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Reading: Curses or Threats? Debating the Power of Witches’ Words in 17th-Century Scottish Courtrooms

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Curses or Threats? Debating the Power of Witches’ Words in 17th-Century Scottish Courtrooms

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Magdalena Leitner

University of Zurich, CH
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Abstract

17th-century Scottish court records present a perspective on witchcraft language that is unavailable in Early Modern English trials, namely that of defence lawyers. This paper offers a discursive analysis of speech act functions attributed by trial parties to alleged witches’ utterances in three 17th-century Scottish witchcraft cases. Culpeper and Semino’s (2000) curse definitions are combined with Jucker and Taavitsainen’s (2000: 74) “pragmatic space” to capture the spectrum of witchcraft speech acts. The examination of metacommunicative expressions suggests that threats were key witchcraft speech acts with different degrees of performativity, ranging from venting anger to effective harmcausing curses. The supernatural dimension of witches’ threats is absent in modern threats.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.35360/njes.397
How to Cite: Leitner, M., 2017. Curses or Threats? Debating the Power of Witches’ Words in 17th-Century Scottish Courtrooms. Nordic Journal of English Studies, 16(1), pp.145–170. DOI: http://doi.org/10.35360/njes.397
Published on 16 May 2017.

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