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Corpus-based Studies of Diachronic English

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Roberta Facchinetti and Matti Rissanen

Corpus-based studies of diachronic English have been thriving over the last three decades to such an extent that the validity of corpora in the enrichment of historical linguistic research is now undeniable. The present book is a collection of papers illustrating the state of the art in corpus-based research on diachronic English, by means of case-study expositions, software presentations, and theoretical discussions on the topic. The majority of these papers were delivered at the 25 th Conference of the International Computer Archive of Modern and Medieval English (ICAME), held at the University of Verona on 18-23 May 2004. A number of typological and geographical varieties of English are tackled in the book: from general to specialized English, from British to Australian English, from written to speech-related registers. In order to discuss their tenets, the contributors draw on corpora and dictionaries from different centuries, including the most recent ones; hence, they testify to the fact that past and present are so strongly interlocked and so inextricably entwined that it proves hard – if not preposterous – to fully understand Present-day English structure and features without turning back to the previous centuries for an in-depth knowledge of the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of the current state of the art.

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19th -Century and 20th -Century English

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19th-Century and 20 th-Century English MERJA KYTÖ / ERIK SMITTERBERG 19th-Century English: An Age of Stability or a Period of Change? 1. Introduction The 19th century has so far been comparatively neglected in diachronic studies of the English language.1 One reason for this state of affairs is the view that there are few conspicuous differences between the syntax of late Modern English and that of the present day. By and large, this view is based on the fact that few qualitative changes take place in this period: the inventory of syntactic variants has remained largely the same since 1800 (Rydén 1979: 34; see also Beal 2004: 66). The English of this period also formed the basis for statements in the famous grammars by authors such as Jespersen (1909-1949) and Poutsma (1914-1929), which may have led scholars to see 19th- century English in particular as an extension of Present-day English backwards in time. Finally, the abundance of printed sources with standardized language, and the dearth of linguistic studies based on manuscript sources, may give the impression that 19th-century English is a fairly homogeneous entity (see, however, Fairman forthcoming for a study of manuscript documents). But despite this apparent similarity, 19th-century English is not characterized by linguistic stability alone. If we apply a quantitative perspective and study the relative distribution of variants, lexical items, etc., it becomes clear that the language of the period rather exhibits a tension between stability and change. As the present study will show, linguistic variation, which...

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