Sederi Yearbook 28

Sederi 28
Sederi 28 — 2018
Ana Sáez-Hidalgo
Francisco J. Borge López
María José Mora
ISSN 1135-7789





Schintu, Paula. ““The gully-hole of literature”: On the enregisterment of cant language in seventeenth-century England.” SEDERI 28 (2018): 99–117.


DOI: [pending]                                                                 Download PDF



This essay places seventeenth-century literary renditions of cant, the language spoken by rogues and criminals in Early Modern England, into the context of “enregisterment” so as to examine its role in the process of recognition, categorization and legitimation of the canting tongue and the values it entailed. Literary representations of this variety became common in the period under analysis as a result of the criminal element that threatened the English population. Drama emerged as one of the main vehicles for the representation of cant, leading to the appearance of numerous plays that dealt with the life and adventures of English rogues. In the pages that follow, it will be argued that the study of these textual artefacts can provide valuable historical insight into the use of cant and the social connotations associated with it. In fact, the corpus-based analysis of the plays selected for this study has made it possible to identify both a common lexical repertoire and a set of sociocultural features that were associated with this underworld variety and its wicked speakers by the London non-canting audience. At the same time, it has shed light on the processes whereby this encoded speech came to index derogatory cultural values, which were spread and consumed thanks, in part, to dramatic performance, leading to the enregisterment of cant language and its recognition as a stable and unique linguistic variety.

Keywords: seventeenth-century drama; cant language; enregisterment.



Primary sources

Beaumont, Francis, and John Fletcher. (ca. 1622) 1778. The Beggars’ Bush. In The Dramatick Works of Beaumont and Fletcher. Volume II. London: T. Sherlock.

Beaumont, Francis, and John Fletcher. (1619) 2004. A King and No King. Edited by Lee Bliss. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

  1. E. 1699. A new dictionary of the terms ancient and [H]modern of the canting crew in its several tribes of Gypsies, beggars, thieves, cheats, &c. London: Printed for W. Hawes and W. Davis.

Harman, Thomas      . 1567. A caueat for commen cursetors vvlgarely called uagabones. London: Wylliam Gryffith.

Head, Richard. 1673. The canting academy […]: to which is added a compleat canting-dictionary. London: Printed by F. Leach for Mat. Drew.

Lancashire, Ian, ed. 2006. Lexicons of Early Modern English. U. Toronto Press. Accessed September 2015.

Profitt, Michael et al., eds. 2000. Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press. Accessed September 2015.

Shadwell, Thomas. 1688. The Squire of Alsatia. London: Printed by James Knapton. Early English Books Online: English Prose Drama Full-Text Database.

Secondary sources

Agha, Asif. 2003. “The Social Life of Cultural Value.” Language & Communication 23: 231–73.

Beal, Joan C., and Paul Cooper. 2015. “The Enregisterment of Northern English.” In Researching Northern English, edited by R. Hickey, 25–50. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Blank, Paula. 1996. Broken English. Dialects and the Politics of Language in Renaissance Writings. London: Routledge.

Clark, Urszula. 2013. “’Er’s from off: The Indexicalization and Enregisterment of Black Country Dialect.” American Speech 88 (4): 441–66.

Coleman, Julie. 2004. A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries. Volume I: 15671784. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cooper, Paul. 2013. “Enregisterment in Historical Contexts: A Framework.” PhD dissertation, University of Sheffield.

Gotti, Maurizio. 1999. The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds: 17th and 18th Century Canting Lexicography in England. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Hand Browne, William. 1913. “Thomas Shadwell.” The Sewanee Review 21 (3): 257–76.

Johnstone, Barbara. 2009. “Pittsburghese Shirts: Commodification and the Enregisterment of an Urban Dialect.” American Speech 84 (2): 157–75.

Kinney, Arthur F. 1990. Rogues, Vagabonds, & Sturdy Beggars: A New Gallery of Tudor and Early Stuart Rogue Literature. Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press.

Mikalachki, Jodi. 1994. “Gender, Cant, and Cross-talking in «The Roaring Girl.” Renaissance Drama 25: 119–43.

Ruano García, Francisco Javier. 2012. “On the Enregisterment of the Northern Dialect in Early Modern English: An Evaluation across Literary Text Types.” In At a Time of Crisis: English and American Studies in Spain, edited by S. Martín, M. Moyer, E. Pladevall and S. Tubau, 376–83. Barcelona: AEDEAN.

Schintu, Paula. 2016. “’The Mobile Shall Worship Thee’: Cant Language in Thomas Shadwell’s The Squire of Alsatia (1688).” SEDERI (26): 175–93.

Schintu, Paula. 2018. “Portraying the Underworld: The Enregisterment of 17th and 18th-century Cant.” In Persistence and Resistance in English Studies: New Research, edited by S. Martín, D. Owen and E. Pladevall, 98–108. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.