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date: 12 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Over the past forty years, empirical research in English linguistics has increasingly relied on material drawn from a wide range of electronic corpora. In particular, the history of the English language has emerged as an area where electronic resources and various kinds of search tools represent a true revolution in the way research has been carried out to investigate mechanisms involved in language change, as well as the factors possibly accounting for it. Examples of areas of linguistic study where corpora have proved particularly influential include historical sociolinguistics, historical pragmatics, historical dialectology, historical variation analysis, genre and register studies, cognitive linguistics, and historical lexicology and lexicography. This article examines the representativeness and reliability of historical corpora as evidence for the history of English up to 1900. It first considers relevant issues associated with representativeness of electronic corpora as evidence of past language use. It then looks at some challenges concerning the reliability of sources and the language-external background information that is available for providing the contextual parameters of texts in historical corpora.

Keywords: evidence, history, sources, English, historical corpora, representativeness, language use, reliability, language change, linguistics

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