Studies in Variation, Contacts and Change in English

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




Sebastian Hoffmann, Andrea Sand & Sabine Arndt-Lappe
University of Trier

ICAME is a leading international professional organisation for researchers using corpora in English Language Studies. Its annual conference – running since 1979, and thus by far the longest-established conference for corpus linguistic research – brings together scholars from across the field, including lexicographers, grammarians, specialists in translation, language learning and teaching, historians of the English Language, stylisticians and discourse analysts.

The 36th meeting of ICAME, which took place from 27 to 31 May 2015 in Trier, Germany, was attended by about 200 international participants. Its main theme was Words, Words, Words – Corpora and Lexis. Besides papers focussing on the main theme, there was a considerable number of interesting contributions dealing with language change in or since the Late Modern English period, with a focus on the 19th century. Some of those papers were selected for the present volume. Several of them have an additional focus on methodological issues. This is particularly the case for Jukka Tyrkkö and Arja Nurmi’s “Analysing multilingual practices in Late Modern English: Parameter selection and recursive partitioning in focus”, in which they present ways of predicting multilingual practices in Late Modern English data on the basis of work done on the Corpus of Late Modern English Texts (CLMET) exploiting the descriptive data and the tagging tool Multilingualiser, as well as the statistical method of recursive partitioning. Kristin Davidse, Lot Brems and Adam Smith write on “Charting ongoing change: the emergent complex subordinators the moment (that) and for fear (that)”, relying on 20th-century data from Great Britain, the U.S. and Australia. Their focus is on operationalising concepts from grammaticalisation theory, such as syntactic re-analysis, semantic re-analysis or decategorialisation, within a corpus linguistic framework; their paper, thus, ties in nicely with the previous one in terms of exploring methodological approaches to different topics in diachronic linguistics on the basis of corpus data.

All the other contributions to this volume rely on 19th-century data from the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA), sometimes flanked by other kinds of data. Lieselotte Anderwald’s article looks at “Get, get-constructions and the get-passive in 19th-century English: Corpus analysis and prescriptive comments” by comparing evidence from COHA with information from a large collection of 19th-century grammars. She can thus tie the stigmatisation of the get-constructions in the 20th century to their informal status in the 19th century. Mark Kaunisto and Juhani Rudanko’s paper deals with “At –ing and on –ing: Comparing two sentential complements of the verb work” on the basis of data from COHA, the British National Corpus and the Corpus of American Soap Operas. By examining all the semantic and syntactic contexts of the two constructions, they are able to link different preferences of one over the other to the semantics of the preposition. Signe Oksefjell Ebeling discusses “The ADJ + enough + resultative/explanative that-clause: Diachronic development and conditions of use” on the basis of COHA data, providing an in-depth analysis of adjective and subject types among others. Finally, two papers are concerned with collective nouns. Alexander Lakaw uses data from COHA, the Old Bailey Corpus and CLMET to trace “Diachronic shifts in agreement patterns of collective nouns in 19th-century British and American English”, comparing nouns from six different semantic domains and finding a definite rise in singular agreement across the board. Yolanda Fernández-Pena is interested in the diachronic development of collective noun constructions involving an of-dependent in the plural, as the title “‘These points stated, a number of problems remain’: A corpus-based analysis of the idiomatisation of collective noun-based constructions” already indicates. Her quantitative and qualitative analysis of COHA data shows that a number of appears to be undergoing idiomatisation, while the results are inconclusive for the other two constructions discussed.

The papers in this collection are testimony to an increased scholarly interest in Late Modern English as a result of the availability of large electronic corpora such as COHA. While this is particularly apparent in the area of lexicogrammar, where reliable patterns can only emerge from the analysis of sufficient data, this eVarieng volume also demonstrates the utility of the corpus-methodological toolkit for investigating language practices in general.

We would like to thank the reviewers from the ICAME board who reviewed the submissions for the conference papers and posters and the anonymous reviewers who reviewed the contributions to this volume for their time, effort and constructive input. Another big ‘thank you’ is due to our senior advisor Mike Stubbs and the entire ICAME 36 conference team (Anne-Katrin Blass, Lisa Dillmann, Denis Gusakov, Franziska Hackhausen, Daniela Kolbe-Hanna, Lilian Lee Hoffmann, Kerstin Lunkenheimer, Jennifer Ramberger, Isabelle Reinhardt), who helped to make the conference in Trier such a great success. And a very special thanks to Lisa Dillmann for her patience and scrutiny in editing, proof-reading and lay-outing this volume.

University of Helsinki