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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Emergence of the 'Plain Style' in 17th Century England

21st October 2014, 17:30 to 18:30, The Birley Room, Hatfield College, Professor William Downes (University of East Anglia/Glendon College, York University)

Does today’s idea of ‘good writing’ in English have an historical source? We look at the complexity of inter-acting cultural concepts in a turbulent 17th century England, which lead to the emergence of a new imperative for expository writing, the ‘Plain Style’. This is now the standard unquestioned way we learn to write English in most non-specialist contexts and situations. But what was this innovative norm a reaction against? What does it actually mean to be ‘plain’? How does this style relate to thought? We use linguistics as a tool to look at some of the features of this and contrasting styles of writing, with examples drawn from the 16th to the 18th century. We ask the philosophical question about how language use may shape what is cognitively available, or publically sayable in context. We ask the historical question, does it also have a social meaning, derived from its historical origins? The use of a linguistic approach to culture and communication provides an innovative way to approach these questions.

This lecture is free and open to all. 


Details about Professor William Downes

Directions to Hatfield College

Map - University College is denoted as building No: 20

Contact enquiries.ias@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.