Blog post written by Kevin McCafferty based on an article in the latest issue of English Language and Linguistics
The decline of first-person shall in Ireland, 1760–1890
The Irish just don’t use first-person shall, and they never have. They’ve always said Will I close the window? and We will be there soon. That’s the consensus of grammarians and other commentators from the eighteenth century onwards. And linguists who have studied Irish English in recent decades agree that shall is virtually non-existent in the English of the Irish. So ingrained is this view that the decline of shall in North America – which is now affecting British English, too – is even attributed to the influence of Irish immigrants.
This study uses the Corpus of Irish English Correspondence to look at shall/will usage in Irish English over a period of 130 years. Contrary to the grammarians’ accounts, shall was the predominant form with first-person subjects in eighteenth-century Ireland. The present-day situation, with only will being used in Irish English, did not emerge until late in the nineteenth century. This was not unique to Irish English: comparison with Canadian English shows this shift happening at roughly the same time in both varieties, raising questions about the role of the Irish in the decline of shall in North America.
We suggest that the change from shall to will in Irish English might have be due to simplification during the process of language shift. Also, since first-person will was retained in nonstandard varieties even in England long after shall was established in the standard language, increased use of will might have arisen as a result of growing literacy and the colloquialisation of English: as more texts like letters were produced by members of the lower social strata, their more nonstandard or vernacular usage made it into writing. The shift to first-person will that is apparent in Irish English would then be the outcome of language shift and greater lower-class literacy.
Read the full article ‘‘[The Irish] find much difficulty in these auxiliaries . . .putting for with the first person’: the decline of first-person in Ireland, 1760–1890′ here
Article written by Kevin McCafferty and Carolina P. Amador-Moreno
Blog post written by Réka Benczes, based on an article in the latest issue of English Language and Linguistics
One of the most intriguing – and least studied – areas of English word-formation are so-called “tautological compounds” that are formed out of synonyms (such as subject matter), or where one of the constituents is already included in the meaning of the other constituent (such as oak tree).Their oddity can be attributed to two main reasons. First, as their name, “tautological compound” implies, at face value such combinations can be considered as prime examples for the redundancy of language. Second, they do not follow normal compound-forming rules in the sense that both constituents can function as the semantic head – as opposed to “normal” English compounds, where the head element of the compound is always the right-hand member (hence apple tree is a type of tree, and not a type of apple).
Perhaps due to their quirkiness not much has been said about tautological compounds in traditional accounts of compounding, which typically relegate them to a marginal area of English. However, there is more to tautological compounds than meets the eye. First of all, the study demonstrates that the term “tautological compound” is a misnomer, as such combinations are far from being tautological or redundant in their meaning. Accordingly, the paper differentiates between hyponym-superordinate compounds (such as tuna fish and oak tree) and synonymous compounds (such as subject matter or courtyard) and claims that both types play important roles in language.
Hyponym-superordinate compounds are remnants of our early acquisition of taxonomical relations by making the link between the hierarchical levels explicit. At the same time, hyponym-superordinate compounds are also used to dignify and upgrade concepts via the conceptual metaphor more of form is more of content, whereby a linguistic unit that has a larger form is perceived to carry more information (that is, more content) than a single-word unit.
Synonymous compounds have been shown to possess an emphatic feature, which has been exploited mainly in poetic language (as in the works of Coleridge). However, synonymous compounds are still very much present in everyday language, though in a slightly different form – as synonym-based blends (e.g., chillax “to calm down or relax” from chill+relax, or chivers “chills or shivers” from chill+shivers).
While tautological compounds have been around for a rather long time in the English language, they have received only very little attention (if at all) from linguists. Yet they provide fascinating insights into the motivational processes behind compounding, thereby making it necessary to assign this much-neglected category to its proper, well-deserved place within English word formation.
We invite you to read the full article ‘Repetitions which are not repetitions: the non-redundant nature of tautological compounds’ here
Blog post written by John Payne and Eva Berlage
Everything you ever wanted to know about the genitive alternation in English! The choice that speakers have between the s-genitive and the of-genitive (e.g. the production’s new director vs the new director of the production) has been the subject of much detailed research, starting with historical studies in the earlier part of the twentieth century and culminating in recent large-scale synchronic studies using modern statistical techniques. It is, as Anette Rosenbach suggests in the volume, “arguably the best researched of all syntactic alternations in English”.
This special edition, arising from a workshop organised by John Payne (Manchester) and Eva Berlage (Hamburg) at the ISLE conference in Boston in 2011, collects together four new papers. The first, by Anette Rosenbach, is above all an authoritative and masterly synopsis of all previous work on the alternation, and will be an invaluable resource for both those who are interested in the methodologies which exist for analysing syntactic variation, and for those who have a specific interest in the genitive alternation itself. However, beyond this, it also raises interesting and controversial questions which should be addressed by future research.
Factors such as the animacy, weight and definiteness of the “possessor” (e.g. the production in the production’s new director), as well as the nature of the semantic relation holding between the possessor and “possessee”, are well-known to play an important role in speaker choice. The remaining three papers add new dimensions by undertaking detailed quantitative studies of previously under-investigated aspects of the alternation. Ehret, Wolk and Szmrecsanyi, using historical data from the ARCHER corpus, expand the discussion of weight by comparing different methods of assessing weight, in particular the use of word and character counts. Their research shows that length does not have a linear effect on the distribution of the s- and of-genitive. The authors also break new ground including a detailed study of the role that rhythmic effects might play. While the so-called Principle of Rhythmic Alternation (following Schlüter 2005: 18) so far only comes out as minor determinant of the variation, the paper raises the question of whether to include other operationalisations of phonological variables for a fuller understanding of the variation. In Jankowski & Tagliamonte’s contribution, there is an innovative focus on sociolinguistic factors. In particular, the authors investigate the distribution of the s-genitive and of-genitive in vernacular Canadian English, basing their research on socially stratified corpora that represent data from speakers of all age groups. Their research shows that use of the s-genitive has been growing with possessors that represent collectives or organisations, a trend that might also be spreading to place possessors. The volume concludes with a paper by Payne and Berlage on the “niche” role that the less frequently used oblique genitive, the construction we see in examples such as a friend of the director’s, plays in the alternation, providing a new quantitative analysis of the factors which make this construction either a forced (or preferred) choice in comparison with the two main constructions. A qualitative comparison of the s-genitive, of-genitive and oblique genitive finally reveals that the semantic relations represented by the oblique genitive are as subset of those covered by the s-genitive which, again, are a subset of those available to the of-genitive.
Explore the entire special issue of English Language and Linguistics here
Post written by Peter Siemund based on an article in the latest issue of English Language and Linguistics
If we are to believe standard grammatical descriptions, English possesses only very few reflexive verbs, i.e. verbs that obligatorily occur with the reflexive marker myself, yourself, himself, etc. Quirk et al. (1985: 357–8), for example, treat the verbs pride, absent, avail, demean, ingratiate, perjure as ‘reflexive verbs’, as these obligatorily take the reflexive pronoun. Besides these, they distinguish ‘semi-reflexive verbs’ (e.g. behave, feel, adjust, prepare) “where the reflexive pronoun may be omitted with little or no change of meaning” (Quirk et al. 1985: 358). A similar list of “verbs that select mandatory reflexives” is discussed in Huddleston & Pullum (2002: 1487–8). Both grammars suggest that the list of obligatorily reflexive verbs in English is not very extensive.
Geniušienė (1987) and Siemund (2010) offer extensive lists of verbs (motion middles, anticausatives, lexicalizations) that occur together with reflexive pronouns. Nevertheless, these studies are purely synchronic, analyzing a sample of fictional texts and a sample drawn from the British National Corpus (BNC) respectively. Peitsara (1997) also offers verb lists, though not differentiating between reflexive and middles uses of the verbs in these lists, as her focus lies on strategies of reflexive marking.
The main aim of the present contribution is to add a diachronic dimension to these studies that traces the history of reflexive-marked verbs in middle functions through time. To that end, the history of the verbs that partake in the aforementioned processes is scrutinized using the Oxford English Dictionary (OED; Simpson & Weiner 1989) as a database. I here explore if and when the relevant verbs begin to occur with reflexive pronouns in essentially non-reflexive functions. The result is a fine-grained survey of the history of reflexive verbs in English that can inform and correct current assumptions, as reflected in grammar books and dictionaries, about grammaticalization and lexicalization processes in this domain, perhaps even in general. Moreover, my study adds a puzzle piece to the numerous changes that have occurred in the English lexicon. The Oxford English Dictionary proves to be a rich and highly valuable data source for carrying out serious grammatical analyses.
Read the full article ‘The emergence of English reflexive verbs: an analysis based on the Oxford English Dictionary‘ here
by Louise Cummings
Nottingham Trent University, UK
As academic researchers, linguists are increasingly being asked to demonstrate the impact of their work on the lives of individuals and on the growth of national economies. There is one field within linguistics where impact is more readily demonstrated than in any other. This is the study of the many ways in which language and communication can break down or fail to develop normally in children and adults with communication disorders. These disorders are the focus of a recently published handbook, the Cambridge Handbook of Communication Disorders, which brings together 30 chapters on all aspects of the classification, assessment and treatment of communication disorders. The chapters in this volume will speak for themselves. My purpose in this short extract is to demonstrate how, in an age of impact, the case for the academic study and clinical management of communication disorders could not be more persuasive.
I begin by revisiting a quotation which I included in the preface to the handbook. It is a comment which was made in 2006 by Lord Ramsbotham, the then Chief Inspector of Prisons in the UK. He remarked: ‘When I went to the young offender establishment at Polmont, I was walking with the governor, who told me that if, by some mischance, he had to get rid of all his staff, the last one out of the gate would be his speech and language therapist’. This statement focuses attention quite forcefully on an issue which clinicians and educationalists have known for years: the remediation of impoverished language and communication skills can have a significant, positive impact on one’s life chances and experiences in a range of areas. These areas include social integration, psychological well-being and occupational and educational success. Conversely, the neglect of language and communication impairments presents a significant barrier to academic achievement, vocational functioning and social participation. The area of professional practice which aims to mitigate these harmful consequences of communication disorders – speech and language therapy (UK) or speech-language pathology (US) – has played an increasingly important role in recent years in raising awareness of these disorders. That increased awareness has been felt not just among members of the public in the form of greater tolerance and understanding of communication disorders, but also in policy areas which have the power to transform the provision and delivery of speech and language therapy services.
“It is clear that a society which neglects communication disorders among its citizens can expect to sustain significant economic harm“.
If the human impact of communication disorders does not persuade the reader of the merits of this area of academic and clinical work, then perhaps the economic implications of these disorders will make the case even more convincingly. A report1 commissioned by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in the UK and published in 2010 found that speech and language therapy across aphasia, specific language impairment and autism delivers an estimated net benefit of £765 million to the British economy each year. In 2000, the economic cost of communication disorders in the US was estimated to be between $154 billion and $186 billion per year, which is equal to 2.5% to 3% of the Gross National Product.2 It is clear that a society which neglects communication disorders among its citizens can expect to sustain significant economic harm. This is in addition to the abdication of any type of social responsibility to the welfare of its people.
1 Marsh, K., Bertranou, E., Suominen, H. and Venkatachalam, M. (2010) An Economic Evaluation of Speech and Language Therapy. Matrix Evidence.
2 Ruben, R.J. (2000) ‘Redefining the survival of the fittest: Communication disorders in the 21st century’, Laryngoscope, 110 (2 Pt 1): 241-245.
The Cambridge Handbook of Communication Disorders, is now available from Cambridge University Press.
by Julie Tetel Andresen
Duke University, North Carolina
My favorite words in Romanian are those of Turkish origin. Because parts of present-day Romania were under Ottoman rule for a long time, it’s natural that Romanian would have lexical borrowings from Turkish. One is the word for tulip. Now, tulips are not native to Holland. They are native to Central Asia, and in the eighteenth century there was a craze for tulips at the Ottoman court, and images of tulips could be found on clothing and furniture, while real tulips flourished in gardens and parks. Still today the tulip is a symbol for Turkey. The English word ‘tulip’ comes from the Turkish word tulbend ‘turban’ because the flower resembles the shape of a turban. However, the Turkish word is lâle, and the Romanian word is lalea.
Why do I like this word? Because it’s fun to say, especially in the plural: ‘tulips’ is lalele and ‘the tulips’ is lalelele. There’s ‘coffee’ cafea, ‘coffees’ cafele, and ‘coffees’ cafelele. Same goes for ‘hinge’ balama, plural ‘hinges’ balamale and ‘the hinges’ balamalele and for ‘crane (piece of construction equipment)’ macara, ‘cranes’ macarale and ‘cranes’ macaralele. Not all Turkish borrowings have the phonetic form that generates these plurals, and not all words in Romanian with this plural type come from Turkish, but most of them do.
The other reason I like Turkish borrowings in Romanian is they often come with nice semantic twists. The word belea is usually used in the plural belele and means ‘troubles,’ which is tinged almost, but not quite, with a sense of the ridiculous. When I think of ‘my troubles’ as belelele mele, they don’t seem so bad. And what could be better than the word beizadea ‘son of a bei, a high ranking Turkish official’? It would never be used in Romanian as a compliment, and we need such a word in English, because entitled spoiled brat doesn’t quite cover it.
Finally, there’s the Romanian word for ‘neighborhood, suburb’ mahala, and it, too, is freighted with negative connotations. The politică de mahala, which includes personal attacks and reckless speech, would characterize much of what’s gone on in Washington DC is recent years. Those readers with knowledge of Arabic will recognize the root halla ‘to lodge’ with the place prefix ma-, making a word that means something like ‘building.’ So, the Turkish borrowing is itself a borrowing from Arabic. This word was also borrowed into Persian and is immortalized in the name Taj Mahal, which means in Persian ‘best of buildings.’ So, in the western extent of this etymon, we have a down-market usage, while in the eastern extent, we find something beautiful. Romania has its beauties, too. They’re found in the language.
Michael Billig has been Professor of Social Sciences at Loughborough University for more than 25 years. In 2011 he received the Distinguished Contribution to Social Psychology Award from the Social Section of the British Psychological Society.
1. What were the greatest challenges you faced in writing Learn to Write Badly?
The most obvious and difficult challenge was to write clearly. Anyone, who criticises the way that other academics write, inevitably sets themselves up as a potential target. So, I had to try to avoid the faults that I was identifying in others. I am criticising a style of writing, which is currently ingrained within the social sciences and which young postgraduates are being taught to use routinely. Therefore, I am sure that readers will be able to find passages where my own writing falls into this style. But, at least I have tried to escape, drafting and re-drafting in order to say things as simply and clearly as I can.
The other big challenge was to avoid just making a rant. I wanted to analyse the language used by social scientists and to say why the current, economic conditions of university life, with the constant pressure to publish, are encouraging bad writing. At root, I am analysing the linguistic features of much social science writing: abstracted, unpopulated prose, with heavy use of big nouns and verbs in the passive voice. I argue that, when it comes to describing human actions, this way of writing is far more imprecise and contains far less information than simpler, ordinary language. Because I did not want to be accused of selecting extreme examples just to fit my case, I tried to take examples where I found them. In analysing academic writing, I needed to cite studies from linguistics, educational research, sociology etc. And then I would turn on these studies to show how their authors were using language, sometimes to inflate their own claims or to conceal ambiguities or just to sound impressively technical. Normally academics like it when someone else cites their work. Some of those, whom I cite in ‘Learn to Write Badly’, will not be so glad.
2. Where do you like to write?
At home, in a small room which I use as a study and where I keep my books. My wife complains that, when my writing is going well, I make insufficient use of the room’s window – and, consequently, I fail to notice matters of interest about the neighbours. It is not good for a social scientist to be more interested in bits of paper than people.
3. What one piece of advice would you give to social science scholars?
This is a more complicated, less innocent question than it might seem. If I was advising young scholars about how to have a successful career, I would advise them to join networks, to use the long words favoured by those networks and to promote their work within and beyond those networks. But if was to advise young scholars how to be genuinely scholarly, I would tell them the opposite: they should try to stand apart from established networks and to try to translate the currently favoured big words into as simple a language as possible. I would warn them that, in the current climate of instant publication and constant academic self-promotion, this scholarly way is not the way to conventional success.
4. What is your favourite example of the wording used by academics/students who ‘write badly’?
It would be invidious to give an example here – especially an example from the writings of a student. In ‘Learn to Write Badly’, I suggest that there are reasons why current academic writing can resemble the language used by administrators, managers and even advertising executives. My favourite example comes from my own university’s official title for the system that we teachers are told to use for recording information about our tutees. The system is grandly called: ‘Co-Tutor Student Relationship Management System’. The five nouns are strung together without the aid of pronouns, let alone verbs. It’s not a precise term: if you asked an outsider to say what sort of system it was and what it was supposedly managing, they would probably get it wrong. Unfortunately, the social sciences today are full of terms like this.
5. Have you got plans for more books in the future?
Only vague ideas, not definite plans. I am seldom in control of the directions which my interests take me. But at present, I’m looking out of the window more than I hope to be.
by Professor Sali A. Tagliamonte
University of Toronto
Have you ever wondered about the weird ways of speaking of someone you know? In 1995, I moved to England from Canada, taking up a position at the University of York in Yorkshire. My colleagues came from all over Britain, the south, the north, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as other parts of Europe. The topic of dialect differences was in the air all the time as we compared our varieties of English. Surprisingly, despite the obvious phonological differences in my speech compared to all my colleagues, there were unexpected correspondences between myself and my Scots, Northern Irish and Northern English colleagues. In some cases, we had the same vowel merger or we had the same lexical item or some odd bit of syntax was similar or we used the same form of one adverb or another. The correspondences came from all levels of grammar and sometimes in unexpected ways. It was curious to me that there were so many similarities and I wondered, why? I discovered that northern varieties of British English were among the most prominent dialect regions from which people migrated to other parts of the world in the late 18th century, particularly my own country of origin, Canada. Could it be that the roots of my way of speaking could be tracked back to these founding dialects? In 1999, embarked upon a research project to study the varieties of English these dialect regions.
Linguistic Wooly Mammoths. The research traditions of dialectology, historical linguistics and sociolinguistics have demonstrated that researchers can gain access earlier points in time. In the absence of a time machine, how is this possible? Consider a woolly mammoth frozen in a glacier. We can gain remarkable insight into past time by studying its characteristics. Linguists employ a similar method.
Places that are geographically remote, socially isolated or set apart from the rest are slow to adopt new changes, or are missed entirely. Such areas are referred to as tend to preserve older features. In this way remote, inaccessible, or otherwise isolated locations provide prime evidence about an earlier stage (or ancestor) of a language and play a key role in reconstructing earlier stages of a language’s development. There is perhaps no place more akin to these descriptions than the British and Northern Irish north country.
Dialects galore! What I refer to as the Roots Archive is a rich compendium of oral histories from dozens of elderly people that I collected between 2001-2003. The materials contain rich language data with a wealth of rarely heard features of the English language. There are innumerable dialect words and expressions, e.g. fuzzok, peery, thrang. There are unusual sounds, och, aye. There are unexpected twists in the arrangement of sentences and in the way sentences begin and end, e.g. and that, you know. There are unusual conversational rituals. There are many things that are unusual and exotic; there are some things that are entirely unknown and yet others are hauntingly familiar. In many cases, features long gone from mainstream varieties of English endure. In order to give readers a profound sense of the dialects, I have sprinkled the chapters with quips, stories and interchanges from the conversations e.g. weans and it’s a good job, as in:
Aye, they just come on the phone- “Morag could you come out the night there’s somebody, ken. Such and such a body can nae manage yin”. “Aye, Aye, I’ll just come out aye”. She’s just leaving the dogs. Says I, it’s a good job it’s no weans you’ve got for you would nae- could nae go!
These quotes expose innumerable dialect features. I have made note of some of them in footnotes so that readers can try to spot the features themselves and then verify whether they have found them all. Here is the footnote to the ‘weans’ quote.
Note the use of aye as a discourse marker; ken as a discourse particle; somebody rather than someone followed by use of a body in the generic; yin for ‘one’; inverted, says; the expression it’s a good job; the syntactic structure it’s no weans you’ve got ‘you’ve got no children’; use of can nae, would nae for ‘wouldn’t’, ‘couldn’t’.
Many of the features I discuss in the book are well known across English vernaculars, including regularized pasts, e.g. knowed, come, past tense seen and done among others. Others are typical of the northern UK dialects and often reported in compendia of varieties of English. However, a few have rarely been reported.
Linguistic detectives. Each chapter of Roots of English offers readers a “Dialect Puzzle” so that they can get a taste of what it is like to be a sociolinguist.
Dialects are the storehouse of the heart and soul of culture, history and identity. For analysts of language, dialects are a tremendous resource for understanding the grammatical mechanisms of linguistic change. Delving deep into the nuts and bolts of language, deeper than words and phrases and expressions, down into the grammar, we discover a treasure trove. Beneath the anecdotes and nonce tales are hidden patterns and constraints that are a system unto themselves reflecting the legacy of regional factions, social groups and human relationships. As language evolves through history its inner mechanisms are evolving incrementally, but not in the same way in every place nor at the same rate in all circumstances. One of my goals is to leave the reader with new ideas about the roots of his or her own dialect and how its particular socio-geographic co-ordinates might offer a ‘goldmine’ for ongoing study.
Sali A. Tagliamonte is a professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Toronto. Her new title, Roots of English is now available from Cambridge University Press.
Cambridge Journals Online launched in 1997, and one and a half decades later continues to evolve. At Cambridge Journals, we’re extremely proud of what we’ve achieved over the past fifteen years. CJO is arguably as close to a tailor-made resource as you’ll find in academic publishing. Developed, built and maintained by a crack team of software developers based in Manila. Nurtured and specified by in-house editors, marketers and production staff. Informed by consultation with journal editors, societies, academics and librarians. CJO is loaded with fresh new features three times a year, available on all platforms (including mobile), twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
For the next fifteen days (until the 3rd October) we’ve decided to make a birthday gift. Go to any journal homepage, and you’ll find a new, golden tab. There, the fifteen most-downloaded papers from that journal are available to read for free. We’ve done this for every single journal we publish. Make your way there by browsing our full list of Language and Linguistics journals. As well as being able to download papers to your desktop, or read them on your phone or tablet, you’ll be able to send papers to your Kindle to read at your leisure. Just look for the Send to Kindle links in the left hand article menu and in the headers.
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Here’s to the next fifteen years!
A GUEST POST BY THE EDITORS OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE & LINGUISTICS
Professor Bas Aarts, University College London, UK
Professor April McMahon, University of Edinburgh, UK
Dr Wim van der Wurff, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
English Language & Linguistics is, according to its editorial policy, ‘an international journal which focuses on the description of the English language within the framework of contemporary linguistics.’ What makes ELL fairly unusual is that it ‘is concerned equally with the synchronic and the diachronic aspects of English language studies’; and it takes an equally liberal approach to ‘the English language’, bringing together work on variation and change. There is a particular (though not exclusive) emphasis on using data from varieties of English, both in the present day and in the past, to propose, test and refine theoretical claims in linguistics. Variation and change are closely interlinked, but so often journals consider them separately, while ELL is special in recognising and celebrating the links between them, and in exploring the application of the most up-to-date linguistic methods to data from different periods and varieties.
It is straightforward to find examples of papers which illustrate these trends from recent issues of the journal. For instance, Julie van Bogaert offers a new perspective on the use of what she calls Complement-Taking Mental Predicates (CMTPs) such as I think, I believe, I guess, and so on, which often perform an interpersonal function by modifying the meaning of another clause. Using authentic data from corpora, she argues that CMTPs have reached different levels of entrenchment and schematicity in English, and that the mostly deeply entrenched exemplars have the highest number of variant forms. Thus, I think, which is the most widely used CMTP in the author’s corpus data, has nine variant forms (I was thinking, I’m thinking, I thought, I should think, etc.), whereas the least widely used I realize has only one other variant form (I do realize). CMTPs are regarded as constructions in their own right, which are part of a constructional network that displays various levels of schematicity.
(Van Bogaert, ELL 14.3 ‘A constructional taxonomy of I think and related expressions: accounting for the variability of complement-taking mental predicates’)
Stefan Gries and Martin Hilpert also take a corpus-based approach, this time applied to the change of the English third-person singular present tense suffix from dental fricative (giveth) to alveolar fricative (gives). Working with over 20,000 examples from 1417-1681, Gries and Hilpert aim to determine the salient temporal stages for this development, and the main factors correlated with the change. Rather than dividing their data into pre-determined time periods, they apply a bottom-up clustering method, Variability-Based Neighbor Clustering, which groups the data into temporal sets characterised by high levels of within-group similarity. The groupings are therefore data-driven rather than externally imposed. Gries and Hilpert then argue that different factors matter during different stages of the change: in the periods when the most rapid and dramatic changes are taking place, relevant factors are phonological, syntactic and sociolinguistic (for example, writers begin to use the new gives form to addressees of the opposite sex). Their aim is not simply to cast light on this particular change, but to extend and test the methods available within diachronic corpus research.
(Gries and Hilpert, ELL 14.3 ‘Modeling diachronic change in the third person singular: a multifactorial, verb- and author-specific exploratory approach’)
Further corpus work shedding light on variation is found in Rhona Alcorn’s article ‘Grammatical person and the variable syntax of Old English personal pronouns’ (ELL 13:3) - a revised version of an essay that in 2008 was awarded the Richard M. Hogg prize for work by an early-career scholar in English language and linguistics. The article addresses the variability in Old English between P + pronoun and pronoun + P word orders (e.g. to him vs. him to). In earlier work, based on a limited amount of data, it had been proposed that the latter order was frequent in particular with 3rd person pronouns. Using the York-Toronto-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Old English Prose, Alcorn establishes that 3rd person indeed significantly promotes pronoun + P ordering. She goes on to show that this effect cannot be reduced to other factors, such as [± human reference], [± occurrence in direct speech], [± occurrence in translations] or the position of P relative to the verb. Two of these factors do have an independent effect: direct speech and V (…) P order both disfavour use of the pronoun + P variant.
Moving back to data from present-day English, Mark Jones and Carmen Llamas undertake detailed acoustic analysis of fricated examples of the voiceless plosives /p t k/ from speakers of Dublin and Middlesbrough English. While frication of /t/ has been reported regularly in both varieties, Jones and Llamas demonstrate that it is by no means the only plosive to undergo frication. It does, however, behave differently from /p/ and /k/, since /t/ is much more regularly subject to frication; indeed, fricative realisations of /t/ are categorical and nonvariable for at least some of the speakers investigated. While these findings are interesting and relevant in their own right for our understanding of variation and change in progress in modern English, Jones and Llamas also apply their instrumental investigations to older historical questions. In particular, they argue that the realisations of fricated /t/ in Dublin and Middlesbrough are sufficiently distinct to cast doubt on any hypothesis of direct transfer from Irish to English varieties through migration. Instead, Jones and Llamas suggest that the weight of evidence is in favour of parallel processes of lenition operating independently in these varieties.
(Jones and Llamas, ELL 12.3 ‘Fricated realisations of /t/ in Dublin and Middlesbrough English: an acoustic analysis of plosive frication and surface fricative contrasts’)
The variability investigated by Lieselotte Anderwald is located in the past tense of the verbs begin, drink, ring, shrink, sing, sink, spring, stink and swim. Is that past tense began etc. or begun etc.? Anderwald demonstrates that non-standard speakers of present-day English use high proportions of the latter form and argues that this is a case not of innovation but of retention. She shows that in a corpus of 70 nineteenth-century grammars of English, a movement can be observed over the course of the century from the listing of variable <a/u> or exclusive <u> forms for the past tense of the relevant verbs towards the listing of <a> forms only. This is sometimes explicitly motivated by grammarians pointing to the usefulness of having distinct past tense and past participle markers, i.e. <a> vs <u> for these verbs. However, non-standard speakers seem quite unreceptive to such Latin or logic-inspired ideas, instead opting to retain the formal identity of past tense and past participle that is also found in a set of phonologically similar irregular verbs (cling, dig, fling, sling, slink, spin etc., which uniformly have <u> for both) and in fact in the entire set of regular verbs of English. In this case, then, what at first sight may look like lawlessness is shown to be an example of motivated synchronic variation, having traceable roots in earlier periods of the language.
(Anderwald, ELL 15.1 ‘Norm vs variation in British English irregular verbs: the case of past tense sang vs sung’)