Studies in Variation, Contacts and Change in English

Volume 18 – Exploring Recent Diachrony: Corpus Studies of Lexicogrammar and Language Practices in Late Modern English



Edited by Sebastian Hoffmann, Andrea Sand & Sabine Arndt-Lappe


Anderwald, Lieselotte
Get, get-constructions and the get-passive in 19th-century English: Corpus analysis and prescriptive comments

Prescriptivism as a factor influencing (at least written) language is regularly invoked when corpus results are unexpected, butis rarely substantiated. This paper presents one case study that raises interesting methodological and linguistic questions. The get-passive, together with have got, has seen considerable criticism by language mavens in the twentieth century (e.g. reported in Ballard 1939: 23–26; Mittins et al. 1970: 33–35). Since the rise of the get-passive is a Late Modern English phenomenon (Denison 1993, 1998; Hundt 2001; cf. also Gries and Hilpert 2012 for the twentieth century), it makes intuitive sense to link its stigmatization with prescriptive grammar writing, which was demonstrably at its height in the nineteenth century. And indeed, prescriptive grammars have been blamed for the comparatively slow rise of the get-passive over the course of the nineteenth century (Hundt 2001). However, this claim has not yet been supported by much evidence from the grammars themselves, and it is not clear whether the evidence from the twentieth century can be projected back in time. For this reason, this paper traces the rise of get over the nineteenth (and into the twentieth) century corpus-linguistically in COHA (Davies 2010–) and differentiates the individual constructions that get was (and is) used in. The shift in constructional use is then correlated with prescriptive comments in nineteenth-century grammar books, based on my Collection of Nineteenth-Century Grammars, which contains 258 grammar books from Britain and the US, and which allows us to investigate temporal correlations (surely a prerequisite for causal connections). As this paper shows, criticism of get and get-constructions does occur in the nineteenth century; however, the effect of the proscription against get seems to be minimal: it is small in scale, short in duration and quickly compensated by subsequent rises. If anything, the get-passive is less affected than get overall. The delay in the rise of the get-passive is thus highly unlikely to be due to nineteenth-century proscriptions.

Davidse, Kristin, Lot Brems & Adam Smith
Charting ongoing change: The emergent complex subordinators the moment (that) and for fear (that)

This paper seeks to develop an analytical framework for corpus study of emergent complex subordinators (henceforth CSs). We address two main questions. Firstly, how can complex subordinator uses be identified within the synchronic layering of lexical and grammatical meanings found in data concordances? How can we distinguish expressions that have come to conventionally code CS meanings in corpus data from contexts in which the CS meaning is only an inference or only one of two possible readings (Diewald 2006)? That is, how can the semantic, syntactic and categorial changes discussed in the grammaticalization literature be operationalized in corpus study? Secondly, how can we measure and compare the degree of grammaticalization of CSs? To shed light on these questions, we focus on two CSs, the moment and for fear, which derive from preposition + noun + embedded clause, viz. at/from the moment that and for/out of/in/on fear(s) that. They represent two subtypes that diachronic studies have shown to be potential sources of CSs, noun + relative clause, e.g. the while that (Hopper & Traugott 2003), and noun + complement clause, e.g. in order that/to (Łęcki & Nykiel 2016). We show that the data of the two CSs are informative about semantic and syntactic reanalysis and decategorialization in slightly different ways because of the differences in their specific source structures and grammaticalization stages. We propose to measure different degrees of grammaticalization in terms of decategorialized variants and Diewald’s (2006) context types. This allows us to compare the degree of grammaticalization of the moment and for fear as such, as well as differences for each individual CS across varieties (British English, American English, Australian English). The qualitative and quantitative case studies are based on data extracted from the categories BrNews, USNews and OzNews from WordbanksOnline.

Ebeling, Signe Oksefjell
ADJ + enough + resultative/explanative that-clause: Diachronic development and conditions of use

Drawing on diachronic data from the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA), this paper starts by testing the initial hypothesis that the resultative ADJ enough that construction is on the increase. One complicating factor for automatic extraction of this construction is the structurally similar explanative ADJ enough that construction, requiring manual scrutiny of around 700 instances of the sequence ADJ enough that in the corpus. Part of the analysis thus involves disambiguation of the two superficially similar constructions, calling for a discussion of the conditions of use of the resultative construction in terms of contextual co-occurrence patterns. The focus is on adjective selection and type of subject co-occurring with the two construction types. The analysis reveals that the resultative type is indeed on the increase in American English, while both similarities and differences are noted in their co-occurrence patterns. The major difference lies in the selection of adjective types and the number of adjective tokens in the resultative vs. explanative construction. While the resultative construction turns out to be much more flexible with regard to adjective selection, the explanative construction is more prone to recurrence of the same adjective types, resulting in a higher number of tokens. Finally, some potential reasons for the increase of the ADJ enough + resultative that-clause construction are discussed, of which two feasible candidates are colloquialisation and flexibility of use.

Fernández-Pena, Yolanda
‘These points stated, a number of problems remain’: A corpus-based analysis of the idiomatisation of collective noun-based constructions

English collective noun-based subjects taking prepositional complements introduced by of (i.e. of-PPs) often trigger controversy regarding the grammatical feature number, as the plural nominal elements they contain within the of-PP may affect the number of the main verb (e.g. a group of British skiers were horrified; BNC: CCK 737). Since this plural prepositional constituent has been identified as one of the key factors in the idiomatisation and the subsequent grammaticalisation of constructions such as a lot of or a bunch of (Brems 2003, 2004, 2011; Traugott 2008a, 2008b; Traugott & Trousdale 2013), the present study aims to contribute to previous investigations by exploring homologous collective noun-based constructions. In particular, this paper will broaden the scope of earlier case studies by providing a qualitative and quantitative diachronic corpus-based study which examines the idiomatisation (i.e. the syntactic fixation and the (potential) grammatical meaning and/or function) of three constructions: a number of NPL, a group of NPL and a majority of NPL. Exploring the interplay between syntactic, semantic and lexical issues has unveiled data and trends which confirm the idiomatisation of a number of while they have also left us with significant yet inconclusive results for the other two structures. In any case, the results have shed some light on the evolution as well as the present-day patterns of these three collective noun-based constructions, and they have revealed the need to carry out further research in this regard.

Kaunisto, Mark & Juhani Rudanko
At -ing and on -ing: Comparing two sentential complements of the verb work

This paper examines the variation between two sentential complement patterns selected by the matrix verb work. In present-day English it is possible to find instances where the verb is followed either by an at -ing complement or an on -ing complement. A feature common to these patterns is that the subject of the matrix verb is also the understood subject of the gerund of the lower-level complement clause. The syntactic similarity of the patterns gives rise to a closer study of them in large electronic corpora. In addition to a survey of the diachronic developments in the occurrence of the patterns from the nineteenth century onwards, semantic characteristics of the patterns are examined in order to detect notable tendencies in their use. The paper proposes that in certain circumstances one pattern may be favoured over the other, with the difference occasionally having to do with the prospect of achieving the goal expressed in the gerundial complement. Another finding indicating a difference in meaning between the patterns is the different usage of the simple and progressive forms of the matrix verb work, as the at -ing pattern has the matrix verb more frequently in the simple forms. It is suggested that ultimately the differences between the two patterns reflect the fundamental meanings of the prepositions at and on.

Lakaw, Alexander
Diachronic shifts in agreement patterns of collective nouns in 19th-century American and British English

English collective nouns and their agreement patterns have received a great deal of attention in corpus linguistics. Previous synchronic research has found evidence of variability within and across the varieties of English (e.g., Levin 2001, Depraetere 2003, Hundt 2006). This diachronic study compares the agreement patterns with collective nouns in American and British English (henceforth AmE and BrE respectively) and draws evidence from the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA), the Old Bailey Corpus (OBC) and the Corpus of Late Modern English Texts (CLMET). The study covers the time span 1810–1909 and includes the agreement patterns of a range of collective nouns from six semantic domains: (1) EMPLOYEES (e.g., crew), (2) FAMILY (e.g., couple), (3) MILITARY (e.g., army), (4) POLITICS (e.g., government), (5) PUBLIC ORDER (e.g., police) and (6) SOCIETY (e.g., generation).

The results show an overall increase of singular agreement in both varieties. Moreover, the findings suggest that verbal and pronominal agreement patterns behave differently in that the latter is more likely to be of the plural kind, and that variation between singular and plural agreement exists even amongst the semantic categories. The incipient change in AmE towards the singular is visible in the 19th-century material. The expected leading role of AmE in this change (cf. Collins 2015: 29) could not be confirmed. Instead, AmE displays signs of a kick-down development (Hundt 2009a: 33) in which BrE shows a greater tendency for the singular in the 19th century, but is overtaken by AmE at a later point in time.

Tyrkkö, Jukka & Arja Nurmi
Analysing multilingual practices in Late Modern English: Parameter selection and recursive partitioning in focus

Over the last ten years, historical linguists have paid increasing attention to multilingualism and multilingual practices, defined as the alternating use of resources from two or more languages by a writer within a single text. Most studies in this emerging field have been carried out using relatively small datasets, such as individual genres or texts written by a single person, which allow only limited opportunities for the discovery of broader tendencies. Furthermore, previous studies have typically examined multilingual practices in light of individual factors without attempting to identify significant predictors in a multifactorial setting. With the 34-million-word multigenre Corpus of Late Modern English Texts 3.0 as our primary data we explore the sociolinguistic and textual factors that predicted the use of foreign languages in English texts during the Late Modern period. To identify the most significant variables, we use recursive partitioning, a statistical method in which significance-based splitting is carried out in a stepwise fashion on predictor variables. The decision trees produced by recursive partitioning are easily interpreted and they allow rule-based predictions about the likely frequency of the linguistic feature being investigated.

University of Helsinki