This study reports on recent changes in the use of the hedges kind of and sort of in spoken British English over the past twenty years. A quantitative analysis of these features within subsets of the original BNC 1994 (BNC Consortium 2007) and BNC 2014 (Love et al. 2017) suggests a systematic encroaching of kind of into contexts that are traditionally occupied by sort of. This is highlighted in apparent-time patterns in which younger speakers are leading in use as well as real-time patterns that show a significant increase in use between 1994 and 2014.
The hedges sort of and kind of are often treated as semantically equivalent, yet show distributional differences across different varieties of English. This article reports on an ongoing shift in the use of kind of as well as a relatively stable use of sort of. Its main focus is a detailed sociolinguistic analysis of both variants, which, in addition to social factors involved, teases apart some of the linguistic aspects of this shift.
In line with the theme of this special issue, the article draws attention to the usefulness of comparable, or comparably made, corpora that allow for focused studies of linguistic change across speakers, generations, registers and communities.