19th -Century and 20th -Century English
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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