International Workshop on Sociolinguistic Variation in Historical Legal Texts from Britain (Université de Lausanne, 6-7 October 2023)


Place:  University of Lausanne, Switzerland, Anthropole, Room 3185

Dates:  6-7 October 2023

Plenary speakers: Dr. Peter Grund (Yale) and Prof. Merja Stenroos (Stavanger)

Organisers: Prof. Anita Auer (Lausanne) and Prof. Olga Timofeeva (Zurich)


Legal and administrative texts punctuated the history of the English language from the earliest period, e.g. Æthelberht’s code (c.600 AD), Domesday Book (1086), Magna Carta (1215), Provisions of Oxford (1258), etc. The development of the legal system over time has led to the creation of new text types that can serve as sources for the field of English historical (socio)linguistics, e.g. writs, treatises, law codes, depositions, etc. Although a great amount of attention has already been paid to specific text types from different historical periods, e.g. the role of legal texts in the standardisation processes of Late Medieval and Early Modern English, a more comprehensive discussion on legal text types across periods as sources for linguistic research has not taken place to date. Therefore, this two-day international workshop aims to bring together scholars working on legal texts in the history of the English language and to provide a platform for sharing recent research findings and for facilitating discussions on different text types, methods, and frameworks.

Contributions focusing on the following themes are particularly welcome:

  • theoretical approaches to historical legal texts;
  • evolution of legal institutions and legal practices;
  • evolution of legal text types and genres;
  • inter-/intra-speaker variation in historical legal texts;
  • regional and social variation in historical legal texts;
  • code-switching in historical legal texts;
  • supralocalisation, standardisation processes;
  • scribes, offices and communities of practice participating in the legal domain;
  • templates and manuals in historical legal writing.


Friday, 6 October 2023 
9-9.30hArrival and Coffee
9.30-10hWelcome / Setting the Scene
10-11hPlenary talk by Merja Stenroos (Stavanger) ‘As y shal onswere byfore god & man’: Late and Post-medieval Legal Statements as Sociolinguistic Evidence
11-11.35hOlga Timofeeva (Zurich): Women’s Wills in Old English and Their Sociolinguistic Context
11.35-12.10hKathryn Lowe (Glasgow): Too Late to Innovate? Copying Practices in a Monastic Community
12.10-14hLunch break (Banane)
14-14.35hAnnina Seiler Rübekeil (Zurich): Orthography and Code-switching in Anglo-Saxon Charters
14.35-15.10hKjetil V. Thengs (Stavanger): Linguistic Identity in Late Medieval Oxford Churchwardens’ Accounts
15.10-15.45hCoffee break
15.45-16.20hJoanna Kopaczyk (Glasgow): The Transition from Manuscript to Print and Its Effects on a Legal Text
16.20-16.55hJana Kozubíková Šandová (South Bohemia): Relativisers in Early Modern English Witness Depositions
19hDinner at the Restaurant du Théâtre, Lausanne
Saturday, 7 October 2023 
9-10hPlenary talk by Peter Grund (Yale) Know Thy Text: Genre, Community, and Witness Depositions in the History of English
10-10.30hCoffee break
10.30-11.05hAnita Auer (Lausanne): Pauper Letters and the English Poor Laws: A Historical Sociolinguistic Perspective
11.05-11.40hMoragh S. Gordon (Leiden): Legal Literacy in a Layman’s Context: Exploring Legal Language in 19th-Century Scottish Pauper Letters
11.40-12.15hFinal Discussion
12.15h-14hLunch break (Restaurant de Dorigny)
from 14hSocial Programme (Walk in the Lavaux, Domaine de la Crausaz; followed by dinner at La Bruschetta, Lausanne)

If you want to attend the workshop, please send an email to Anita Auer (anita.auer[@] and Olga Timofeeva (olga.timofeeva[@] by 2 October 2023.