"The Silent Language of the Heart" Language, Sentiment and Class Distinctions in 18th Century England

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Hannah Stowe


This paper explores the interactions between class distinctions, the standardization of the English language and the theory of sentiment in eighteenth century England. At this time, social mobility was increasing and the rigid class hierarchy was threatened. The upper class attempted to stabilize their position by standardizing upper class English as the only moral form of speech. However, lower class people could still learn how to speak like the upper class. ln order to solve this problem, various thinkers proposed that one could tell whether plain speech was being used properly or not using sentiment or an emotional sensitivity to nonverbal cues of the speaker. This paper explores the historical interaction between sentiment and class primarily in Frances Burney's Evelina.


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