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Abstract

The past few decades have witnessed an increasing interest in private correspondence as a source of information for linguistic analysis. Letter collections represent an invaluable source of evidence at a historical and sociological level and, it has been argued, they are also unique sources for the documentation of language development. Recent research has shown how this type of written data can help in analyzing the correlation between social status/gender and language change. Other uses of personal letters have served to document the presence and development of specific syntactic structures. Within the realm of this genre, the value of emigrant letters is enormous, given that they reflect language features that were transported away from the environments in which they initially emerged. This paper takes a bottom-up approach to the analysis of the language of Irish emigrants and concentrates specifically on gender differences in the use of certain linguistic devices. By applying the tools and techniques of corpus linguistics, this study analyses the expression of closeness, spontaneity and solidarity in the use of a few significant features such as pragmatic markers and pronominal forms. The data under investigation is a corpus of letters written between 1840 and 1920 by members of two families who emigrated from Ireland to Argentina. The paper also argues that, given that letter writing is often at the intersection between spoken and written discourse, this type of approach can help us reconstruct the most characteristic properties of spoken discourse in the past.

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