Milroy argues that “[a]s language use … cannot take place except in social and situational contexts … our analysis – if it is to be adequate – must take account of society, situation and the speaker/listener” (Milroy 1992: 5-6). One of the socio(historical)linguistic models that have been developed since the eighties is that of social network analysis (Milroy 1980), which was adapted for a historical context with varying degrees of success by Bax (2000) and Henstra (2006) (see also Sairio 2005). In this paper I will discuss some of the issues and complications that occur when using Social Network Analysis. This is illustrated by an attempt at a case study of variation in usage of you was and you were in the language of Horace Walpole and his friends from Eton. I will also compare the Social Network Model with another model for predicting linguistic influence, based on the notion of involvement which was used by Sairio (2005) (see also Chafe 1987 and Pallander-Collin 1999), for similar historical data.
Bax, Randy C. (2000). “A Network Strength Scale for the Study of Eighteenth-Century English”. Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid, Terttu Nevalainen and Luisella Caon, eds. (2000), Social Network Analysis and the History of English, 277-89.
Chafe, Wallace L. (1987), “Linguistic Differences produced by differences between speaking and writing”, In:Literacy, Language and Learning. The nature and consequences of reading and writing, David R. Olson, Nancy Torrance & Angela Hildyard, eds. (1985), 105-123.
Henstra, Froukje. 2006. A Family Affair. Social Network Analysis and the Lnaguage of the Walpoles. Unpublished MA thesis, Leiden University.
Milroy, Lesley. 1980. Language and Social Networks. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Milroy, James. 1992. Linguistic Variation and Change. On the Historical Sociolinguistics of English. Oxford & Cambridge: Blackwell.
Pallander-Collin, Minna (1999), “Male and female styles in 17th century correspondence: I think”, in: Language Variation and Change, 11 (1999), 123–141.
Sairio, Anni (2005). “‘Sam of Streatham Park’ A linguistic study of Dr. Johnson’s membership in the Thrale family”. Palander-Collin, Minna and Minna Nevala, eds., Letters and Letter Writing, EJES 9.1, 21-35.