The laboring population of early modern England (ca. 1550–1750) has long been characterized as “inarticulate”—by contemporary elites and historians alike. This article uses transcribed linguistic exchanges between lower-class speakers and their social superiors—especially those that occurred in the context of the criminal justice system—to reconsider the causes and consequences of plebeian inarticulacy during the period, and beyond. It suggests that certain varieties of inarticulacy—including stammering—should be understood in relation to the radically hierarchical social structure of early modern England and the particular forms of subordination and deference that it demanded of and engendered in lower-class individuals. This allows for a reconsideration of the relationship between language and class as well as the role of quotidian subordinate-superior exchanges in reproducing socioeconomic and political inequality.

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