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date: 12 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Two apparently contradictory developments have been associated with the history of the English language over the past 200 years: the increasing use of colloquial linguistic forms (associated with 'popularization') and the increasing use of compressed linguistic forms (associated with 'economy'). Both forces have influenced all written registers to some extent. But as this chapter shows, these developments have been mediated by register differences. Based on an analysis of three registers (1800-2000) that differ in their intended audiences and communicative purposes, the chapter describes historical patterns of change for both colloquial and compression features. ‘Popular’ written registers (e.g., fiction) take the lead in the increased use of colloquial features (e.g., pronouns, contractions, semi-modals). In contrast, ‘specialist informational’ registers (e.g., academic research writing) take the lead in the increased use of economy features (e.g., phrasal modifiers of nouns). This results in a major increase in the use of colloquial features in fiction, a major increase in the reliance on phrasal (rather than clausal) discourse styles in academic writing, and increases in both sets of features in 'popular informational' newspaper reportage.

Keywords: English, written registers, orality, informalization, colloquialization, popularization, economy, fiction, newspapers, science, prose

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