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Nicholas Smith

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There is a fair degree of consensus that progressive aspect has undergone a substantial growth in use in late modern English, but so far few studies have systematically exploited corpus data to reveal the extent to which changes are still going on. The availability of ‘matching’ one-million word corpora of recent written English, namely the British LOB and FLOB corpora dating from 1961 and 1991 respectively, and their American counterparts Brown and Frown, allows some redressing of the balance: Mair and Hundt (1995) have found that in the newspaper sections of these corpora some functions of the progressive already existing in the 1960s become more common in the 1990s. This paper aims to extend the analysis by exploring the full versions of the British corpora, looking at a wider range of variables. The most striking rise in the progressive occurs in the present tense, where it is realised by a wider range of verb types (increasingly with a contracted auxiliary verb), and appears increasingly far more in main clauses than in subordinate clauses. However, as cautioned by Mair and Hundt, the impression of ‘pure’ grammatical change is somewhat clouded by evidence in the written corpora of stylistic change, in particular a drift towards more colloquial speech habits.

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Nicholas H. Smith

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Geoffrey Leech and Nicholas Smith

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The quartet of corpora analysed in this paper are the Brown Corpus (AmE, 1961), LOB Corpus (BrE, 1961) Frown Corpus (AmE, 1992) and FLOB Corpus (BrE, 1991). The POS-tagged versions of these matching corpora provide the basis for tracking frequency changes in grammatical usage in written English 1961-1991/2 and for comparing similar changes in AmE and BrE. For example, there have been significant increases in the use of semi-modals, the present progressive, that-relativization, nouns (in particular proper nouns), s-genitives, and verb and negative contractions. Counterbalancing some of these changes, there have been significant decreases in the use of core modals, the passive voice, wh-relativization, and of-genitives. In general, the changes in AmE are more extreme than those in BrE. We discuss these changes in terms of general diachronic processes, particularly socially determined processes such as colloquialization and Americanization.

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Geoffrey Leech and Nicholas Smith

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The creation of the Lanc-31 corpus (familiarly known as B-LOB - ‘Before LOB’) completes a trio of matching corpora of standard written British English 1931- 1961 - 1991 on the model of the Brown corpus. The short-term history of English in the twentieth century can therefore now be examined using three equidistant broadly-sampled and comparable corpora of the written language, and it is possible to trace how far trends of change already observed in the comparison of LOB (1961) and F-LOB (1991) have themselves been undergoing change over the period in question.

We will present in outline the recent history of a considerable range of grammatical features insofar as it can be learned from frequency counts from these three equivalently-sampled corpora. In many cases examined, the trend of increasing or decreasing frequency observed in the later period (1961-91) is found to be a continuation of a similar trend in the earlier period (1931-61). In other cases there is change in the rate or direction of change. In other words, there is both constancy and change in the rate of change. We provide tentative explanations of these changes, where appropriate, in terms of grammaticalization, colloquialization, Americanization and densification. Comparable developments in American English, based on analysis of the equivalent Brown and Frown corpora, are traced for the 1961-92 period, and provide insight into the relation between the two regional varieties, mostly showing AmE trends to be in advance of those for BrE.

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Nicholas H. Smith

The chapter begins by contrasting two approaches to the analysis of hope, one which takes its departure from a view broadly shared by Hobbes, Locke and Hume, another which fits better with Aquinas’s definition of hope. The former relies heavily on a sharp distinction between the cognitive and conative aspects of hope. It is argued that while this approach provides a valuable source of insights, its focus is too narrow and it rests on a problematic rationalist psychology. The chapter then discusses the phenomenology of hope with particular reference to the contrast between the lived experience of expectation and anticipation. This leads to a discussion of the value of hope. My thesis here is that when philosophers reflect on hope, they bring along background, tacit assumptions regarding its worth, which I attempt to make explicit. Finally the chapter identifies a second kind of philosophical reflection on hope, which is concerned not so much with the logic or value of hope as with hope understood as a ‘principle.’

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Colloquium 6

How the Prisoners in Plato's Cave are "Like Us"

NICHOLAS D. SMITH

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Nicholas D. Smith

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Geoffrey Leech, Nicholas Smith and Paul Rayson

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This paper has two related purposes. First, our goal is to explain the results of recent research on twentieth century British (as well as American) English, using equivalent corpora of general written (published) English known as the ‘Brown Family’ of corpora. Limiting our attention to British corpora, the ‘Brown Family’ contains three matching corpora of a million words each, the BLOB, LOB and F-LOB corpora, sampled at roughly thirty-year intervals (1931±31 years, 1961 and 1991). (A fourth corpus from 1901±3 is under development, and one-third of it will be used in the latter part of this paper.) These enable us to trace the changing history of written (published) British English over a sixty-year period. Through changes in frequency in grammatical categories and constructions across a variety of genres, we observe largely consistent patterns of change which lend themselves to explanations in terms of what may be called general stylistic trends. To these trends we give such names as colloquialization (movement towards spoken norms of usage), densification (movement towards denser or more compact expression of meaning) and democratization (the trend towards avoidance of discrimination or inequality in the linguistic treatment of individuals). Only the first two of these trends will be explored in this paper.

In the second part of the paper, we show how general stylistic norms, such as are provided by the ‘Brown Family’ corpora, can be used as a reference norm against which statistical deviations identify some of the characteristic features of style of an individual author or an individual text. For this we make use of Rayson’s Wmatrix software (http://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/wmatrix/) for comparing (groups of) texts in terms of lexical, grammatical and semantic characteristics. Although the comparison is in some respects lacking in accuracy, it identifies typical style markers of an individual text, ordering them in terms of their differentness from the reference norm. It remains to be seen how far this computational technique can place the elusive notion of authorial style on an objective footing, but results so far are promising.

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Nicholas H. Smith and Jean-Philippe Deranty