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The Edwardian postcard - an exploratory study

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paperpeer-review

Publication date6/04/2017
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventHistorical Sociolinguistics Network 2017 Meeting: Examining the social in historical sociolinguistics: methods and theory - Graduate Centre, City University of New York and New York University, New York, United States
Duration: 6/04/20177/04/2017


ConferenceHistorical Sociolinguistics Network 2017 Meeting
Abbreviated titleHiSoN 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNew York
Internet address


The study of Edwardian postcards has a unique capacity to contribute to our understanding of communicative practices of the early twentieth century. Traditionally, studies of historical writing tend to be related to the elite, owing to the importance of the events which are being studied, the likelihood of the preservation of works and interest in the writers (Laitinen, 2015). As a cheap, attractive and fast new medium, with up to six deliveries a day, the picture postcard appealed to a society conscious of rapid social change and “acceleration of technological advance” (Readman 2005:185). People were taught how to write letters in formal education and etiquette manuals abounded, but these ignored postcards, which offered relative brevity and opportunity for spontaneity (Gillen, in press). Between 1902 and 1910 in Great Britain almost six billion cards were sent, approximately 200 per person. The Edwardian Postcard Project has collected and transcribed three thousand Edwardian postcards. This paper reports on initial corpus and discourse analyses. Postcard writing is shown to be particularly dialogic. Writers draw on their linguistic repertoires for conversations, posing questions to elicit rapid replies. Yet postcard writing also displays a dual orientation to the letter, in frequently alluding to alternation with letters in chains of correspondence and in borrowings from the letter genre. The project has also collected census data from all addressees and senders where these could be found. We briefly outline preliminary findings and possible future directions. Finally, we point to our freely available interactive online resource for further study. References Gillen, J. (in press). “I should have wrote a letter tonight:” a Literacy Studies perspective on the Edwardian postcard. In M. I. Matthews-Schlinzig & C. Socha (Eds.), What is a letter? an interdisciplinary approach„Was ist ein Brief? — Eine interdisziplinäre Annäherung“ Proceedings of the Symposium at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, July 2014. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann. Laitinen, M. (2015). Early nineteenth-century pauper letters. In A. Auer, D. Schreir, & R. J. Watts (Eds.), Letter writing and language change (pp. 185–201). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Readman, P. (2005). The place of the past in English culture c. 1890-1914. Past & Present, (186), 147–199.