts, for example when expressing intimacy and affect towards the referent. The material also includes other functions for the term, such as in expressions of goodwill or in news reporting. In general, shifting between in-group/out-group membership appears to be a common function for the use of friend. Over time, the term is increasingly used to indicate intimate friends and acquaintances, whereas reference to members of the family and kin as “friends” declines from the latter half of the seventeenth century onwards.



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