Abstract Prof.dr. Douglas Biber

Douglas Biber is Regents Professor of Applied Linguistics at Northern Arizona University (United States of America). His abstract for the SAD 2011 conference can be found here.

Being specific about historical change: The influence of sub-register

This paper argues that historical linguistic change is mediated by register differences at a much more specific level than has been previously recognized. The paper begins by reviewing previous research that establishes the importance of general register differences for descriptions of both synchronic and diachronic patterns of linguistic variation. Historical research is especially problematic, because corpus materials are more difficult to collect, making it more difficult to ensure that the ‘same’ register is being compared across historical periods. In fact, the present paper argues that seemingly minor differences in register can correspond to meaningful differences in historical development. Two specific case studies from 20th century historical change are presented. The first compares the patterns of change in a corpus of articles from Time Magazine to those found in a corpus of articles from the New York Times, showing how the differing readerships and purposes of magazines versus newspapers results in different historical-linguistic patterns of use. The second case study then compares the patterns of change in three corpora of academic articles: professional science research articles, professional non-science research articles, and popular science articles. The last of these register categories is represented by articles from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and the journal Science; these journals have changed in purpose and readership over the last century, making them quite different from professional research articles in recent years. In conclusion, these case studies are interpreted relative to current practice in historical studies, to argue for more rigor in the standards of comparison required for comparative research.


Last Modified: 09-05-2011