The use of modal expression preference as a marker of style and attribution
Canon, Elizabeth Bell
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Can an author’s preference for expressing modality be quantified and then used as a marker of attribution? This paper explores the possibility of using the subjunctive mood as an indicator of thstyle and a marker of authorship in Early Modern English texts. Using three works by the 16 century biblical translator and polemicist, William Tyndale, I have established a predictable preference for certain types of modal expression. The theory of subjunctive use as a marker of attribution was then tested on the anonymous 1533 English translation of Erasmus’ Enchiridion Militis Christiani. This paper introduces one of the most enigmatic figures in the history of Early Modern English usage. It also traces the origins of the subjunctive mood from its roots in the Proto-Indo-European optative to the early years of the English Reformation. The inflected subjunctive was dying out during the Early Modern period, being replaced by the periphrastic modal auxiliary construction. Tyndale, however, was known to have used inflected subjunctive forms, as was shown in a 1968 study by Wayne Harsh. In this paper, The Obedience of a Christian Man, The Parable of the Wicked Mammon, and The Practice of Prelates, all indisputably written by Tyndale, are reviewed to establish an author-specific "subjunctive fingerprint". By use of WordSmith Tools concordancer software, tokens from each of the three texts are analyzed and categorized as either tense-related marked modal, modal auxiliary, inflected subjunctive, or unmarked form. These tokens are ultimately contrasted with those from a comparison corpus composed of a variety of text samples from the same period. The analysis of the resulting data indicates a clear and distinct pattern of modal expression in the Tyndale texts that is not present in the comparison corpus. Once the "subjunctive fingerprint" has been established, the method of comparison of modal expression preference is applied to a text of disputed authorship: the Enchiridion. This text was originally published anonymously, but over the years, some scholars have believed it to be the work of Tyndale. The test indicates that the pattern of subjunctive preference is utterly unlike the usage in any of the Tyndale texts but matches the pattern in the comparison corpus exactly. This dissertation explains the process of text and corpus analysis and shows how and why the use of the subjunctive mood makes such a good marker of style and authorship in Early Modern English texts.