Historical Sociolinguistics and Sociohistorical Linguistics

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Dorothy Osborne (1627-1695), afterwards Lady Temple, wife of Sir William Temple (1628-1699)


  Source: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/osborne/letters/letters.html.

All letters mee thinks should bee free and Easy as ones discourse, not studdyed, as an Oration, nor made up of hard words like a Charme. Tis an abominable thing to see how some People will labour to finde out term's that may Obscure a plaine sense (Dorothy Osborne in 1653, quoted in Parker 2002:35).


Dorothy Osborne has become known for the letters she wrote to her future husband before their marriage. These letters, written in a conversational style, present a vivid picture of the life of a young gentlewoman in the middle of the seventeenth century.

The British Library holds 79 original letters from Dorothy Osborne to William Temple (MS Add 33975).

The Corpus of Early English Correspondence (CEEC), compiled at the University of Helsinki, contains 84 letters by Dorothy Osborne/Temple. The edition used is Moore Smith (1928). For details, see http://www.eng.helsinki.fi/varieng/.

edited collections

  • Parry, Edward Abbott (ed.). 1888. Letters from Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple, 1652-54. London: Griffith, Farren, Okeden and Welsh. [Several later editions. Parry's edition in the Wayfarer's Library from 1914 is available in http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/osborne/letters/letters.html.]

  • Parry, Edward Abbott (ed.). 1901. The Love Letters of Dorothy Osborne. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company.

  • Gollancz, Israel (ed.). 1903. The Love Letters of Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple. London: Alexander Moring, The De La More Press.

  • Hart, Kingsley (ed.). 1968. The Letters of Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple 1652-54. London: The Folio Society.

  • Moore Smith, G.C. (ed.). 1928 The Letters of Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • Parker, Kenneth (ed.). 1987. Dorothy Osborne, Letters to Sir William Temple. London: Penguin.

  • Parker, Kenneth (ed.). 2002. Dorothy Osborne: Letters to Sir William Temple, 1652-54. Observations on Love, Literature, Politics and Religion. Early Modern Englishwoman 1500-1750: Contemporary Editions. Aldershot, Burlington USA, Singapore and Sydney: Ashgate. 


  • Finell, Anne. 1992. The repertoire of topic changers in personal, intimate letters: a diachronic study of Osborne and Woolf. In: Matti Rissanen, Ossi Ihalainen, Terttu Nevalainen and Irma Taavitsainen (eds.), History of Englishes: New Methods and Interpretations in Historical Linguistics. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 720-735.

Several studies based on the Corpus of Early English Correspondence indicate that, compared with many of her contemporaries, Dorothy Osborne's language was quite advanced in a number of ongoing changes. For details, see the following publications:

  • Nevalainen, Terttu and Helena Raumolin-Brunberg. 2003. Historical Sociolinguistics: Language Change in Tudor and Stuart England. Longman Linguistics Library. London: Pearson Education.

  • Nurmi, Arja. 1999. The Social History of Periphrastic do. Mémoires de la Société Néophilologique de Helsinki, 56. Helsinki: Société Néophilologique.  

  • Raumolin-Brunberg, Helena. 1998. Social factors and pronominal change in the seventeenth century: The Civil War effect?. In: Jacek Fisiak and Marcin Krygier (eds.), Advances in English Historical Linguistics. Trends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs 112. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 361-388.

  • Raumolin-Brunberg, Helena and Arja Nurmi. 1997. Dummies on the move: prop-one and affirmative do in the 17th century. In: Terttu Nevalainen and Leena Kahlas-Tarkka (eds.), To Explain the Present: Studies in the Changing English Language in Honour of Matti Rissanen. Mémoires de la Société Néophilologique de Helsinki 52. Helsinki: Société Néophilologique. 395-417.    

literary studies, history, biography and related background

  • Cecil, David. 1948. Two Quiet Lives: Dorothy Osborne, Thomas Gray. Indianapolis, New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co. [Also published in 1989 by Constable, London.]

  • Giffard, Lady Martha. 1728. The Life and Character of Sir William Temple, Bart. [The complete text published in G.G. Moore Smith (ed.), The Early Essays and Romances of Sir William Temple, Bart. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930.]

  • Longe, Julia G. 1911. Martha, Lady Giffard: Her Life and Correspondence (1664-1722). A Sequel to the Letters of Dorothy Osborne. London: George Allen and Sons.

  • Osborn, Lady Constance. 1966. The Osbornes and the Civil War. Bedfordshire Magazine 10/76: 139-144.

  • Hintz, Carrie Anne. 1998. Desire and Renunciation: The Letters of Dorothy Osborne. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Toronto.

  • Ottway, Sheila. 1996. Dorothy Osborne's Love Letters: Novelistic Glimmerings and the Ovidian Self. Prose Studies 19/2.

  • Heal, Felicity and Clive Holmes. 1994. The Gentry in England and Wales, 1500-1700. London: Macmillan.

  • Sister Mary Humiliata. 1550. Standards of taste advocated for feminine letter writing, 1640-1797. Huntingdon Library Quarterly XIII: 261-277.

  • Spufford, Margaret. 1981. Small books and Pleasant Histories. Popular Readership in Seventeenth-Century England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Woolf, Virginia. 1948. Dorothy Osborne and her letters. The Common Reader. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

  • Woodbridge, Homer E. 1940. Sir William Temple. The Man and His Work. London: Constable. 

online resources




(for additions, contact Helena Raumolin-Brunberg)