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Great or small, fast or slow: assessing extent and speed of change in multiword sequences

Buerki, Andreas ORCID: 2012. Great or small, fast or slow: assessing extent and speed of change in multiword sequences. Presented at: FLaRN 2012, Tilburg, 30 March 2012.

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Multiword sequences, here defined as ‘semi-preconstructed phrases that constitute single choices’ (Sinclair 1991, p. 110), are ubiquitous in language and play an important role in language processing (Wray 2008). The present paper seeks to assess the extent as well as the speed of diachronic change among multiword sequences (MWSs) over a century. There have been a good number of diachronic studies of MWSs, set phrases, constructions and the like, but so far little work has appeared which seeks to quantify diachronic change at a more general level, beyond the investigation of individual MWSs or small groups thereof. In the present study, data from the Swiss Text Corpus, a diachronic corpus of 20 million words of written German, were investigated. The corpus, which covers the period from 1900 to 2000 was divided into segments covering 20 years and MWSs were extracted for each segment. Change was operationalized in terms of the percentage of shared MWSs between different time segments such that a high percentage of shared MWSs indicated a more modest extent of change between periods compared and a low percentage accordingly indicated greater change. Results from this measure were first compared to the extent of synchronic variation in MWSs across different sets of contemporary texts to establish a baseline. Then synchronic variation across four genre groups and the extent of diachronic change among single lexical items was measured and compared. Results indicated that the extent of MWS-change in our data over the 20th century was comparable to variation found on average between contemporary texts of different genres. In addition, the degree of variation between consecutive time periods was only slightly larger than that between different texts of the same period, suggesting a moderate speed of change. References: Alison Wray: Formulaic language: pushing the boundaries. Oxford 2008. John Sinclair: Corpus, Concordance, Collocation. Oxford 1991.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2022 10:21

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