Article

“Small is beautiful”: On the value of standard reference corpora for observing recent grammatical change

Marianne Hundt and Geoffrey Leech

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of English

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199922765
Published online November 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199922765.013.0017

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 “Small is beautiful”: On the value of standard reference corpora for observing recent grammatical change

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  • Linguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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Before the 1990s, evidence for ongoing grammatical change was based in large part on anecdote, prescriptivism and folk wisdom. The recent advent of mega-corpora such as COCA raises the question of how much value remains in using the standard reference corpora of the first generation—the so-called Brown family. This article focuses on two recessive phenomena, namely the decline of relativizer which and the conjunction for, arguing in favour of small, carefully balanced reference corpora because they allow fine-grained analyses with respect to functional, regional and genre variation. Rise in frequency can be explained by independent processes such as grammaticalization and colloquialization. On the other hand, the declining frequency of which and for investigated in this study can at least in part be attributed to the increasing preference for other items such as the relative that, the preposition on, and the conjunction because.

Keywords: grammatical change; corpora; Brown family of corpora; ARCHER; relativizer which; prescription; conjunction; preposition; English; linguistics; recent change

Article.  5327 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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