The habit of “drinking smoke”, meaning tobacco smoking, caused a true controversy in early modern England. The new substance was used both for its alleged therapeutic properties as well as its narcotic effects. Whereas the use in medicine has been abandoned in our modern times, the recreational use continues to be controversial.
This book examines how language is used in polemic discourse and argumentation. The material consists of medical texts arguing for and against tobacco in early modern England. The texts were compiled into an electronic corpus of tobacco texts (1577–1670) representing different genres and styles of writing. With the help of the corpus, the tobacco controversy is described and analyzed in the context of early modern medicine. A variety of methods suitable for the study of conflict discourse were used to assess internal and external text variation. The linguistic features examined include personal pronouns, intertextuality, structural components, and statistically derived keywords. A common thread in the work is persuasive language use manifested, for example, in the form of emotive adjectives and the generic use of pronouns; the latter is especially pronounced in the dichotomy between us and them. Controversies have not been studied in this manner before but the methods applied have supplemented each other and proven their suitability in the study of conflictive discourse.