Change and variation in present-day English: integrating the analysis of closed corpora and web-based monitoring

in Corpus Linguistics and the Web
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Working styles in corpus-linguistic research are changing fast. One traditional constellation, close(d) communities of researchers forming around a specific corpus or set of corpora (the “Brown / LOB community”, “the BNC community”), is becoming increasingly problematical – particularly in the study of ongoing linguistic change and recent and current usage. The present contribution argues that whenever the possibilities of closed corpora are exhausted, it is advisable to turn to the digitised texts which – at least for a language such as English – are supplied in practically unlimited quantity on the world wide web. Web material is most suitable for studies for which large quantities of text and/or very recent texts are required. Specialised chat-rooms and discussion forums may additionally provide an unexpected wealth of material on highly specific registers or varieties not previously documented in corpora to a sufficient extent. On the basis of selected study examples it will be shown that, contrary to widespread scepticism in the field, web texts are appropriate data for variationist studies of medium degrees of delicacy – provided that a few cautionary procedures are followed in the interpretation of the results.

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