Lifespan changes in the language of three early modern gentlemen

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This article examines the participation of three English gentlemen in ongoing grammatical changes across their lifespans. Based on personal letters from several decades, the study shows that Sir Walter Ralegh (1554–1618), Philip Gawdy (1562–1617) and John Chamberlain (1553–1628) changed their language in adulthood. The findings question the view that an adult’s grammar, once acquired, would be fixed. However, there is significant divergence between the informants, Chamberlain being the most stable, and the other two participating in the changes to a greater degree. Age, ambitions, and geographical and social migration are considered as possible reasons for their behaviour. The changes studied include possessives <i>my/thy</i> vs <i>mine/thine</i>, third-person suffix -s vs -th, affirmative and negative <i>do</i> and subject relativiser who.


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