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Differential change in British and American English: Comparing pre- and post-war data

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Chapter Summary

This chapter uses data from the extended Brown family of corpora (see Hundt and Leech, forthcoming), i.e. material from the 1930s, 1960s and 1990s, to study ongoing linguistic change in British and American English (BrE and AmE) in the twentieth century. Since the prequel to the Brown corpus (B-Brown) is still being compiled, this study focuses exclusively on material from the academic writing and general fiction sections of the corpora, which represent registers that have previously been shown to display substantial linguistic differences (see e.g. Leech et al. 2009). The present case study looks at quantitative as well as qualitative changes in the use of the progressive. By extending the time frame into the past, we are able to shed light on the fine-grained differential developments in the two varieties: For instance, BrE and AmE converge in their use of the progressive in the second half of the twentieth century in terms of overall frequency. At the same time, qualitative analyses taking into account text type, tense, aspect and voice, paint a more varied picture of change in the two varieties. It turns out that BrE and AmE sometimes develop in tandem and at other times show divergent trends, and that changes in BrE are not necessarily due to an American influence.



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