Empirically Charting the Success of Prescriptivism: Some Case Studies of Nineteenth-century English

In: From Data to Evidence in English Language Research


This paper presents results from detailed case studies of language change documented for nineteenth-century English, correlated with quantitative results from prescriptive grammars of the time. I argue that overall, visible prescriptive effects are quite rare, but they do exist. Measurable effects on language change seem to be text-type specific, short in duration, small in scale, and reversible. Thus, effects of prescriptivism on actual language (as documented in corpora) seem to amount to the temporary slow-down of the rise of an innovative feature, or the temporary halt in the decline of an obsolescent feature.


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