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Approaching Language Variation through Corpora

A Festschrift in Honour of Toshio Saito

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Edited By Shunji Yamazaki and Robert Sigley

This book is a collection of papers using samples of real language data (corpora) to explore variation in the use of English. This collection celebrates the achievements of Toshio Saito, a pioneer in corpus linguistics within Japan and founder of the Japan Association for English Corpus Studies (JAECS).
The main aims throughout the collection are to present practical solutions for methodological and interpretational problems common in such research, and to make the research methods and issues as accessible as possible, to educate and inspire future researchers. Together, the papers represent many different dimensions of variation, including: differences in (frequency of) use under different linguistic conditions; differences between styles or registers of use; change over time; differences between regional varieties; differences between social groups; and differences in use by one individual on different occasions. The papers are grouped into four sections: studies considering methodological problems in the use of real language samples; studies describing features of language usage in different linguistic environments in modern English; studies following change over time; and case studies illustrating variation in usage for different purposes, or by different groups or individuals, in society.

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STIG JOHANSSON Interpreting Textual Distribution: Social and Situational Factors - 25

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STIG JOHANSSON Interpreting Textual Distribution: Social and Situational Factors 1. Beyond free variation1 There was a time when social and situational factors of language use tended to be overlooked in mainstream linguistics: It is customary (except in works devoted specifically to this question) to ab- stract from synchronic variation in language, either by restricting the descrip- tion of a language to the speech of a particular group using a particular ‘style’, or by describing the language in terms of such generality that the description is valid (in intention at least) for all ‘varieties’. Some degree of ‘idealization’ is involved in either of these two procedures, and this may be necessary at the present stage of linguistic theory. (Lyons 1968: 50) Variation was not denied, but the main focus was on describing lan- guage structure in isolation from the conditions of use. With the de- velopment of variationist sociolinguistics, pioneered by Labov (1966, 1972), it became increasingly apparent that language use is conditioned to a great extent by social and situational factors and that these cannot be ignored in language description. What some may have rejected as ‘free variation’ turned out to be highly patterned. The availability of computer corpora has greatly advanced our knowledge of language variation. Whereas studies within the quantita- tive sociolinguistic paradigm were often concerned with individual linguistic features elicited in an experimental situation, computer cor- pora have provided easy access to a vast amount and a broad range of authentic texts. Given these data sources and...

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