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date: 05 July 2020

(p. 15) Rethinking Evidence

How do we know what we know about the history of the English language? The first part of the handbook is concerned with the empirical basis on which research into the history of English is carried out and an evaluation of how secure our knowledge of it is.

The first section, coordinated by Susan Fitzmaurice and Jeremy Smith (1), examines the range of available materials and considers new approaches for the treatment of this evidence. Contributors evaluate the representativeness of textual sources from inscriptions, names, and manuscripts (Hough, 2) and the “edited truth” (Horobin, 4) to corpora (Kytö and Pahta, 9). Gries and Hilpert (10 and website) describe a new method of dividing diachronic corpus data into periods. Archer (11) considers multiple sources for investigating courtroom discourse and the linguistic evidence that can be gleaned from them (website). Sources for the study of sound change are introduced by Beal (5) and in the short illustrative chapters by Shaw (3) and Ritt, Anderson, Corrigan, and Hay (6.1–6.4). Coleman (7) discusses novel uses of dictionaries and thesauruses, and Kretzschmar and Stenroos (8 and website) compare surveys and atlases in historical and modern dialectology. A related topic, perceptual dialectology, is addressed by Montgomery (35 and website) in Part II.

The second section, introduced by Mark Davies (12), highlights recent and ongoing change as evidenced by corpora. Issues concern corpus size and genre balance, data granularity, and low-frequency constructions. Hundt and Leech (13 and website) use standard reference corpora to trace grammatical change in British and American English, and Bowie and Aarts (15) explore a parsed diachronic corpus of spoken BrE. Mukherjee and Schilk (14) combine a reference corpus (ICE) with other sources in their approach to New Englishes. Curzan (16) and Rudanko (17) discuss ongoing developments in AmE verb syntax using COCA and COHA. COHA also provides the data for Hilpert's collostructional NP analysis (18 and website). Mair (19) evaluates the pros and cons of using the Web as a corpus.

Evidence is discussed from the perspective of mass communication in Part II and includes, for example, Biber and Gray's findings on recent register change in AmE (24). The corpora and digital databases referred to in Part I (and throughout the volume) are listed in a separate index at the end of the volume. Sound clips accompany the Web appendices to Corrigan (6.3) and Price (26) in Part II.