11. The use of the it-cleft construction in 19th-century English
This chapter offers a new description of the use of the <i>it</i>-cleft construction in nineteenth-century English. The data for the present study are primarily from historical corpora (a corpus of nineteenth-century English, CONCE, and the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts), but findings from modern corpora and studies of cleft constructions in present-day English (e.g. Collins 1991) are also presented. The results show that <i>it</i>-clefts become more frequent in the 19th century and particularly in speech-related texts, such as trials. This is contrary to both earlier and later periods of English, where <i>it</i>-clefts are more common in written English. The chapter discusses how the structure of the <i>it</i>-cleft and its thematic organisation may have contributed to its increased frequency in 19th-century English. An in-depth analysis of the forms and functions of <i>it</i>-clefts in trials, the genre that most closely represents spoken English of the period, is provided.