How To Do Things with Hard Words: New Language and Social Identities in Early Modern England


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


Comparative Literature


During the Renaissance, the English language expanded rapidly as it incorporated foreign--mostly French--words, revitalized old Saxon terms, and Englished the specialized Latin language of doctors and philosophers. This dissertation examines the literary and social rhetoric of these words, known commonly at the time as "hard words.” Through readings of early modern debates on the status of English, the self concious neologizing of Francis Bacon and Thomas Browne, the ostentatious importations of translators like John Florio, and the dramatization of unusual language by Shakespeare, this project examines how literary minds at once resisted and embraced the expansion of the language, and grappled with the identity of language itself.