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The present chapter introduces a set of historical literature collections (available on CD-ROM or online) and their use as historical corpora for linguistic research. Despite the fact that the evolution of the English language is documented in a considerable body of written texts and is remarkably well represented in historical corpora, studies of earlier stages of English often suffer from a serious lack of data. Indeed, for many quantitative questions, the field of historical linguistics is hindered by the limits of electronically stored, computer-readable material.
As a backdrop to the present chapter, the most important diachronic corpora of English will be used and compared with the literature databases (Section 2). Issues of the representativeness of fictional writing with regard to other historical registers of writing in English will also be addressed. As a next step, a few technical tips on the computer-assisted exploitation of literature collections will be given (Section 3). To illustrate their use as corpora, three example studies from widely disparate areas will be outlined, thereby aligning data from standard diachronic corpora with such from the literature databases under discussion (Section 4). In the conclusion, the advantages and disadvantages of their use as corpora will be summarized (Section 5).
Methodological know-how has become one of the key qualifications in contemporary linguistics, which has a strong empirical focus. Containing 23 chapters, each devoted to a different research method, this volume brings together the expertise and insight of a range of established practitioners. The chapters are arranged in three parts, devoted to three different stages of empirical research: data collection, analysis and evaluation. In addition to detailed step-by-step introductions and illustrative case studies focusing on variation and change in English, each chapter addresses the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology and concludes with suggestions for further reading. This systematic, state-of-the-art survey is ideal for both novice researchers and professionals interested in extending their methodological repertoires. The book also has a companion website which provides readers with further information, links, resources, demonstrations, exercises and case studies related to each chapter.
Manfred Krug, Department of English and American Studies, University of Bamberg, Germany,
Julia Schlüter, Department of English and American Studies, University of Bamberg, Germany,
Anette Rosenbach, Department of English and American Studies, University of Paderborn, Germany
Language variation and change highlight the fact that language universally involves alternative forms and structures that compete with each other in usage. For instance, speakers of Scottish varieties of English may in certain circumstances front the initial consonant in thing and pronounce it as fing. A speaker from Cumnock in Lowland Scotland or from Portavogie in Northern Ireland may occasionally drop the subject relative pronoun in the man (who) called me was our neighbour. An eighteenth-century speaker and his twenty-first-century descendant may both use kneeled down, although the latter is more likely to use knelt down. As is evident from this arbitrary choice of examples from the present volume, language is inherently variable, both across time (diachronically) and at any specific point in time (synchronically). In the investigation of both synchronic and diachronic linguistic variation, the classic variables relating to the language producer are geographical, stylistic and social in nature. The fact that especially social information (like age, sex, socio-economic class) figures more prominently in the study of more recently produced data follows naturally from the fact that such information is less readily accessible for older data (cf., however, Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003).
For several decades, linguistic research has seen an increasing trend towards empirical methodologies. On the one hand, this has led to a shift in linguistic interest away from the study of single example sentences as manifestations of a monolithic grammar and towards an investigation of (synchronic) variation and (diachronic) change on all levels of linguistic organization. On the other hand, this evolution has transformed many strands of linguistics into branches of an objective science and increased the need for falsifiable and, in many cases, quantifiable data. Consequently, the spectrum of methodologies used in contemporary linguistics has considerably broadened and diversified; different strands of variationist linguistics have developed a wide range of useful techniques for data collection, analysis and evaluation. As a result, methodological know-how has become one of the key qualifications for linguists, both newcomers to the discipline and professional practitioners.
However, it is increasingly difficult even for professionals to keep track of the methodological advances in neighbouring fields of linguistic study: most of the discussion in publications and conference meetings revolves around the findings that have resulted from the successful application of research methods. Too little space and time, at least in our view, is devoted to making the methods explicit and to communicating them in a way that would allow others to replicate them. This lack of methodological transparency results in a situation in which empirical studies run the risk of failing to meet two fundamental principles of objective science: reproducibility and falsifiability. Advanced undergraduate and graduate students are faced with a similar problem: BA, MA and Ph.D. theses are expected to involve original research projects demonstrating their authors’ ability to do empirical research, but many students receive little explicit guidance on questions of methodology – at least beyond the immediate field of their supervisor(s).