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English usage and corpus linguistics in C21

1 April 2015

Presenter: Emeritus Professor Pam Peters FAHA

Seminar presented 09 September 2014

Professor Peters examined English usage books as a genre, noting that these typically are at once a-historic (the language as it is described in the usage guide is presented as timeless) and highly dated, reflecting attitudes to language and society current at the time of writing.

Algeo’s 1991 7-level scale of usage books (the author’s own prejudices, concocted examples, contrast of ‘common’ and ‘learned’) was examined as a seminal work, and the departure point for an approach to usage description that mines corpora for evidence. [Algeo, J. (1991). Sweet are the usages of diversity. Word, 42.]

The datum / data pair was traced using GloWBE.

In closing, Professor Peters pitched the all-round usefulness of corpora for both quantitative and qualitative inquiry, for psycholinguistic research, and of course for lexicography, historical linguistics, and language variance.

Additional notes:

I follow John Algeo on and noted a pre-cursor (1987) paper of his which he uploaded: ‘What makes good English good?‘, in The legacy of language: a tribute to Charlton Laird, ed. P. C. Boardman, University of Nevada Press. It discusses, among other things, the seventeenth century grammar wars.

Relevance to study:

This seminar was chiefly interesting to me in Peters’ own use of usage works as evidence of historical attitudes and theoretical approaches to language. This is a warrant for my hope to use found examples of linguistic commentary in the envisaged PhD.


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