Professor Susan M. Fitzmaurice

Contact Photograph of Prof Susan Fitzmaurice

BA(Hons) Rhodes University
MPhil Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge
Ph.D Trinity Hall, Cambridge

Room 5.17, Jessop West
1 Upper Hanover Street
S3 7RA

Internal extension: 20213
Tel: +44 (0)114-222-0213
Fax: +44 (0)114-222-8481

email :


Susan Fitzmaurice is Professor and Chair of English Language in the School of English at the University of Sheffield.

Fitzmaurice has been at the University of Sheffield since 2006. She was Head of the School of English from 2011 till 2015. She was previously at Northern Arizona University where she was Professor of English and Head of Department, and then Dean of the College of Arts and Letters until December 2005. From 1987 to 1995, she was University Lecturer in English and Fellow of St. Catharine´s College, Cambridge, and from 1984 to 1986, she was Lecturer in Linguistics at the University of Cape Town.

She serves on the Council of the Philological Society as the Society’s Honorary Secretary for Publications (Monographs) ( She co-edits the Journal of Historical Pragmatics with Professor Dawn Archer. She is also a member of the editorial board of the Cambridge University Press Studies in English Language series and a founder editorial board member of the Journal of Historical Sociolinguistics. She is a member of the AHRC Peer Review College.


Fitzmaurice's research centres on the history of the English language, using methodological perspectives provided by historical pragmatics and historical sociolinguistics. She is particularly interested in exploring the methods and kinds of evidence employed in historical approaches to language study. Recently, she has turned to focus specifically on semantic-pragmatic change and investigating the utility of different frameworks for examining and explaining such changes in time and space.

Fitzmaurice is PI of a large collaborative research project funded by the AHRC: Linguistic DNA: Modelling concepts and semantic change in English 1500-1800 (AH/M00614X/1). The project team, which includes colleagues at the Universities of Glasgow and Sussex and data specialists in the Humanities Research Institute (HRI), are using high-performance computing and data visualisation to identify lexical and semantic patterns in the texts. From this we will create a research model that will let us explore the history, linguistic features and characteristics of word formation and vocabulary in the evolution of modern Western thinking.

For more information about the team and to follow the project’s progress, see the website and blogposts:

Fitzmaurice’s research on the history and structure of English in the eighteenth century utilizes the frameworks of social networks analysis, corpus linguistics, and discourse analysis as well as models of semantic-pragmatic change. In addition to using ECCO, she relies on the Network of Eighteenth century English texts (NEET) for her data source. NEET is a large unconventional historical electronic corpus of letters, fiction, prose drama and essays produced by Joseph Addison and the members of his social milieu.

Fitzmaurice is also interested in the history of the English language in colonial and post-colonial Zimbabwe. She has applied her approach to semantic-pragmatic change to explore how colonial discourse changes in the post-colonial context, developing the notion of contingent polysemy to capture the fact that particular word meanings and connotations are primed for particular individuals, according to their ideological, personal historical and social stances. For an explanation of this idea, see her recent article: Ideology, race and place in historical constructions of belonging: the case of Zimbabwe. English Language and Linguistics 19(2): 327-354 (2015). (DOI:


Fitzmaurice offers research training as part of the historical and social approaches pathway in the MA in English Language and Linguistics. This programme provides research training and advanced instruction in a range of topics and research approaches including historical sociolinguistics, language variation and social theory, language reform, talk-in-interaction, dialectology, and language reform. Students are introduced to and trained in hands-on research techniques, including corpus linguistics and discourse analysis, for the investigation of real world language problems. They also have the opportunity to gain important career skills during placements in local businesses and cultural organizations as part of their degree course.


Fitzmaurice is lead supervisor in an interdisciplinary doctoral network on transforming research methods in the Humanities. The network includes a doctoral project which uses the data she collected for ‘Undocumented varieties of spoken English in Zimbabwe’ (funded by the British Academy), to better understand the challenges posed by ethnographic data collected in the field for fine-grained acoustic analysis.

Fitzmaurice supervises a number of doctoral projects on a range of topics including semantic change and marginal vocabulary in eighteenth-century English, pragmatics and conversation analysis, historical discourse analysis, and cross-cultural discourse analysis.

She welcomes research students who are interested in the English language and the histories of English varieties, and who wish to pursue study in historical sociolinguistics, historical corpus linguistics, historical pragmatics, historical discourse analysis, and the history of the English language.



  • Empirical and Analytical Advances in the Study of English Language Change. (Eds.) Susan Fitzmaurice & Donka Minkova. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2008.
  • Methods in Historical Pragmatics. (Eds.) Susan Fitzmaurice & Irma Taavitsainen. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 2007.
  • Business and Official Correspondence: Historical Investigations. (Eds.) Marina Dossena & Susan M. Fitzmaurice. Linguistic Insights Series. Bern: Peter Lang. 2006.
  • Variation and Varieties of Language: Corpus Approaches. (Eds.) Randi Reppen, Susan Fitzmaurice & Douglas Biber. Amsterdam: Rodopi. 2002.
  • The Familiar Letter in Early Modern English: A pragmatic approach. John Benjamins Publishers (Pragmatics & Beyond series vol. 95. 2002

Selected Recent Articles

  • Ideology, race and place in historical constructions of belonging: the case of Zimbabwe. English Language and Linguistics 19(2): 327-354. 2015.
  • History, social meaning and identity in the spoken English of postcolonial white Zimbabweans. In: M. Kyto, I. Taavitsainen, J. Smith & C. Claridge (eds.) Developments in English: Expanding electronic evidence. Cambridge University Press. Pp. 200-223. 2015.
  • Aristocratic Letters. In A. Auer, Schreier, D. & Watt, D (eds.) Letter Writing and Language Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2015.
  • Semantic and Pragmatic Change. In M. Kytö and P. Pahta (eds.) The Cambridge Handbook of English Historical Linguistics. 2015.
  • White Zimbabwean English. In Bernd Kortmann und Kerstin Lunkenheime (eds.) The Mouton World Atlas of Variation in English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 2013.
  • (with Jeremy Smith) Evidence for the history of English. In The Oxford Handbook of the History of English (eds.) Terttu Nevalainen & Elizabeth Traugott. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2012. Pp. 19-36.
  • Social factors and language change in eighteenth-century England: the case of negative concord. Neophilologische Mitteilungen. CXIII (3), 2012: 281-310.
  • Sociability: Conversation and the Performance of Friendship in early eighteenth century letters. In Ulrich Busse & Axel Hübler (eds.) The Meta-communicative Lexicon of English Now and Then: A Historical Pragmatics Approach. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 2012. Pp. 21-43.
  • Talking politics across transnational space: researching linguistic practices in the Zimbabwe Diaspora. Studies in Variation, Contacts and Change in English Volume 7: How to Deal with Data: Problems and Approaches to the Investigation of the English Language over Time and Space October 2011
  • The sociopragmatics of a lovers spat: the case of the eighteenth-century courtship letters of Mary Pierrepont and Edward Wortley. Journal of Historical Pragmatics, 10(2) 2009: 215-237. Reprinted in Jonathan Culpeper (ed.) Historical Sociopragmatics. John Benjamins. 2011, pp. 37-59.
  • Poetic collaboration and competition in the late seventeenth century: George Stepney’s letters to Jacob Tonson and Matthew Prior. In P. Pahta & A. Jucker (eds.)Communicating Early English Manuscripts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2011, pp. 118-132.
  • Coalitions, networks, and discourse communities in Augustan England: The Spectator and the early eighteenth-century essay. In Raymond Hickey (ed.) Eighteenth-Century English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 106-132.
  • Changes in the meanings of politeness in eighteenth-century England: discourse analysis and historical evidence. In J. Culpeper & D. Kadar (eds.) Historical (Im)politeness. Bern: Peter Lang. 2010, pp. 87-115.
  • Mr. Spectator, identity and social roles in an early eighteenth-century community of practice and the periodical discourse community. In Paivi Pahta, Minna Nevala, Arja Nurmi & Minna Palander-Collin (eds.) (eds.)Social Roles and Language Practices in Late Modern English. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010, pp. 29-53.