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Curses or threats? Debating the power of witches’ words in 17th-century Scottish courtrooms


Leitner, Magdalena (2017). Curses or threats? Debating the power of witches’ words in 17th-century Scottish courtrooms. Nordic Journal of English Studies (NJES), 16(1):145-170.

Abstract

17th-century Scottish court records present a perspective on witchcraft language that is unavailable in Early Modern English trials, namely that of defence lawyers. This paper offers a discursive analysis of speech act functions attributed by trial parties to alleged witches’ utterances in three 17th-century Scottish witchcraft cases. Culpeper and Semino’s (2000) curse definitions are combined with Jucker and Taavitsainen’s (2000: 74) “pragmatic space” to capture the spectrum of witchcraft speech acts. The examination of metacommunicative expressions suggests that threats were key witchcraft speech acts with different degrees of performativity, ranging from venting anger to effective harmcausing curses. The supernatural dimension of witches’ threats is absent in modern threats.

Abstract

17th-century Scottish court records present a perspective on witchcraft language that is unavailable in Early Modern English trials, namely that of defence lawyers. This paper offers a discursive analysis of speech act functions attributed by trial parties to alleged witches’ utterances in three 17th-century Scottish witchcraft cases. Culpeper and Semino’s (2000) curse definitions are combined with Jucker and Taavitsainen’s (2000: 74) “pragmatic space” to capture the spectrum of witchcraft speech acts. The examination of metacommunicative expressions suggests that threats were key witchcraft speech acts with different degrees of performativity, ranging from venting anger to effective harmcausing curses. The supernatural dimension of witches’ threats is absent in modern threats.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > English Department
Dewey Decimal Classification:820 English & Old English literatures
Language:English
Date:2017
Deposited On:30 Jan 2018 14:50
Last Modified:29 Jun 2018 07:03
Publisher:Göteborg University Library
ISSN:1502-7694
OA Status:Closed
Free access at:Official URL. An embargo period may apply.
Official URL:http://ojs.ub.gu.se/ojs/index.php/njes/article/view/3839

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