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Opprobrious language and the development of the vernacular in fifteenth-century England

Elizabeth Wicker, Helen (2007) Opprobrious language and the development of the vernacular in fifteenth-century England. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94729) (KAR id:94729)


This thesis is concerned with how the development of the social and political status of the vernacular in the fifteenth century amplified concerns about the disruptive capacity of opprobrious language. Using a range of religious, moral and political literatures composed in English, it identifies the vocabularies used to represent opprobrious language, who was using them, and for what purpose. It examines how the widening use of English took place against a backdrop of social transitions and increasing disorder which tested both the definition and boundaries of acceptable language. In particular, the thesis argues that the growth of the political consciousness of the common people and their acquisition of literacy complicated the way that opprobrious language was officially identified and proscribed. As such, the capacity of contemptuous words to collapse social boundaries and undermine authority was not only deemed a threat to stability, but was also recognised as a means to acquire power and influence and assert new identities. The simultaneous proscription and exploitation of opprobrious language by different social groups thus identifies how the boundaries of what could and could not be said shifted in relation to the politics of language change.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94729
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
P Language and Literature > PE English philology and language
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 09 Jun 2023 09:08 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2023 15:36 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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