Sociolinguistics and Corpus Linguistics

By Paul Baker | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Diachronic variation

INTRODUCTION

This chapter considers how corpus analytical techniques can be used in order to answer questions about linguistic change over time. The chapter is split into sections which cover recent diachronic change in general English, the relationship between linguistic change and cultural change, and studies of historical variation. I also consider specific issues that arise when attempting to build and carry out comparisons of corpora from different time periods.

While this chapter concentrates on diachronic variation, it is worth pointing out that many studies of change over time also take into account other types of variation. A typical example would be Markus (2002), who looks at changes in the language used in letter writing over time, but also considers whether there are differences between male and female letter writers. Additionally, some studies of the Brown family (see below) of reference corpora have tended to combine synchronic and diachronic analyses, for example, by investigating whether British English has become more like American English in recent history (e.g. Hundt 1997; Mair 1997; Leech 2002; McEnery and Xiao 2005). These studies are mainly addressed in Chapter 4, which considers synchronic variation, although I refer to some of the diachronic aspects of them here.

As will quickly become apparent, corpus-based diachronic studies of language variation have tended to be carried out on written rather than spoken data. As discussed already, the main reason for this is the (lack of) availability of spoken corpus data, relating to the fact that large spoken corpora are expensive and time consuming to build. The 10-million-word spoken component of the British National Corpus (BNC), which would be ideal in terms of carrying out diachronic comparisons of spoken British English, was the first of its kind – so there is no earlier equivalent large spoken corpus that it can be compared to. The Survey of English Dialects (SED), as discussed in Chapter 1, is a more specialised corpus, involving interviews of elderly people, carried out with the specific intention of eliciting local dialect forms. Another possible comparison could be made with the Lancaster/IBM Spoken English Corpus (SEC), which contains 53,000 words of British English from the mid-1980s, although most of this is from radio

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Sociolinguistics and Corpus Linguistics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures vii
  • Tables viii
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - Corpora and Sociolinguistic Variation 31
  • Chapter 3 - Diachronic Variation 57
  • Chapter 4 - Synchronic Variation 81
  • Chapter 5 - Corpora and Interpersonal Communication 102
  • Chapter 6 - Uncovering Discourses 121
  • Chapter 7 - Conclusion 146
  • References 157
  • Appendix 169
  • Notes 179
  • Index 183
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