Corpus-Based Lifespan Change in Late Middle English
Juan Manuel Hernandez-Campoy
Research based on historical collections of private written correspondence has demonstrated the relevance of personal letters in reconstructing the sociolinguistic contexts of language variation and change in real social interaction as it occurred in remote periods throughout the life of the letter writers (see Nevala and Palander-Collin 2005; Dossena and Fitzmaurice 2006; Nevalainen and Tanskanen 2007; Dossena and Tieken-Boon van Ostade 2008; Sairio 2009; Dossena and Del Lungo Camiciotti 2012; van der Wal and Rutten 2013; Auer et al. 2015, inter alia). Methodologically, such archival sources can also be instrumental in the application of longitudinal approaches, facilitating the study of language variation and change within the individual and enhancing our understanding of its mechanisms and motivations. In essence, these data provide us with a privileged perspective on the historical reconstruction of inter-speaker variability where ‘real-time’ problems typical in longitudinal research, including the observer’s paradox, changes in research methods as well as the attrition of the speaker pool typical for panel datasets, are resolved.1 These data also provide an ideal testing ground for the uniformitarian hypothesis on the basis of a within-speaker design.
The aim of this chapter is to show the relevance of written correspondence from past communities in tracing sociolinguistic patterns and tendencies of language development, cross-sectionally and longitudinally, across the lifespan of individuals. To this purpose, this chapter investigates the diffusion of a new spelling practice, a change in progress, in late medieval England which resulted in what was becoming the incipient Standard English norm in orthography. In their longitudinal study on the replacement of the old runic spelling <ф> with the Latin-based
(1994) change-from-above. Figure 7.1, adapted from Conde-Silvestre and Hernandez-Campoy (2013: 293), shows how the incoming
The Paston Letters are particularly interesting for a historical study of language variation and change because they were written during the transition from Middle English to early Modern English (Bergs 2005). The research question this study seeks to address is to what extent the community-wide change towards the
Figure 7.1 Adoption of the innovative
2018b), and Evans (2013). This approach thus represents a shift from the collectivity of the speech community to the individuality of specific speakers (see also MacKenzie 2014; Buchstaller et al. 2021; Harrington and Reubold 2021; Rickford 2021; inter alia).