Singular YOU WAS/WERE variation and English normative grammars in the eighteenth century

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This article investigates the sociolinguistic processes in singular <i>you was</i> and <i>you were</i> variation in eighteenth-century correspondence. The focus is on the sociolinguistic mechanisms in operation when one variant was established as a standard, high-prestige variant, and the other as a non-standard form. The data are drawn from the <i>Corpus of Early English Correspondence Extension </i>and complemented with evidence from <i>A Representative Corpus of Historical English Registers</i>. The results show that <i>you was</i> peaks before the mid-eighteenth century and gradually becomes a socially stigmatized linguistic marker, as evinced in normative comments in grammars. Men lead the change: the form peaks earlier among men than women who resort to using the <i>were </i>variant longer than men.


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