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Prescriptive Influences on Agreement with Collective Nouns in Early 20th-century American English
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Department of Languages.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-5985-6183
2017 (English)In: LMEC 6: Book of Abstracts, Uppsala University, 2017, p. 20-21Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Agreement with collective nouns has received a great deal of attention in English corpus linguistics. Previous research (e.g. Levin 2001, Hundt 2006) has shown that present-day AmE strongly prefers singular agreement with collective nouns, as illustrated in (1). However, much less is known about this phenomenon in the LME period, in which collective nouns were “notoriously troublesome as to number, and there has been much fluctuation over time” (Denison 1998: 99). Lakaw (forthcoming) shows that the present-day preference for the singular was not yet established in 19th-century AmE, and that plural agreement (exemplified in (2)) was still frequently used. He furthermore suggests that the shift towards the singular must have occurred in the early 20th century.

  1. (1)  The army was not in winter quarters now; it was in the field fighting, (COHA, 1913)

  2. (2)  the army have gone into winter quarters (COHA, 1823)

    This paper presents a study on the influence of prescriptivism on agreement

with collective nouns in early 20th-century AmE. The agreement patterns of 20 collective nouns (e.g. army, government, society) were investigated in COHA, and the resulting shares of singular and plural agreement were correlated to prescriptive comments from a collection of American grammars, school books and style guides (drawn from publicly available sources, e.g. Google Books) from the same time period to examine their influence on the emerging agreement patterns. This method is based on Anderwald’s (2016) quantitative grammaticography and is here applied to explain the aforementioned synchronic variability and thereby to contribute to the study of the emergence of the main varieties of English.

Preliminary findings in 19th-century AmE grammars indicate that collective noun agreement was frequently commented on. Indeed, it turns out that variation in agreement was in fact promoted. However, the preference for singular agreement, which we can witness today, seems to be the result of changes in the stance of 20th- century American grammars towards this topic, as exemplified by Mason (1928: 303), who in his college grammar argues that “[o]rdinarily [...] a Collective noun requires a Singular verb”.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala University, 2017. p. 20-21
Keywords [en]
prescriptivism, corpus linguistics, American English, collective nouns
National Category
Specific Languages
Research subject
Humanities, English; Humanities, Linguistics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-69221OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-69221DiVA, id: diva2:1165637
Conference
The Sixth International Conference on Late Modern English (LMEC 6): Internal and External Factors in Linguistic Stability and Language Change
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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Citation style
  • apa
  • harvard1
  • ieee
  • modern-language-association-8th-edition
  • vancouver
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Language
  • de-DE
  • en-GB
  • en-US
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  • Other locale
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  • text
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