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Approaching Language Variation through Corpora

A Festschrift in Honour of Toshio Saito


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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PAM PETERS Style and Politeness: The Case of the Personal Pronoun - 325


PAM PETERS Style and Politeness: The Case of the Personal Pronoun 1. Introduction: the English personal pronoun system1 The English personal pronoun system has been subject to continuous erosion over the last millennium. In Old English / Anglo-Saxon there were up to six case contrasts for all three personal pronouns, singular and plural. By early modern English (C17), the system presented only three case contrasts (nominative/accusative/genitive) for the first and third persons, singular and plural. For the second person, the contrasts available were reduced even further: the nominative/accusative and singular/plural contrasts became almost obsolete, leaving only two case contrasts (genitive/other). The drastic reduction of the second person pronouns is usually explained in terms of pragmatic forces challenging the grammatical paradigm (Brown/Gilman 1960). With both power and solidarity at stake when referring to the other party in a verbal exchange, politeness if not deference prompts discretion in the choice of pronoun, and a neutral option is highly valued. Considerations like these allowed you to consolidate its position as the sole second person pronoun for both singular and plural, and to become the common case for both nomina- tive and accusative use. Pragmatic forces can thus be seen to radically reshape the grammatical system. Present-day variability in the use of first and third person pro- nouns raises similar questions. When the pronoun chosen is not the grammatically sanctioned one, are the driving forces behind that choice primarily linguistic (reflecting general, but perhaps competing, sys- temic or structural patterns), or are they instead...

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