Variation in Context
Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English (VARIENG), University of Helsinki
This section comprises four papers and one powerpoint presentation, all demonstrating the central role of corpora in modern variationist linguistics and the importance of understanding the philological context of historical corpus data. The researchers base their arguments firmly on quantitative data, and although the papers focus on different research questions and different time periods, all the authors pay attention to the representativeness of corpus data by raising the issues of how the contexts of text production and reception, and the complexities of genre classification over a long timeline, affect our interpretation of the findings. The corpora used range from established resources such as ARCHER, CEEC and EMEMT to new purpose-built corpora compiled by the authors themselves.
Daniela Cesiri's article “Investigating the development of ESP through historical corpora: the case of archaeology articles written in English during the Late Modern period (and beyond?)” takes a diachronic look at hedging in archaeology writing by contrasting texts written during the birth of the discipline in the LModE period and today. Her findings indicate that because archaeology remains situated at the crossroads between soft and hard sciences, archaeology-writing likewise continues to readily accommodate texts that retain features of both registers. Archaeology texts thus serve as a prime example of domain hybridisation in academic writing.
Paula Rodriguez-Puente discusses the effect of text types and idiolects on the use of phrasal verbs in her article “Talking "private" with phrasal verbs: A corpus-based study of the use of phrasal verbs in diaries, journals and private letters”. She argues that the definitions and contexts of the three text types, all ostensibly private in orientation, changed over the Late Modern period and that consequently the topics of individual texts and the stylistic choices of their authors had as much of an effect on the use of phrasal verbs as time periods did.
Vera Vasquez-Lopez's article “The role of the audience in the use of action nominalizations in early modern scientific English” contrasts the lexical choices made by medical authors when writing for a professional or a lay audience. Her findings, based on the corpus of Early Modern English Medical Texts, indicate that the learned texts exhibit a significantly higher frequency of Romance-type nominalizations than texts written for popular consumption, which in turn show a preference for native -ing nominalizations. Vasquez-Lopez enriches her discussion of the primary data with direct links to the Early English Books Online facsimiles of the items in question.
Sanna Hillberg's study, entitled “Relativiser that in Scottish English news writing”, shows that while the use of that in Scottish English mostly agrees with the rules of Standard English, both dialectal and regional influences are still in evidence. Importantly, Hillberg's findings complement previous studies of spoken Scottish English by demonstrating that the features investigated survive into the educated written standard, such as news discourse, as well as into more colloquial registers.
Geoffrey Leech's powerpoint presentation at the Helsinki Corpus Festival, “Decline (and disappearance) – the negative side of recent change in standard English”, rounds out this section. The presentation raises the point that while research in diachronic linguistics has mostly tended to focus on innovation and expansion, developments to the opposite direction also take place and deserve to be examined. Using evidence from the Brown Family of corpora, Leech presents six case studies to argue that the determinants of positive trends can have an indirect effect on the declining frequencies observed in other linguistic forms.
Investigating the development of ESP through historical corpora: the case of archaeology articles written in English during the Late Modern period (and beyond?)
http://www.helsinki.fi/varieng/journal/volumes/10/cesiri/ (see abstract)
Relativiser that in Scottish English news writing
http://www.helsinki.fi/varieng/journal/volumes/10/hillberg/ (see abstract)
Talking “private” with phrasal verbs: A corpus-based study of the use of phrasal verbs in diaries, journals and private letters
http://www.helsinki.fi/varieng/journal/volumes/10/rodriguez-puente/ (see abstract)
The role of the audience in the use of action nominalizations in early modern scientific English
http://www.helsinki.fi/varieng/journal/volumes/10/vasquez-lopez/ (see abstract)
Decline (and disappearance) – the negative side of recent change in standard English