LINGUIST List 26.5215

Fri Nov 20 2015

Review: General Ling; Historical Ling; Socioling; Text/Corpus Ling: Collins (2015)

Editor for this issue: Sara Couture <>

Date: 20-Jul-2015
From: Julie Bruch <>
Subject: Grammatical Change in English World-Wide
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Peter Collins
TITLE: Grammatical Change in English World-Wide
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Corpus Linguistics 67
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2015

REVIEWER: Julie Bruch, Colorado Mesa University

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


This eighteen-paper collection contains corpus-based research on diachronic variation in the grammar of Inner Circle and Outer Circle Englishes. Many of the papers present new perspectives based on newly expanded or created corpora (post Leech et al.’s 2009 Change in Contemporary English).

Much of the work on grammatical change in English has focused on British and American varieties, due in large part to lack of diachronic corpora for other regional varieties of English. A main aim of this collection is to use quantitative approaches to gain fresh insights into diachronic developments within not only the British and American “supervarieties” (Collins & Peters 608), but also within other World Englishes. A second aim is to compare rate and direction of change and to explore discourse and sociolinguistic factors.

This overview of new research will hold interest for leaders in the field of diachronic research as well as for students entering the field. It provides a comprehensive overview of previous studies and can serve as an introduction to research design in corpus-based work. Sociolinguists will also find it a valuable resource as it amply addresses ways in which factors such as contact and power influence changes in regional varieties of English.

Two sections in the book follow Kachru’s distinction of Inner and Outer Circle Englishes. Ten papers include work on American, British, Canadian, Irish, Australian, and New Zealand varieties, and eight papers focus on World Englishes, including: Philippine, Indian, Nigerian, Caribbean, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Hong Kong, and Black South African English. Three papers go beyond purely grammatical categories to cover morphology and the interface between grammar and lexis, pragmatics, and discourse. All chapters attempt to measure rates and directions of change within and between “parent” and other varieties of language. They also try to identify causes of change and examine universals vs. individual mechanisms of change.

Part 1. Inner Circle Englishes

“Diachronic variation in the grammar of Australian English: Corpus-based explorations” (Peter Collins): This study employs two new corpora to examine developments in ten morphosyntactic variables in the genres of news and fiction in Australian English using fifty-year increments over the period 1788 to 2000. The results indicate a shift toward American English (AmE) and away from British English (BrE) in most variables. The author supplements Hundt’s typology of “colonial lag/innovation” with notions of revival, survival, divergence, parallel change, and overtake and suggests that the “Americanization” of morphosyntactic structures in Australian English (AusE) is due to the economic, political, and cultural pull of AmE.

“At the crossroads of change: Possession, periphrasis, and prescriptivism in Victoria English” (Alexandra D’Arcy): Newspaper data from British Columbia in the period from 1858 to 1935 were analyzed to find developments in the use of stative possessives “have/have got/got.” The author finds that Canadian English (CanE) is closer to AmE than BrE and suggests that while sociohistorical factors such as prestige, prescriptivism, and even journalistic word count may have inhibited the use of “have got” in North American varieties, competing language internal forces may be even more relevant. Results indicate that “do-support” and the lexicalization of “have” seem to have prevented the expansion of the more innovative British form “have got” in both AmE and CanE.

Do-support in early New Zealand and Australian English (Marianne Hundt): History points toward Australian (AusE) and New Zealand English (NZE) being similar to BrE. This study examines mid-19th century genres of fiction, science writing, newspapers, and letters to compare negative and interrogative “do-support” in “antipodean” English with that of BrE and AmE. Results show the use of “do-support” varied by verb. For “have,” AmE was ahead of AusE and NZE in developing “do-support,” with BrE lagging. However, bare negation was found in all genres, including AmE. For interrogatives in all four language varieties, “do-support” was a minority variant. The author concludes that parallel development, while rare, seems to have occurred in this case.

The progressive in Irish English: Looking both ways? (John M. Kirk): This author compares Irish English (IrE) progressive verb frequencies and functions to those in BrE in the late 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, using spoken, broadcast, and correspondence data. He finds spoken progressives were nearly similar in IrE and BrE until the late 18th century, but in contemporary IrE, they are significantly more frequent than in BrE. Functions of the progressive peculiar to Irish appear to have influenced both IrE and BrE starting after the late 18th century, and the author finds that Irish-influenced forms, rather than declining or Americanizing, are being adopted and exported to other varieties of world Englishes and that the increasing frequency of progressives in BrE, particularly, is attributable to the influence of Irish.

Cross-variety diachronic drifts and ephemeral regional contrasts: An analysis of modality in the extended Brown family of corpora and what it can tell us about the New Englishes (Christian Mair): This is the first study to use “Brown family” corpora that include new AmE data from 1930 to 1960. The study compares modals and semi-modals for 1930, 1961, and 1991 for BrE, AmE, AusE, NZE, and Indian English (IndE). Previous studies suggested that modals are decreasing but semi-modals are increasing due to grammaticalization, colloquialization, and Amercianization. This study finds that diachronic changes are “ephemeral” (p. 126) and that biases (time periods and genres under study and differing sizes of corpora for “other Englishes”) can produce incoherent results. Some findings here coincide with previous work, but the distribution of modals within and across language varieties is more broadly heterogeneous.

Passives of so-called ‘ditransitives’ in nineteenth century and present-day Canadian English (Matthias L. G. Meyer): The data on passives in this study are from: newspapers (which are innovative yet regional), fiction (close to spoken forms), and non-fiction (more formal) and from two time periods: 19th century and 1971 to 2000. Findings for CanE indicate an overall decline in passives which is even more pronounced than in BrE and AmE. There is also a shift from preference for prepositional passives (“The letter was given to him”) to a preference for first passives (“He was given the letter”). CanE is found to be closer to AmE than BrE in loss of second passives (“The letter was given him”). Future parallel development is suggested for all three varieties.

Dual adverbs in Australian English (Pam Peters): Peters investigates five fully interchangeable dual form adverbs (such as “quick/quickly”) from the late 19th to the late 20th century in AusE and BrE focusing on increases in zero forms and divergences in the two varieties. Genre and syntactic location of the adverb were among several variables considered. While results differed by adverb, an overall bias for “-ly” forms was stronger in BrE than in AusE. Interchangeability of the dual forms was found to decline less in AusE than in BrE. The author interprets this as “colonial lag” with subsequent nativization of AusE.

The evolutions of epistemic marking in West Australian English (Celeste Rodriguez Louro): This paper uses oral history interviews of people from Perth born between 1874 and 1983 to show shifts in epistemic/evidentials (especially “think”) from a lexical use to a more formulaic parenthetical use. Among several variables studied, deletion of the complementizer “that” resulted in grammaticalization of “think,” and increased preference for initial position and negative polarity suggest pragmaticization of “think” parentheticals for discourse functions of stating opinions and mitigating negative judgments. The paper also finds that since “guess,” which has always been strong in AmE, entered AusE only after the beginning of the 20th century exonormative influences on AusE began to shift from BrE to AmE.

May and might in nineteenth century Irish English and English English (Marije Van Hattum): This paper compares IrE “may/might” modals to those of English English (EngE) using data from trial proceedings and personal letters from the late 17th to the 20th century. Notable in both varieties is the loss of “might” to signal past time; however, by mid 19th century, IrE used “might” for present tense more than EngE. This is attributed to grammaticalization and semantic bleaching, in combination with prescriptivism which favored “may have” for the past tense. The author concludes that Irish influence may have been a factor in earlier changes in IrE, and that there were both diachronic and regional influences in the processes of change.

The present perfect and the preterite in Australian English: A diachronic perspective (Xinue Yao): This paper discusses the decline in use of the present perfect in proportion to the preterite in BrE and AmE since the 18th century. Data from the genre of fiction were used here to compare functional shifts and fluctuations in frequency of use of present perfect and preterite verbs in AusE in two time periods (1850 – 1899 and 1950 – 1999) and to compare results to tendencies in BrE and AmE. Among the variables studied, temporal specification was found to increase use of present perfect in all three regional varieties over time, indicating grammaticalization of the form. Negation and non-transitivity were favored by present perfect only in AmE, but this functional specialization was not found in AusE or BrE. Telicity (endpoint) was found to be a strong influence. AmE was found to have a larger overall decline in present perfect forms, and AusE was found to pattern more conservatively with BrE with retention of older patterns.

Part 2. Outer Circle Englishes

Recent diachronic change in the progressive in Philippine English (Peter Collins): This paper compares data from from Philippine English (PhE), BrE, and AmE within the genres of press, prose, learned use, and fiction for the 1950s – 1960s and early 1990s to discover shifts in the frequency and distribution of progressive verb forms. The article summarizes previous findings that indicate increased frequency and colloquialization of the progressive aspect and its attitudinal use in addition to aspectual usage. The results were mixed, with data indicating both an exonormative influence from AmE and endonormative stabilization of “colonial innovations.”

Linguistic change in a multicultural setting: A case study of quotatives in Indian English (Julia Davydova): Davydova explores restructuring and proliferation of quotative markers introducing direct speech in Indian English (IndE). She focuses on sociolinguistic factors inherent in multilingual settings such as New Delhi, including added creativity and need to communicate across barriers. The author transcribed speech from 26 informants in 2007 and 2011 and analyzed the resulting corpus assessing the variables of gender, degree of contact with English, lect of speaker (meso, upper meso, or acrolect), and grammatical person of subject used in the quotative. Five types of quotatives were analyzed, including the superstrate global innovation “be like” and the substrate local innovation “okay.” Results show “colonial lag” in use of “be like,” but innovation over time with “okay.” Female acrolectal speakers were found to be the most innovative in IndE, which aligns with findings for AmE and indicates the importance of sociolinguistic influences.

Patterns of regularization in British, American and Indian English: A closer look at irregular verbs with t/ed variation (Bernard De Clerck & Klaar Vanopstal): In addition to historical corpora, this study employs contemporary global web data to quantify shifts in competing past tense forms (“-t/ -ed”) in 13 verbs. It includes synchronic comparisons between IndE and BrE and AmE and compares diachronic data from the late 20th century to the present. Synchronic data suggest that IndE has the strongest overall preference for “-t” forms, but in all varieties, there is variation based on individual verbs, so opposing trends of progression and conservatism were found. Diachronic data also presented mixed results with IndE showing weakest “-t” preference in the 1970s. The authors conclude that “-ed” is increasing in all three language varieties. However, for the dual patterning verbs studied, the accepted generalization that less frequent verbs regularize more easily does not hold. Instead, features such as vowel change or spelling change are strong factors. The authors conclude that past tense verbs in IndE reveal a hybrid mix of “colonial lag” and “colonial innovation.”

An apparent time study of the progressive in Nigerian English (Robert Fuchs & Ulrike Gut): With Nigerian English (NigE) serving as a lingua franca among multilinguals, various factors influence how grammatical forms develop. The authors use an “apparent time” design to measure how age, gender, ethnicity, and text genre influence use of the progressive aspect. While gender is not significant, the other variables are, with speakers under 30 using the progressive forms significantly more than people over 50. Informal, persuasive texts contain more progressives, and ethnicity was significant, with Yoruba using progressives the most. Similar to BrE and AmE, NigE shows an increase in frequency of progressives, but the authors suggest that specific cross-variety comparisons await further real time studies.

American influence on written Caribbean English: A diachronic analysis of newspaper reportage in the Bahamas and in Trinidad and Tobago (Stephanie Hackert & Dagmar Deuber): This study compares 1960s corpus-data from national newspapers in two Caribbean countries with data from AmE, BrE, and Caribbean newspapers from 2002-2012 to explore the question of Americanization in the Caribbean varieties (CarE). Increases in the frequency of contractions provide evidence of parallel processes of colloquialization in AmE, BrE, and CarE, but on a much smaller scale for CarE. Decreases in the frequency of passives appear in AmE and BrE, but no significant decrease in CarE is evident. Both findings lead to the conclusion that a certain degree of formality lingers in CarE and Americanization is not a factor. However, an increase in frequency of the informal “which” over “that” in certain types of relative clauses appears in Bahamian English, similar to American journalistic trends. Usage trends in titles and pseudo-titles, showing democratization, also indicate similarities between Bahamian English and AmE. The authors conclude that results for the degree of Americanization in CarE are mixed.

Cultural keywords in context: A pilot study of linguistic acculturation in South Asian Englishes (Joybrato Mukherjee & Tobias Bernaisch): This study examines positive and negative connotations of three key cultural words (“government, terror, religion”) in IndE, Pakistan English (PakE), and Sri Lankan English (SLE) using corpus-data to determine collocational types and frequencies. Findings indicate cross-varietal stability in positive connotations of “government,” but “terror” has undergone linguistic acculturation in markedly variety-specific ways, and “religion” showed no shared collocates. Although no diachronic data was used, the authors demonstrate variety-specific structural nativization of the keywords and explore sociolinguistic explanations for the differences found.

Recent quantitative changes in the use of modals and quasi-modals in the Hong Kong, British and American printed press: Exploring the potential of Factiva for the diachronic investigation of World Englishes (Dirk Noel & Johan Van der Auwera): This paper introduces use of a new tool, “Factiva,” for corpus studies. Factiva is a massive collection of news from 200 countries in 28 languages. The authors use this search engine to measure dispersion data and frequency counts of modals and quasi-modals in 1990, 2000, and 2010. They compare AmE, BrE, and Hong Kong English (HKE) and further compare newspapers to a news magazine (Time Magazine) as a sub-genre. Their findings suggest that while HKE newspapers are closer to BrE newspapers than to AmE, HKE is its own variety. They also find that while modals are decreasing overall, AmE newspapers show an increase, and Time Magazine shows distinct patterns from the newspapers, so both regional variety and sub-genre differences are apparent.

The development of an extended time period meaning of the progressive in Black South African English (Bertus Van Rooy & Caroline Piotrowska): In spite of numerous challenges in obtaining historical data for Black South African English (BSAfE), the authors collected corpus data from three sources: Imvo, an isiXhosa language newspaper that contained up to one third of its articles in English for 1884-1888, 1914-1918, and 1944-1948, Drum Magazine (1951-1959), and various 2000-2012 newspapers and works of fiction. The study compares development in the use of the progressive by second language users in BSAfE (especially with stative verbs). Preliminary findings report possible semantic transfer from the substrate Bantu languages into BSAfE and also similarities to trends in other native varieties, including an overall increase in frequency of progressives over time. Due to instability and fluctuations shown in the data, no endonormativization is apparent at this time.


This book achieves its goal of providing fresh insights into diachronic changes in English grammar around the world. It also convincingly shows linguistic and extra-linguistic factors affecting these changes. The papers are accessible yet at an appropriate level of technicality; they provide clear overviews of past work and how the new studies extend or contrast with earlier work. They also illustrate possibilities for future work, pointing out the importance of: “real” vs. “apparent” time, genre and register, sources for corpora from outside the traditional realm of linguistics, extended time spans, and additional World Englishes.

Overall, the papers cohere effectively, with a representative balance within and among the Inner and Outer Circle languages. Two of the three papers that go beyond grammar “proper” fit seamlessly. The third, “Cultural keywords in context,” is relevant but might be better fit for a separate volume dedicated specifically to lexico-grammatical-cultural research. In fact, such a volume addressing questions that arise from the lexis-grammar interface would be a logical next step for follow-up on Noel and Van der Auwera’s study, which identifies some modal “outliers” such as “can, should” which do not follow the general developments of other modals. Could cultural factors be at work?

All the contributors to the volume are established leaders in the field of diachronic studies, and the articles reflect their deep understanding of theory and methodology. Six papers are particularly strong in thoroughness, clarity, and accessibility. Hundt’s work on antipodean English contains particularly careful definitions and descriptions of design and methodology. Mair presents particularly clear, strong conclusions. The Louro paper on epistemic marking is especially accessible reading. Rich explanatory commentary is included in the Collins’ paper on Philippine English. The sole paper on morphology (by De Clerck and Vanopstal) explores a wealth of variables and contains excellent “further research” ideas. The Noel and Van der Auwera article is remarkable for its careful and detailed commentary on previous work. RoomYouust told

Notable merits of the volume are its careful descriptions of: corpora, processes of data selection, collection, and normalization, analytical methodology, and statistical significance of the results. While the papers clearly indicate caveats and weaknesses, the reliability of findings is well-supported throughout. All papers are rich in comparisons to extant work. For readers not familiar with previous corpus-based diachronic studies, the book is a valuable resource for finding representative foundational work from the 2000s to the present.

One shortcoming of the book, in this reviewer’s opinion, is its need for greater clarity in five of the papers. Because Kirk’s study of the progressive in Irish English was somewhat dense and redundant in parts, the separation between the functions of the progressive was not entirely clear, nor was it clear whether the conclusions were fully supported by the data, as the results were variously presented as raw token scores, percentages, or generalized descriptive adjectives (such as “infrequent”). The Mair article describing data from the extended “Brown family” of corpora assumes that all readers are familiar with the acronym-names of the six corpora. A footnote later in the paper provides more description, but including more explicit details of what each corpus covers would be helpful. (The Collins’ paper on Philippine English is much more helpful in this aspect.) Yao’s study of Australian English verbs states, “The past participle acted as a complement of either the object (in intransitives) or the subject (in transitives) . . .” (p. 249). This reviewer had difficulty understanding the sentence as stated; should “intransitives” and “transitives” be reversed in this statement? In the Davydova article on quotatives, it would be useful to clarify the degree of validity of having only 12 and 14 oral interview informants respectively for the two time periods studied and to comment on the comparability of this to other studies in the volume. Finally, the Fuchs and Gut study on Nigerian English, while intriguing, could have used additional figures or charts to summarize data. Parts of the data were explained only in the narrative, while other parts were represented in figures. This would add to ease of comparison within the study.

Two easy fixes are also suggested: 1) Collin’s paper on Philippine English places the Spanish-American war in 1998 (p. 271) rather than 1898, and 2) Davydova’s study on quotatives in Indian English refers aptly to the variable of gender on p. 314, but as “sex” earlier in the paper (p. 302-303).

One question that arises regards terminology. Commonly-used terms for AmE and BrE are: “parent varieties, super-varieties, reference varieties, native Englishes,” and for other Englishes terms include: “postcolonial, non-native Englishes, New Englishes, World Englishes, sub-varieties, regional varieties.” Some terms are used in quotes, some not. Certainly, each term implies specific socio-historical features or nuances, and the terms are tied closely with processes traditionally described in the literature (such as colonial lag and innovation). It would be useful for this volume (and within the field as a whole) to explicitly clarify and perhaps reconsider the nuances suggested by the varying terms. An example of terminology that might hint of anachronism is in the Collins’ paper on Australian English: “Having emancipated itself from the hitherto prestigious variety spoken in the motherland, AmE has become the centre of gravity of much grammatical change in English world-wide” (p. 18). Having occurred 239 years ago, the “emancipation” from the “motherland” may no longer be relevant in the general consciousness or in linguistic analysis. As a final example, the phrases “more advanced, more developed” follow extant literature in describing grammatical features that are most changed. Consistency in terminology is important, however, the term “advanced,” has connotations of “superiority” in other contexts, and thus, might be a candidate for a shift to phrases that are less apt to be misconstrued such as “more divergent, more changed.”

This overview of current leading work has made great strides in addressing the paucity of historical data for “other Englishes.” It will encourage further development of corpora and research design and stands as an important contribution to the field of diachronic studies.


Collins, Peter & Peters, Pam. 2004. Australian English: Morphology and syntax. In A Handbook of Varieties of English, Vol 2, Bernd Kortmann, Edgar Schneider, with Kate Burridge, Rajend Mesthrie & Clive Upton (eds), 593-610. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Hundt, Marianne. 2009. Colonial lag, colonial innovation, or simply language change? In One Language, Two Grammars, Gunter Rohdenburg & Julia Schluter (eds), 13-37. Cambridge: CUP. COI: 10.1017/CB09780511551970.002

Kachru, Braj. 1985. Standards, codification, and sociolinguistic realism: The English language in the outer circle. In English in the World, Randolph Quirk & Henry Widdowson (eds), 11-30. Cambridge: CUP.

Leech, Geoffrey, Hundt, Marianne, Mari, Christian & Smith, Nicholas. 2009. Change in Contemporary English: A Grammatical Study. Cambridge: CUP.DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511642210


Julie Bruch holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Kansas. She currently teaches Linguistic Diversity, History of English, Structure of English, and Beginning Japanese at Colorado Mesa University. Her principle research interests are the language-culture interface and language change and diversity.

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