The great regression

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Utilizing the variationist method, this contribution is concerned with the alternation between the <i>s</i>-genitive (<i>the president&#8217;s speech</i>) and the <i>of</i>-genitive (<i>the speech of the president</i>) in Late Modern English news prose as sampled in ARCHER. A frequency analysis reveals that text frequencies of the <i>s</i>-genitive collapsed in the early 19th century, but recovered afterwards. Linear regression analysis indicates that slightly over half of this frequency variability is induced by &#8220;environmental&#8221; changes in the news genre habitat, such as varying input frequencies of human possessors. To investigate the remaining variability, we fit a logistic regression model and show that genitive choice grammars changed genuinely in regard to four language-internal conditioning factors: POSSESSOR ANIMACY, GENITIVE RELATION, POSSESSUM LENGTH, and POSSESSOR THEMATICITY. Applying customary grammaticalization diagnostics, we conclude that while the <i>s</i>-genitive was subject to grammaticalization in the 19th century, it actually degrammaticalized during the 20th century.


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