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Diachronic shifts in agreement patterns of collective nouns in 19th-century British and American English
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Department of Languages.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-5985-6183
2016 (English)In: Book of Abstracts: 4th Conference of the International Society for the Linguistics of English. 18-21 September 2016 Poznań, Poland, Poznań: Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University , 2016, p. 256-258Conference paper, Poster (with or without abstract) (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

English collective nouns and their agreement patterns, as illustrated in (1)–(3) below, have received a great deal of attention in corpus linguistics.

(1) The regular police was equivalent to at least 10,000 military... (Hansard, 1835)

(2) ...the family was no longer what it had been... (CLMET, 1906)

(3) ...and the Government have done all that is in their power to find out... (OBC, 1748)

Previous research has found evidence of variability within and across the different varieties of English (e.g. Levin 2001; Depraetere 2003; Hundt 2006, 2009) and identified further avenues for research. This presentation first revisits the diachronic observations of a set of previous studies by investigating large diachronic corpora and hence adds a new angle to the studies from the pre- digital corpus era (e.g. Liedtke 1910, Dekeyser 1975) and to studies on small datasets (e.g. Hundt 2006, 2009).

Furthermore, the conclusions drawn in several investigations relate the varying agreement within the different varieties of English to the lexical characteristics of the collective nouns themselves (e.g. Depraetere 2003: 124; Bock et al. 2006: 101; Levin 2006: 339). This finding motivates further research with a focus on intra-linguistic factors (e.g. semantics and linguistic constraints of collective nouns). Additionally, there is a need for further research on extra-linguistic factors that may influence agreement with collective nouns. Since this study deals with material from the prescriptive period of the 19th century, the effects of normative grammars on the agreement patterns in 19th-century AmE and BrE were investigated by applying Anderwald’s (2014) approach of quantitative historical grammaticography, in which the prescriptions of normative grammars were compared to the actual evidence of language use drawn from the investigated corpora.

This investigation focusses on the agreement patterns of collective nouns from five semantic domains: (1) PUBLIC ORDER (e.g. police), (2) MILITARY (e.g. army), (3) FAMILY (e.g. family), (4) EMPLOYEE (e.g. staff) and (5) POLITICS (e.g. government). The data are drawn from three different BrE corpora representing various text types (i.e. the Corpus of Late Modern English Texts, the Hansard Corpus, and the Old Bailey Corpus). Combining these corpora gives us a more precise picture of the role of genre in agreement and enables more advanced quantitative methods beyond simple pooling. The findings are compared with a previous study on the agreement patterns of collective nouns in 19th-century AmE (Author, forthcoming).

Preliminary results suggest substantial differences between the diachronic agreement patterns of many collective nouns in BrE and AmE, with the plural being more frequent in the former variety. This variation may have been brought about by prescriptive grammars, since language-internal constraints promoted by 19th-century AmE prescriptivists affected agreement patterns in the AmE variety. Furthermore, the big corpus approach taken in this investigation gives new information on the role of genre and genre differences in agreement with collective nouns and permits a more precise timing of the divergence of the two varieties.

Finally, in the course of conducting this study, the need for a new large multi-genre diachronic corpus of BrE material becomes apparent, since the Hansard corpus proved to be a problematic tool concerning the study of grammatical change and variation. As already pointed out by Mollin (2007), the Hansard material does not contain verbatim records of what was being said in the British parliament sessions.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Poznań: Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University , 2016. p. 256-258
Keyword [en]
collective nouns, agreement, American English, British English, corpus linguistics
National Category
Specific Languages
Research subject
Humanities, English; Humanities, Linguistics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-69220OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-69220DiVA: diva2:1165629
Conference
4th Conference of the International Society for the Linguistics of English. 18-21 September 2016 Poznań, Poland
Available from: 2017-12-13 Created: 2017-12-13 Last updated: 2018-01-13Bibliographically approved

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Lakaw, Alexander

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CiteExportLink to record
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Citation style
  • apa
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