Speech Representation as an Instrument of Creating Characters in Reports on the Murder of the De Witt Brothers (1672)


  • Feike Dietz Utrecht University
  • Cora van de Poppe
  • Alies Vaartjes Utrecht University




linguistic variation, speech representation, west-germanic, agency, eyewitness reports


In this article, we argue that variation in the representation of speech served as a powerful instrument for reporters of historical events to structure these events and to mitigate or augment the agency of historical figures. The specific case study analysed in this article is a collection of three Dutch texts which report on the murder of the brothers Johan and Cornelis de Witt on 20 August 1672. These reports have already been studied by sociopolitical historians, but they restrict themselves to comparison on the level of the reports’ content. We primarily compare the linguistic shape of the reports to demonstrate how linguistic choices played a vital role in the shaping of public opinions about one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of the Dutch Republic. In previous linguistic, narratological and literary research, speech has already been identified as a stylistic device that shapes the agency of story characters. We are not only the first to focus on speech representation in the Dutch early modern textual culture, but we also analyse the representa- tion of speech synchronically, by developing an interdisciplinary (linguistic-literary) approach. We demonstrate that the reporters on the massacre of the De Witt brothers, rather than transmitting a clear message about the way readers should understand the political events, used various modes of speech to create some space for their readers to consider the event from different perspectives, to ask critical questions about guilt and agency, and to construct their own interpretation.



2022-10-19 — Updated on 2022-11-22




Special Issue: Morphosyntactic Variation in Early Modern West Germanic