The progressive and phrasal verbs: Evidence of colloquialization in nineteenth-century English?

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The present study, which is based on the CONCE corpus, considers two linguistic features that are characteristic of spoken rather than written production: the progressive and phrasal verbs. The frequency development of these features in nineteenth-century English is examined in relation to contemporaneous changes in British society. The results show that the most informal genres in the corpus, comedies and private letters, exhibit increasing frequencies, while the formal genre of scientific writing displays stability. These results are shown to be partly similar to those reached in studies of late twentieth-century English, where the progressive and phrasal verbs increase in frequency in some written genres but not others. In previous research, this development has been taken to be part of an ongoing colloquialization of genre norms, which has in turn been linked to the democratization of discourse in post-1945 Western society. The present study demonstrates that related developments can be identified in nineteenth-century Britain, which implies that the concept of colloquialization may explain some of the stability and change attested in the data.


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