The BT Correspondence Corpus 1853-1982
: the development and analysis of archival language resources

  • Ralph Morton

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis reports on the construction and analysis of the British Telecom Correspondence Corpus (BTCC), a searchable database of business letters taken from the archives of British Telecom. The letters in the corpus cover the years 1853-1982. This is a crucial period in the development of business correspondence but is so far underrepresented in available historical corpora.

This research contributes knowledge in two main areas. Firstly, a number of methodological issues are highlighted with regard to working with public archives to produce linguistic resources. The way in which archives are typically organised, particularly the lack of item-level metadata, presents a number of challenges in terms of locating relevant material and extracting the sort of metadata that is necessary for linguistic analysis. In this thesis I outline the approach that was taken in identifying and digitising the letters for the BTCC, the issues encountered, and the implications future projects that make use of public archives as a source of linguistic material.

Secondly this study contributes new insights into the development of English business correspondence from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. The results show a notable decline in overtly deferential language and an increase in familiar forms. However, these more familiar forms also appear in fixed-phrases and conventional patterns. This suggests that there was a move from formalised distance to formalised friendliness in the language of business correspondence in this period. We also see a shift away from the performance of institutional identity through phrases such as ‘I am directed by…’ towards an increased use of the pronoun ‘we’ to represent corporate positions. This shift in corporate identity seems to coincide with the decline in deferential language.

Finally an analysis of moves and strategies used in requests suggests that, as the twentieth century progressed, authors began to use a wider range moves to contextualise and justify their requests. Furthermore, though the same request strategy types remain popular over the timeline of the BTCC, there a degree of diversification in terms of how the most popular request strategies are expressed and indirect strategies that rely more on implicature become somewhat more prevalent.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorHilary Nesi (Supervisor), Emma Moreton (Supervisor) & Sheena Gardner (Supervisor)

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