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Plenary speakers

We’re delighted to announce our plenary speakers.

Claudia Claridge (University of Augsburg)

A bit of a challenge: Researching understatement in the history of English

Historical pragmatics has meanwhile become a thriving field, but interestingly a major early impetus for pragmatics, viz. the Gricean concern with non-natural meaning and implicatures, is hardly visible there. There is no trace of figurative language in the only extant textbook (Jucker & Taavitsainen 2013), while the Handbook of Historical Pragmatics (Jucker & Taavitsainen 2010) contains only one relevant chapter (Nerlich’s ‘Metaphor and metonymy’). Apart from the obvious semantic interest, uses like understatement are also of interest for polite behaviour.
References to understatement (as well as litotes/meiosis) in historical research thus seem to be rare. Wierzbicka (2006) points out that not only is understatement a striking characteristic of British speakers ... read full abstract.

Bettelou Los (University of Edinburgh)

How is “given information” expressed in the history of English? An investigation into subjects and “local anchors”

Investigations into word order change in the history of English has over the years uncovered a number of broad patterns, but there remains a sizeable area of unexplained syntactic variation. Much of the syntactic variation recorded is possibly not only a matter of competing grammars, but might be motivated by information-structure considerations. Few people would deny that syntax and information interact, but even synchronic investigations run into difficulties not only because of the proliferation of information-structure terms and definitions (“Given” and “New,” topic and comment, topic and focus, background and focus, theme and rheme, Common Ground, presupposed information and pragmatically unrecoverable information) but also because getting reasonable interrater agreement rates when annotating a corpus of natural texts with such labels has proved problematic. For a diachronic investigation, these problems are multiplied because ... read full abstract.

Peter Petré (University of Antwerp)

Brains versus people in Early Modern English. Syntactic change as a socially embedded emergent phenomenon

Language change has typically been studied at the aggregate level, yet it is individual behaviours that change to bring about such change. Assuming that language is a complex adaptive system (Beckner et al. 2009), I show how macro-properties of grammaticalizing constructions can be accounted for as an unintended effect of intentional individual interactions. These dynamics are exemplified by various developments in seventeenth and eighteenth-century English as represented in 50 prolific writers (brought together in the EMMA-corpus, Petré et al. 2019), including the grammaticalization of be going to, the copularization of ‘get’, and the increasing productivity of prepositional passives. For each of these types of evidence it will be shown that individuals continue to innovate/adopt innovations beyond adolescence, but do so in different ways, depending on their age and community of practice. These differences lead to a higher degree of variation, which prepares a changing construction for its next leap. Also, leaders of change are followed by both older and younger adopters, but whereas older adopters will conservatively constrain innovative usage ...read full abstract.

George Walkden (University of Konstanz)

Parataxis and hypotaxis in the history of English

The claim that parataxis precedes hypotaxis in language is often found in the traditional literature on language change (e.g. Delbrück 1900: 411; Small 1924: 125) and reiterated in more recent works with a functionalist orientation (e.g. Jucker 1991: 203; Deutscher 2001: ch. 11; Dąbrowska 2015: 230). However, the empirical evidence usually offered in support of the claim is flimsy at best. In this plenary lecture I revisit the question based on new data from parsed historical corpora. I show, first, that ‘parataxis > hypotaxis’ can be, and has been, understood in several different ways: any theoretical claim needs to be explicit on precisely what parataxis and hypotaxis are, and how they relate to each other over time. I focus on one version of the claim: the idea that ... read full abstract.

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