A text in speech's clothing: Discovering specific functions of formulaic expressions in 'Beowulf' and blogs


In this paper, we consider the functions that formulae perform in two genres which exist in written format as texts, but maintain close links to oral forms, namely Old English (OE) verse, specifically the epic poem Beowulf, and weblogs, or ‘blogs’. We identify five important functions of formulae found in common across OE verse and blogs, classifying these functions as discourse-structuring functions, filler functions, epithetic functions, gnomic functions, and tonic functions. In addition, a sixth type of formulaic function necessarily tied to the written medium, the acronymic function, is identified in both genres. The aim of this chapter is to demonstrate that the formulae found in the Beowulf and blog samples fulfill certain functions which alternately (1) link these emergent text genres to analogous oral forms, in the case of the first five functions mentioned above, and (2) mark the genres as written forms, in the case of the sixth function. The remainder of this chapter is structured as follows: to begin with, we survey previous work on formulaicity and discuss several formal characteristics of formulae identified in the literature. Then, we briefly introduce the blog and Beowulf samples from which we take data for the present study. Next, we introduce the five functions of formulae found in our samples through the discussion of specific excerpts. Finally, we summarize our findings, indicating directions for future research.

Perspectives on Formulaic Language in Acquisition and Communication, edited by David Wood, London: Continuum, 213–233.
Benjamin Slade
Benjamin Slade
Associate Professor of Linguistics

My research interests include formal semantics and syntax, historical linguistics, South Asian and Caribbean languages, and the use of computational concepts in formal linguistics.