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Research programme

Language Use in Past and Present

The research programme Language Use in Past and Present brings together linguists within LUCL whose central focus is both on actual language data, including language use in earlier stages of the language, and, taking a variationist perspective, on language change in various aspects.

Ton van Haaften

Its members apply and develop various methodological and theoretical research models for the purpose of analysing the structural properties of language at all levels of grammar, the use of language and the variation of these in present-day and historical contexts. Approaches adopted and developed in the programme include historical sociolinguistics, linguistic historiography, the philological study of texts belonging to the older language stages, corpus linguistics, cognitive linguistics, functional linguistics, pragmatics, discourse analysis, stylistics, argumentation theory and rhetoric.

Usage-based research

While specific research projects may be relatively more data-driven or more theory-driven, all members of this programme conduct empirical research, and contribute to the understanding of language and language use as such, enabling the development of comprehensive usage-based theories of language, and thus encompassing both structure and usage. For historical analysis this means that it is based on comprehensive philological study of the sources and on close reading of texts within their social, cultural and pragmatic contexts, and it draws on corpus linguistics as a method of analysing the data. At the same time, the research is well informed by the theoretical concepts of modern descriptive and historical linguistics, including historical sociolinguistics. The present-day analyses too are based on close reading of texts, and they draw on corpus linguistics as a method of analysing data within their social, cultural and pragmatic contexts. In addition, this research also makes use of other approaches, including attitude surveys, drawing on both face-to-face interviews and social media in order to gather data. This research is based on several theoretical frameworks, such as cognitive linguistics, construction grammar, cognitive stylistics and argumentation theory.

Among the various topics and lines of research that may be identified within this research programme, two major research domains can be distinguished: (1) historical sociolinguistics and (2) the analysis of present-day language-in-use.

Historical sociolinguistics

Historical sociolinguistics: the study of the driving forces behind sociolinguistic change. This multifaceted research domain comprises various topics: (i) standardisation processes (codification and prescriptivism) in England and the Netherlands; (ii) the study of Dutch and English private letters (17th, 18th and 19th centuries); (iii) the study of fifteenth-century manuscripts in the context of the Canterbury Tales; and (iv) the study of Old Russian birch bark letters and other pre-modern Russian data (inscriptions, charters, conversation manuals).

Analysis of present-day language-in-use

Analysis of present-day language-in-use, aiming at a full understanding of both processes and products of language use in various contexts. Research topics comprise the causal factors constraining these processes and products, and the consequences of language use. Specific topics include: (i) the role of words and constructions in discourse, as instruments that people use in coordinating thoughts, feelings and actions; (ii) the argumentative and rhetorical effects of the choices made by speakers and writers from their verbal repertoire in relation to their communicative goals and the institutional and genre characteristics of the context (narrative, court decisions, political speeches etc.); and (iii) analysis of attitudes to English usage in relation to actual usage in the context of ideologies of prescriptivism and descriptivism and linguistic change.

To achieve its mission, the researchers in this programme cooperate closely in order to benefit from each other’s expertise in the following ways: (i) informal and more formalised meetings; (ii) cooperation in PhD research projects (co-supervision; co-membership of advisory boards and PhD reading and defence committees); and (iii) joint organisation of conferences and other events. They also introduce publishing initiatives in the international context, such as the Advances in Historical Sociolinguistics (John Benjamins Publishing Company; started 2013), and make use of research blogs and other social media platforms for the purpose of building research networks and collecting data for research (e.g. Bridging the Unbridgeable and Late Modern English Letters). In addition, they make data available for researchers and the general public, and collaborate with institutions such as the Leiden Institute for Dutch Lexicology (INL).

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