Diachrony and social diffusion

As stated above, we will first look into social effects on the diffusion of w-forms. Drawing on both subcorpora, we will also establish diachronic differences. We extracted all relative adverbs and relative prononimal adverbs beginning with d and w from the two subcorpora, along with their syntactic context. A few ambiguous examples were excluded, mainly because it was impossible to tell if the adverbs introduced a main clause or a subclause for lack of a finite verb. In some cases, a d-form such as daer ‘there’ could also be interpreted as a conjunction fulfilling an argumentative function, usually a temporal, adversative or concessive function (while, whereas, although), which is a grammaticalized result of the relative adverb. Example (8), taken from subcorpus 1, has the free relative daer which contains an “implied antecedent” and could therefore be interpreted as there where, but also as a concessive. In example (9) from subcorpus 2, a temporal or adversative interpretation is favored.

(8) god ... dancken ende loeuen voor de genaede die heij aen ons beweijst

god . . . thank and praise for the mercy that he to us shows

daer weij sulcke kinderen van verderf sijn

REL / CONJ we such children of doom are

‘[we should] thank God and praise Him for the mercy which He shows to us there where / although / even though we are such children of doom’

(9) danke inmiddels de Heere voor onze gelukkige behoudenis daar

thank meanwhile the Lord for our happy safety REL / CONJ

zoo veel andere haar leeven hebben moeten laaten

so many others their life have must let

‘meanwhile, I thank the Lord for our happy safety there where / while so many others have lost their lives’

While the concessive interpretation although, even though may be preferred in (8), it is still possible to interpret daer as a locative expression: it is in the metaphorical position of doom where man finds himself that God nevertheless shows mercy to him. In cases such as (8), daer allows the grammaticalized argu?mentative function but can also be interpreted as the relative adverb. Similarly, in (9), the writer is safe, which is a “location” or position that many others have not been able to reach. The temporal/adversative interpretation is clearly favored, but it is also clear how it has grammaticalized from the locative expression. 6 to 7% of the data are such grammaticalized forms (17 tokens in subcorpus 1, and 44 in subcorpus 2), which we did not exclude from the results.

For the seventeenth century, this procedure resulted in 269 relative clauses, 150 of which beginning with a d-relativizer, and 119 with a w-relativizer, which amounts to 56% d-forms and 44% w-forms respectively. In subcorpus 2, we found 598 relative clauses, 169 of which with a d-forms, and 429 with a w-form, amounting to 28% d-relativization and 72% w-relativization. See Table 3.

Table 3: Relativization across time in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century subcorpora










Subcorpus 1







Subcorpus 2







The corpus results confirm the ongoing spread of the incoming w-relativizers, rising from less than fifty percent in subcorpus 1 from the 1660s/1670s to over seventy percent in subcorpus 2 from the 1770s/1780s.

Focusing on the social diffusion of the change, we investigated the distribution across social rank. Figure 1 presents the proportion of w-relativizers across social rank and time. The black columns represent the results from subcorpus 1, the grey columns those from subcorpus 2.

Proportion of w-relativizers in subcorpora 1 and 2, across time and social class

Figure 1: Proportion of w-relativizers in subcorpora 1 and 2, across time and social class

Figure 1 shows that the increase in w-forms holds when the data are split up by social rank, the grey columns being consistently higher than the black columns. Figure 1 also shows that there are clear social differences with regard to the appropriation of the incoming form. In subcorpus 1, with data from the seventeenth century, the LC are below 20% w-forms, whereas the LMC, the UMC and the UC are between 40 and 50%. In the eighteenth-century results based on subcorpus 2, the LC has risen to over 40%, while the other ranks have progressed to almost 60% in the LMC and to approximately 75% in the UMC and the UC. The spread of w-relativizers clearly displays social diffusion, the upper ranks of society using the new forms more often than the lower ranks in both periods. In other words, both in the 1660s/1670s and in the 1770s/1780s the change from d- to w-relativization constitutes a classic example of a change from above in the social sense, confirming our hypothesis about the social diffusion of the change.

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