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“I found it somewhat untidy”: The socio-pragmatics of downtoners in the Old Bailey Corpus
University of Augsburg.
Mid Sweden University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Humanities. Uppsala Universitet.
Uppsala Universitet.
2017 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Intensifiers are usually taken to comprise amplifiers (e.g. perfect(ly), very) marking a high degree of the scale, and downtoners (e.g. partly, scarcely) marking a low degree of the scale. Despite the growing body of research on intensifiers (e.g. Bolinger 1972, Peters 1993, Méndez-Naya 2008), only relatively little is known about their development in Late Modern English and this is especially true of downtoners. Of special interest are speech-related genres, as intensifiers have been shown to occur particularly in speech in Present-day English (Paradis 2008: 321; Biber et al 1999).For our data, we will turn to the Old Bailey Corpus (OBC 2.0), which includes ca. 24 million words, from 1720 to 1913. Owing to lack of audiorecorded data and speech-based data in general from the period, these records provide an opportunity to approach the speech of the period albeit via writing and a fairly formal setting.We will investigate downtowners, a category of intensifiers comprising diminishers and minimizers. The following items are represented in the material in modest to substantial numbers:slight(ly), mild(ly), partial(ly), part(ly), somewhat, least, faint(ly), thin(ly), light(ly), sparing(ly), moderate(ly), bare(ly), hard(ly), scarce(ly), scant(ly/ily)–as well as quiteand little, which will be disregarded here due to the former’s multifunctionality and the latter’s high frequency (to be treated in a separate study). In terms of methodology, our approach draws on principles of corpus linguistics, historical pragmatics and historical sociolinguistics and aims at both quantitative and qualitative insights. We seek to answer the following research questions:

•Which of the downtoner forms gain ground and which forms are on their way out?

•What are the targets that speakers in the courtroom modify by using downtoners (verbs, adjectives, oradverbs)? What effects are conveyed by these uses (hedging, vagueness, precision etc.)?

•How restricted/formulaic or flexible are individual downtoner types, both with regard to forms and to co-occurrences? Are there specific collocational preferences and do these change over time?

•What are the distributions of the forms across various types of speakers with regard to speakers’ social (e.g. gender and rank) and functional (e.g. judge, witness) roles? Which are the most innovative/conservative types ofusers in sociolinguistic respects?

Comparisons will also be drawn to the results of our previous work on amplifiers. Our findings can be expected to reveal new information on the pragmatics of intensifiers 8 and their distributions across functional speaker roles over the important Late Modern English period.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
National Category
General Language Studies and Linguistics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-31452OAI: oai:DiVA.org:miun-31452DiVA, id: diva2:1134895
Conference
The Sixth International Conference on Late Modern English (LMEC 6): Internal and External Factors in Linguistic Stability and Language Change,August 17–19, 2017, Uppsala
Available from: 2017-08-21 Created: 2017-08-21 Last updated: 2018-01-13Bibliographically approved

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Jonsson, Ewa

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CiteExportLink to record
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Citation style
  • apa
  • ieee
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