Linguistic Identifiers

  • Robert Golding
Part of the Macmillan Studies in Victorian Literature book series (MSVL)


Very early on in Dickens’ career, the general tradition of reading literary works aloud whether the listener was illiterate or not, as well as the particular needs of serial publication must, together, have forced the young writer to become aware of the substantial value of aural ‘memory props’. Logically enough, then, Dickens’ first attempts at fiction reveal that he individualised his characters by giving them particular linguistic constructions chiefly to make them more readily recognisable. One of the earliest, simplest, and most common of these, and certainly one of the most familiar to generations of readers and listeners, was the application of individual ‘speech tags’ which, as developed by Dickens, recall the character to mind in such a vivid and striking manner that the reader/listener — down to the least educated or intelligent — does not even need to be told who is actually speaking.1


Language Feature Young Lady Young Writer Linguistic Construction Speech Manner 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 1.
    It is no surprise to learn from the ‘mems’ (his working sheets) that a great deal — perhaps all, we can only guess — of what Dickens’ characters say is actually conceived as speech (this is also true of incident), being then incorporated either with slight alterations or none at all. Betsey Trotwood’s tag ‘Janet! Donkeys!’ is a case in point. (Cf. John Butt and Kathleen Tillotson, Dickens at Work (London, 1957) p. 129.)Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    The same letter also refers to the fact that Dickens once even applied for an audition as a performer on the same lines as Mathews, and that his application was taken seriously. At the last minute, however, he cried off. (Cf. Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens (London, 1874) p. 53.)Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Sylvère Monod, Dickens the Novelist (Norman, Okla, 1968) p. 112.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    The following are some of this character’s efforts in the same line: “‘I am down upon you”, as the extinguisher said to the rushlight’; “Come on”, as the man said to the tight boot’; ‘“Why, here we are all mustered”, as the roast beef said to the welsh rabbit’. (Cf. Percy Fitzgerald, The History of Pickwick (London, 1891) p. 136.)Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Especially in Low German, cf. Horst Kunze, Dunkel wars der Mond schien helle (Munich, 1940), and called by the author Beispielsprichwörter (pp. 126–7); he also refers to Sam Weller’s use of the same (p. 143). Further references are to be found in Edmund Hoeffer, Wie das Volk spricht (Stuttgart, 1876) and Seiler, Deutsche Sprichwortkunde (Munich, 1922).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Holcroft, The Road to Ruin (1792) Act II, Scene 1.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Jane Austen, Emma (OUP, 1971); on pp. 139–40 there is an excellent illustration in which Miss Bates, delighted to have visitors, gabbles on at great length which ‘spoken extremely fast obliged Miss Bates to stop for breath’.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Cf. John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens (London, 1874) p. 101.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Letter to John Forster, 27 September 1842. (Cf. The Letters of Charles Dickens, ed. House, Storey and Tillotson, vol. III, 1842–1843, p. 333.)Google Scholar

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© Robert Golding 1985

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  • Robert Golding

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