Evidence from historical corpora up to the twentieth century

Merja Kytö and Päivi Pahta

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of English

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199922765
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Evidence from historical corpora up to the twentieth century

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  • Linguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics


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Over the past forty years, empirical research in English linguistics has increasingly relied on material drawn from a wide range of electronic corpora. In particular, the history of the English language has emerged as an area where electronic resources and various kinds of search tools represent a true revolution in the way research has been carried out to investigate mechanisms involved in language change, as well as the factors possibly accounting for it. Examples of areas of linguistic study where corpora have proved particularly influential include historical sociolinguistics, historical pragmatics, historical dialectology, historical variation analysis, genre and register studies, cognitive linguistics, and historical lexicology and lexicography. This article examines the representativeness and reliability of historical corpora as evidence for the history of English up to 1900. It first considers relevant issues associated with representativeness of electronic corpora as evidence of past language use. It then looks at some challenges concerning the reliability of sources and the language-external background information that is available for providing the contextual parameters of texts in historical corpora.

Keywords: evidence; history; sources; English; historical corpora; representativeness; language use; reliability; language change; linguistics

Article.  5018 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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