The popularisation of trial discourse in 18th century periodicals. A corpus-based study of the Old Bailey Trial Proceedings and newspaper trial reports (1710-1779)


Abstract –In this paper I examine the recounting of trials in the Old Bailey Trial Proceedings (henceforth OBPs) and in the weekly newspapers in the period from 1710 to 1779. The OBPs appeared in 1674 but became a specialised genre in the early 18th century, when their short and sensationalist accounts were replaced with more accurate renditions of all the phases of the trial. The weeklies were not a specialised trial genre per se but, insofar as they provided short trial accounts, they contributed to the popularisation of trial knowledge. In line with the principles of corpus-assisted discourse analysis, I shall combine the qualitative analysis of the text with the quantitative approach provided by Corpus Linguistics. The results will be investigated within the wider social context in which the two publications were produced and consumed, as well as within the immediate situational context, i.e. the proceedings and the weeklies as genres. In my comparative corpus-based analysis, I examine aspects related to the structuring of the information and the use of specialised vocabulary. The study suggests that by the end of the century, newspapers had the better of the OBPs in the print market, thanks to a skilful balance of specialised discourse and newsworthiness in a publication which was cheap, swift to produce and easy to be consumed.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v30p65

Keywords: 18th century England; law and order; newspaper trial reports; Old Bailey Trial Proceedings; corpus-assisted discourse analysis


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