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Approaching Language Variation through Corpora

A Festschrift in Honour of Toshio Saito


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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SATORU TSUKAMOTO Defining Periods of Middle English by Measuring Rates of Language Change - 307


SATORU TSUKAMOTO Defining Periods of Middle English by Measuring Rates of Language Change 1. Introduction Middle English is often referred to as a period of change. Most notably, it is a “period of levelled endings” (Sweet 1891: 211) during which most of the inflections prominent in Old English were lost. However, the fact that the English of this period is characterised more by variation than by static identifiable features makes drawing clear boundaries problematic, both around and within the period. In consequence, most scholars draw boundaries based, not on linguistic descriptions, but instead on political or historical events. The beginning of Middle English is usually associated with the Norman Conquest of 1066. It is, however, acknowledged that this “did not suddenly put an end to [...] Old English” (Brook 1958: 42); the lan- guage changes sparked by that event took a generation or so to spread. Thus, the beginning of the Middle English period is generally placed at around 1100; but this date is chosen somewhat arbitrarily, and should not be regarded as a clear transition point. Still less is there any clear endpoint for Middle English. The end of the period is variously identified with the introduction of printing to England in 1476 (e.g. Brook 1958), or the start of the Tudor monarchy in 1485 (e.g. Blake 1992); but again, neither of these events had any great immediate linguistic effect. For example, Brook notes that the influence of printing “became important only when the gradual spread of education increased the...

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