LINGUIST List 19.2355|
Sat Jul 26 2008
Review: Historical Linguistics: Pérez-Guerra et al (2007)
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'Of Varying Language and Opposing Creed'
Message 1: 'Of Varying Language and Opposing Creed'
From: Rik Vosters <Rik.Vostersvub.ac.be>
Subject: 'Of Varying Language and Opposing Creed'
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/18/18-3391.html
EDITORS: Pérez-Guerra, Javier; González-Álvarez, Dolores; Bueno-Alonso, Jorge
L.; Rama-Martínez, Esperanza
TITLE: 'Of Varying Language and Opposing Creed'
SUBTITLE: New Insights into Late Modern English
SERIES: Linguistic Insights. Studies in Language and Communication. Volume 28.
PUBLISHER: Peter Lang
Rik Vosters, Center for Linguistic Research, Free University of Brussels (VUB).
Whereas the 18th and the 19th century were only considered to be of marginal
interest to earlier scholars in the field of English historical linguistics,
recent years have seen a significant increase in publications based on Late
Modern English language data (see, for instance, the Cambridge collection of
Kytö, Rydén & Smitterberg 2006 about nineteenth-century English, and a
comparable volume about the eighteenth century by Raymond Hickey, forthcoming;
earlier works include, e.g., Görlach 1999).
After a first edition in Edinburgh 2001, the Second International Conference on
the English Language in the Late Modern Period 1700-1900 (LMEC2) was hosted by
the English department of the University of Vigo in 2004, and brought together a
large number of international experts in the field. This volume compiles a
selection of the presented papers, which are not only interesting on account of
the wide array of linguistic phenomena described, but also because they give
both junior and senior researchers in any field of language studies a sound and
up-to-date overview of the linguistic corpora and data collections available for
this specific period.
Most contributions are relatively technical, which makes the compilation
especially compelling for scholars working on the history of Late Modern
English, although a wider audience of language historians will be also be
interested to observe the significance of relatively ''recent'' linguistic data
for the diachronic description of the language as a whole.
The volume, dedicated as a Festschrift to Professor Emeritus Charles Jones
(University of Edinburgh), opens with an introduction by the editors, where they
emphasize the need to focus on Late Modern English data in order to account for
many changes which have shaped the English language as we know it today. Not
only do researchers have a large amount of sources at easy disposal, but this
material is also more diverse and more complete than is usually the case for
older stages of the language. Sociolinguistic background information is often
readily obtainable, and not only the traditional genres for linguistic research
(literary texts, formal correspondence, etc.) receive the attention they deserve
-- as is demonstrated by the wide variety of primary sources used in the fifteen
studies under review.
As a good case in point, Joan Beal's contribution about ''Nineteenth-century
evidence for 'recent' changes in English pronunciation'' explores how evidence
from Late Modern English sources and reference works can serve to falsify
traditional claims surrounding various phonological attributes associated with
so-called Estuary English. Features such as final-vowel tensing in words like
'happy', th-fronting and the labiodental /r/ are conventionally assumed to have
originated from the south of England and spread northwards in recent years. Such
assertions, however, are based on apparent-time evidence, and Beal convincingly
shows, for instance, how 'happy'-tensing cannot unproblematically be taken to be
an imported southern characteristic, as Thomas Spence's Grand Repository of the
English Language (1755) shows this variant to be part of polite Newcastle speech
in the eighteenth century already.
In the second paper, ''The development of pragmatic markers in the modern
period'', Laurel Brinton examines the development of clausal pragmatic markers
such as 'you know' and 'I say', which are especially typical for the Early and
Late Modern English period. Using examples from an array of linguistic corpora,
the author re-evaluates the syntactic reversal hypothesis, which traces the
clause-external pragmatic marker in sentences such as ''It's kind of her opinion
I think'' back to matrix clauses as ''I think that it's kind of her opinion'',
where 'that' became obsolete and 'I think' turned into a parenthetical which was
no longer restricted to the sentence-initial position. Further attention is
given to the less well-known constructions 'what's more' and 'which is more',
which are shown to have undergone a shift from clause-internal adjuncts to
Next, Hubert Cuyckens and Hendrik De Smet present recent work on
''For...to-infinitives from Early to Late Modern English''. While this structure
occurs in Middle English texts already, the authors show that the 18th and 19th
centuries mark important changes in the distribution of these constructions.
Evidence from the 10 million word Corpus of Late Modern English Texts (De Smet
2005) demonstrates how the initial dominance of sentences with an extraposed
subject clause (''It makes sense for your business to expand'') give way to other
similar constructions with a different syntactic function (e.g. as
post-modifiers, ''Management expressed the need for a strategy to be developed'')
and even different semantics (a shift from benefactive to purposive meaning).
The third contribution, by Stefan Dollinger, highlights ''The importance of
demography for the study of historical Canadian English''. The relatively
underrepresented diachronic study of English in Canada has all too often solely
been based on language-external evidence, leading to the general idea that
colonial varieties of English are significantly more conservative (cf. Chambers
1998). Dollinger sets out to investigate these and other claims, by combining
linguistic evidence from the pre-Confederation section of the Corpus of Early
Ontario English (1776-1849), with sociohistorical data about the early
settlement and migration history of the area. One of three variables under
investigation is the then highly contentious first-person use of 'will' (rather
than prescribed 'shall'), for which Ontario English proves to be more
progressive from 1800 onwards. This is subsequently explained by examining the
so-called second wave of immigration more closely, which is traditionally taken
to have had no immediate linguistic influence on the development of Canadian
English. Dollinger points towards the fact that over 90% of these new immigrants
can be associated with a non-southern variety of English, which, together with
the large prevalence of newcomers from the lower social strata, leads the author
to conclude that ''[t]he increase in WILL in the first person is likely to have
been the result of this massive SIN [Scottish, Irish and Northerner - RV] lower
class migration to Ontario'' (p. 131).
Similarly, the earliest forms of American English are often claimed to be more
conservative than contemporary British English, and Radoslaw Dylewski's data on
root vowel leveling of strong verbs at least partially confirm this. In ''Forms
of tri-alternant verbs in early American writings (1662-1720)'', the author works
with a collection of British and North American texts split up into two
subperiods (1662-1692 and 1700-1720) -- for the American corpus, a significant
amount of data comes from the Salem witchcraft trial records (cf. the
forthcoming volume by Rosenthal et al.), yet the British subcorpus does not
include comparable material for both subperiods (see below). With the historical
trend then being the replacement of the traditional 'sing-sang-sung' paradigm by
a leveled 'sing-sung-sung', Dylewski shows that this innovation occurs slightly
less rapidly in American English, and as this change did not make its way into
present-day Standard English, it is not surprisingly tied to the formality of
the investigated sources as well, with leveling occurring more sporadically in
cultured and stylized texts, such as the published literary works in the corpus.
Contrary to this early divergence, the coming of the 18th century seems to mark
a turning point in the shifting of these forms in the United States, which is
rather loosely measured up to the decline of colonial Puritanism and a more
general cross-Atlantic convergence from 1700 onwards.
In a particularly exhaustive contribution (75 pages), Teresa Fanego discusses
the notion of ''Drift and development of sentential complements in British and
American English from 1700 to the present day''. Based on Sapir's definition of a
'drift' as a collection of linguistic change phenomena which are long-lasting
and ''cumulative in some special direction'' (Sapir 1921: 155), the author
presents a detailed overview of syntactic restructuring in English resulting
from the rise of the verbal gerund since the 16th century. At first, this new
form was restricted to prepositional environments, but other forms of sentence
complementation (especially to-infinitives) have yielded to the gerundive in
different contexts as well. Among other things, Fanego points towards the
nominal origin of the gerundive (Old English 'wending' < 'wendan', cf. Dutch
'wending') to account for some of the observed syntactic changes, such as the
gerundive in preverbal subject position, which has been gaining ground from the
18th century onwards, especially in American English (e.g. ''Going home is not an
The next contribution, '''Worser' and 'lesser' in Modern English'' by Victorina
González-Diaz, focuses on the development of double comparatives in Early and
Late Modern English. Most previous work on this topic seems to have focused
merely on traditional inflectional and periphrastic comparatives ('richer',
'more atrocious'), while double suppletive forms ('worser', 'lesser') received
far less attention. Furthermore, the phenomenon has been claimed to be marginal
and to have disappeared during the 18th or 19th century as a result of
prescriptivism and increased standardization. González-Diaz investigates these
claims, using a 5.6 million word collection of several corpora (for a large part
consisting of texts approaching the spoken register, such as personal letters,
drama, etc.), but also taking into account most authoritative grammar books of
the different eras. Quite surprisingly, she discovers that the traditional view
generally holds true for normal double periphrastic comparatives like 'more
faster' (i.e. they become marginalized and stigmatized in prescriptive grammars
from the 17th century onwards), but that the situation for 'lesser' and 'worser'
is entirely different. González-Diaz rejects the idea of double comparatives as
a homogeneous group, not only based on linguistic differences (as, for instance,
the 'more better' type can be used for emphasis, whereas 'worser' and 'lesser'
are usually not), but also on sociolinguistic grounds. While both forms were
already socially stigmatized before the emergence of seventeenth-century
prescriptivism, 'lesser' became more and more accepted during the second half of
the 19th century, and finally made its way into the standard language.
Next, Bernd Kortmann and Suzanne Wagner's attempt to provide their readership
with ''A fresh look at Late Modern English dialect syntax'' mainly dwells on
methodological problems that arise when trying to apply the principles of modern
dialectology to historical data. The only major tools available are the Survey
of English Dialects and the Freiburg English Dialect Corpus, where the majority
of respondents was born between 1870 and 1920. By investigating several
well-known features such as the northern subject rule, as well as lesser-known
variables like subject/object pronoun exchange, the authors explain how older
accounts of variation usually emphasize either a complete absence or a full
presence of a certain characteristic, making it hard to compare to modern
studies, which generally quantify variation in more detail. Also, certain
features which are of interest to a modern dialectologist cannot be traced in
historical sources, often because of probable underreporting due to
stigmatization (as is the case for the well-known example of the double
negative). In sum, Kortmann and Wagner argue that ''the problems we know about
from present-day dialect syntax are multiplied when wanting to study LME [Late
Modern English - RV]'' (p. 296), and conclude with a plea for increased work on
the compilation of regionally stratified historical corpora, as in the
historical sociolinguistic tradition of, among others, the Helsinki Research
Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English (VARIENG).
The following paper by María José López-Couso explores the subject of ''Auxiliary
and negative cliticisation in Late Modern English''. Contracted forms are still
present in twenty-first-century English orthography ('can't', 'isn't'), but
could occur historically either with proclitics ('ne wolde' > 'nolde') or
enclitics ('he is' > 'he's'), the latter being exceptionally frequent in
question tags. Using the Late Modern English material from A Representative
Corpus of Historical English Registers (ARCHER), López-Couso inventories all
cases of auxiliary ('he's') and negative cliticization ('he isn't') of 'to be'
and 'to have'. The results concur with earlier remarks in the literature,
showing a steady rise of the phenomenon, especially during the second half of
the 19th century, with up to 35% of all forms being contracted. Although
cliticization of the proclitic type has almost completely disappeared by 1800,
the author still attests a wide range of possible contractions, including now
uncommon forms as 'beant' and 'tisn't'. Also, earlier claims concerning the
nature of the subject are confirmed, showing cliticization to be significantly
more frequent with pronominal subjects. Finally, as contraction is a typical
spoken language phenomenon, it may not be surprising that cliticized forms have
a higher incidence in speech-related genres such as drama.
Working on the history of Composite Predicates, Meiko Matsumoto discusses ''The
historical development of 'take/have a walk'''. Based mostly on the
Chadwyck-Healey Literature Databases and on examples from the Oxford English
Dictionary, she attests the earliest occurrences of this phrase in the 16th and
17th century (although not yet idiomatized into a fixed collocation), followed
by a sharp rise in frequency at the start of the Late Modern English period. One
of the explanations suggested by the author is the change of lifestyle after the
Industrial Revolution, which would have resulted in people taking walks more
frequently, and the topic thus being discussed more regularly in literary
sources. Another more plausible explanation comes from Barbara Strang (1970:
101), pointing out ''a more general tendency after 1800 [...] to give the verbal
group more weight''. Matsomoto concludes her paper with several general remarks
about a different evolution of Composite Predicates in British and American
English, although this was only briefly touched upon in the article itself, as
no American English corpus data were consulted.
Next, Isabel Moskowich and Begoña Crespo devote their article to ''Presenting the
Coruña Corpus''. This collection of scientific texts in Late Modern English is
being developed at the Research Group for Multidimensional Corpus-Based Studies
in English at the University of A Coruña, and is complementary to similar corpus
gathering efforts at the University of Helsinki, where the Corpus of Middle
English Medical Texts has already been published (Taavitsainen et al. 2005), and
where an Early Modern and Late Modern English version are under construction.
The Coruña Corpus selects scientific writings between 1600 and 1900, and current
work focuses on the subdisciplines of mathematics, astronomy, biology and
philosophy. (Note that medical works have been excluded to avoid overlap with
the Helsinki projects). To achieve optimal representativeness, two texts per
decade have been taken up, totaling about 200,000 words per discipline each
century. Also, Moskowich and Crespo discuss some of the technical aspects of the
compilation process (TEI-compliant encoding, XML format), and conclude with a
short overview of pilot studies already conducted at the time of writing.
The following contribution, ''Aspects of the use of the progressive in the
eighteenth century'' by Palomar Núñez Pertejo, shows how the Late Modern period
is crucial in consolidating the position of English progressive forms. Based on
the Century of Prose Corpus and relevant sections of the Representative Corpus
of Historical English Registers, Núñez attests an average of 7.76 progressives
per 10,000 words in the 18th century, which is almost double compared to
previous studies of Early Modern English, yet still rare compared to 19th and
20th century data, when the phenomenon really gains ground. Most functions of
the present-day progressive paradigm are already present, except for the passive
variant (''a poem is being recited''), which only emerges from around 1800
onwards. Various other aspects of the 18th century progressive are discussed as
well, including its semantics (mainly verbs of movement and communication) and
its more frequent occurrence in non-expository text types.
Whereas most studies in the volume emphasize issues of morphosyntactic
development, Elena Orduna Nocito presents a study with a somewhat different
focus, namely ''The semantic field of 'manners' in the eighteenth century: A
cognitive approach''. As the idea of courtesy and manners becomes increasingly
important in the 17th and 18th century, the author undertakes a broad semantic
analysis of the terms in the field, using what she calls a cognitive approach.
First, Orduna Nocito engages in a theoretical categorization of (historical)
dictionary lemmas related to the topic, which she then evaluates on the basis of
excerpts from a number of issues of The Spectator (1711-1712). In this way, she
shows how the rise in 'manners awareness' causes many words to acquire new
meanings, as well as producing shifts from a more peripheral to a more central
position in a lemma's semantic field, often through metaphoric use of the word
(e.g. 'culture', which evolved from 'tilling the land' to more general
manifestations of civilized human accomplishments). Furthermore noting that over
three quarters of the expressions in this domain are of Romance origin, Orduna
Nocito discusses and emphasizes the importance of French and Latin loan words in
the field of manners.
In the next chapter, Päivi Pahta and Arja Nurmi of the Helsinki Research Unit
for Variation, Contacts and Change in English explore ''Structures of
code-switching in eighteenth-century personal letters''. As the few historical
studies on code-switching in English tend to focus on (earlier) periods of
societal bilingualism, the aim of this paper is to approach the phenomenon as a
result of individual multilingualism -- an unusual angle which has proven to be
worthwhile, judging from the ample examples available from the Corpus of Early
English Correspondence Extension (CEECE). After thoroughly embedding the topic
in the socio-historical background with a discussion on how code-switching
relates to various ideas of bilingualism and cultural/linguistic contact
situations, Pahta and Nurmi inspect their corpus data from different angles. On
a syntactic level, instances of code-switching range from single words to entire
phrases, and can occur in intersentential, intrasentential or extrasentential
positions. At the macrolevel, looking at texts as a whole, code-switching is
shown to function mainly as a discursive device, organizing the act of
communication, for instance by signaling a direct quotation or by being used in
formulaic letter-writing conventions such as leave-taking formulas. Most
code-switching involves either the classical languages (Latin, Greek) or the
major European languages at the time (French, Italian), although there are some
occurrences of non-Western words, usually in correspondence from British
territories such as India.
The last contribution of the volume takes the reader back to the domain of
politeness research: ''Saying 'please' in Late Modern English'' by Ingrid
Tieken-Boon van Ostade and Fátima María Faya Cerqueiro. Arguing against the
traditional view of parenthetical 'please' originating from 'if you please', the
authors explore several Late Modern English sources to suggest an alternative.
An analysis of Robert Lowth's incoming and outgoing correspondence demonstrates
that, while in the 18th century 'pray' is still the most common politeness
marker, the older 'if you please' shows a stable development without any
significant rise in frequency. This leads Tieken-Boon van Ostade and Faya
Cerqueiro to posit 'be pleased to' as the predecessor of modern 'please', where
the final /d/ would have been weakened over time, causing the participle to be
reinterpreted as an infinitive, with a subsequent drop of 'to' and the
auxiliary. Several examples are provided to document each stage of this
development, which is claimed to have originated in the spoken language (hence
the phonetic weakening). In addition, the authors cite several occurrences of
'please' in the work of Late Modern English novelists, where this phenomenon
seems to be typical of servants' speech. Noting ''the ability of Jane Austen, and
possibly of Mary Brunton as well, to render different social varieties of
English in their novels'' (p. 442), Tieken-Boon van Ostade and Faya Cerqueiro
conclude that the development of parenthetical ''please'' is a change from below,
which could spread from the lower social strata to more educated speakers by way
of domestic staff's polite forms of address towards their masters.
Although at the time of writing this review, the editors' grievance of how
little attention is given to the Late Modern period in English scholarship might
not entirely hold true anymore, it must be admitted that this volume has
contributed to expanding the field and eliminating part of the linguistic blind
spot that traditionally surrounded the 18th and 19th century. It is
characteristic for such recent scholarly interest to encompass a broad range of
underlying theoretical and methodological approaches, ranging from highly
technical descriptive studies on the finer points of English syntax, to more
innovative work emphasizing the relationship between language production in
different genres and domains, and the sociohistorical context in which it arose.
Especially these latter approaches have gained more momentum in recent years
(among other things, through the emergence of research associations as the
Historical Sociolinguistics Network,
<http://www.philhist.uni-augsburg.de/hison/>), allowing previously unexplored
areas of language history to surface, including topics such as the role of
prescriptivism on the different aspects of standardization, situations of
historical multilingualism and language contact, the impact of extra-linguistic
factors on language development, etc.
If one general note of criticism must be provided, it should concern the
relationship between the configuration of the employed linguistic corpora and
the conclusions drawn from the material. While it is clear that a computerized
collection of linguistic data is never more than a small sample of a nearly
infinite body of language material, great care must be taken to avoid
extrapolating empirical observations beyond the scope of the experimental setup
itself. Accordingly, attestations in a five, ten or even twenty million word
corpus cannot be taken as a basis for sweeping conclusions concerning the
evolution of the English language as a whole, especially as many linguistic
characteristics tend to be highly genre-specific. Preference should be given to
either single-genre corpora for highly detailed analyses specific to one
particular type of document (with the Corpus of Early English Correspondence as
an excellent example), or to multi-genre collections that are both sufficiently
balanced and complete to allow for comparisons between different text types (cf.
A Representative Corpus of Historical English Registers).
While most contributions in the present volume demonstrate a clear concern for
these issues, we feel obliged to signal two chapters where this appears to be
more problematic. For Dylewski, we already mentioned the unbalanced design of
the employed subcorpora, where very specific documents such as the ample witness
depositions of the Salem witchcraft material are not sufficiently
counterbalanced in both parts of the British text selection. Although the author
recognizes this ''major handicap'' (p. 154), we believe it could have clouded the
observed differences between the homeland and the colonies, especially as
Dylewski makes it clear that leveled forms tended to prevail in ''genres
reflecting the spoken medium'' such as trial records (p. 153). A more balanced
corpus construction might highlight the observed geographical differences even
A second problem already mentioned regards the contribution by Matsumoto. We
find it slightly concerning how the entire conclusion of this chapter can be
devoted to British versus American English usage differences of the studied
phenomenon (''the British use of 'take' was transplanted to a new area [= North
America - RV], where it evolved in a new direction''), while all relevant source
material is exclusively British, and no apparent geolinguistic dimension has
been added to the empirical study presented. Although we can agree with
statements such as ''the British preferred 'take' to 'have' in the case of
'take/have a walk''' (p. 332), we believe more research to be necessary before
any conclusions about transatlantic usage divergence can be drawn.
In spite of these limited methodological concerns, and aside from the
observation that not all contributions in a volume can be of comparable quality,
this collection of articles does offer a refreshing mix of intensive
scholarship, not only by senior experts in the field, but also by young
researchers. Apart from some minor typographical errors, such as 'Baybee' for
'Bybee' (p. 150), 'have no shorter as walk' (p. 326), 'on-line data-base' (p.
339) and 'CR-ROM' (p. 382), the volume is well-edited, and a sound introduction
makes the collection more than the mere sum of its parts. An extensive 11-page
section offering 'Notes on contributors' allows the reader to find out more
about ongoing research projects and provides assorted references for further
De Smet, H. 2005. A corpus of Late Modern English texts. _ICAME Journal_ 29: 69-82.
Görlach, M. 1999. _English in Nineteenth-Century England: An Introduction_.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hickey, R. (ed.). Forthcoming. _Eighteenth Century English. Ideology and
Change_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kytö, M., M. Rydén, & E. Smitterberg (eds.). 2006. _Nineteenth-century English:
Stability and Change_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rosenthal, B., R. Trask, P. Grund, R. Hiltunen, L. Kahlas-Tarkka, M. Kytö, M.
Peikola, M. Rissanen, M. Burns, M.K. Roach, G. Adams & B. Ray (eds.).
Forthcoming. _Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt_. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Spence, T. 1775. _The Grand Repository of the English Language_. Newcastle: T.
Strang, B. 1970. _A History of English_. London: Methuen.
Taavitsainen, I., P. Pahta & M. Mäkinen. 2005. _Middle English Medical Texts_.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Rik Vosters is employed as a junior researcher at the Center for Linguistic
Research at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). Currently, he is preparing a
doctoral dissertation in the field of historical sociolinguistics, investigating
(socio-)linguistic variation in a large historical corpus of Dutch-language
manuscripts from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (1814-1830). More
information can be found on the author's website
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