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Age Cohorts and Individual Participation in Ongoing Changes

Age Cohorts

As mentioned above, one of the advantages of historical studies is the possibility of combining real time and apparent time in a fruitful way. This section gives a survey of a set of ongoing changes among the CEEC informants in both real and apparent time. Let us first have a look at three changes that have been observed over a period of 60 years, broken up into three successive 20-year timespans. The age grouping of the writers is also divided up into 20-year periods.

The changes presented here are relatively late developments, from the end of the sixteenth century and from the seventeenth century. The reason for this choice is the fact that the dates of birth of our early informants are not known as often as for those who lived later. Here again, we shall begin by

Table 5.1. Apparent-time analysis of the use of its, 1620-1681

Time of writing

1620-1639

1640-1659

1660-1681

Percentage by generation

N/Ntotal

%

N/Ntotal

%

N/Ntotal

%

N/Ntotal

%

Year of birth

Before 1580

0/24

0

0/24

0

1580-1599

1/19

5

0/13

0

3/9

33

4/41

10

1600-1619

1/18

6

17/46

37

7/24

29

25/88

28

1620-1639

12/31

39

30/72

42

42/103

41

After 1639

2/8

25

2/8

25

Total

2/61

3

29/90

32

42/113

37

Note: N represents the number of occurrences of its, Ntotal gives the sum of all instances of the variable (its, of it, thereof). Percentages of its. CEEC 1996. Published in Raumolin-Brunberg (1998: 372).

regarding our informants as members of one language community. However, our subcorpus is socially biased, since the years of birth are better known among the upper and middle ranks than among the lower. The bias is systematic, which in fact leads to an improved commensurability of data in terms of social background.3

Our first apparent-time change deals with the introduction of its. The possessive determiner its is discussed as opposed to its two postnominal alternatives, of it and thereof, counted together. The totals in Table 5.1. repeat the rapid growth pattern of the use of its in real time, with an increase from 3 per cent to 32 to 37 per cent.4 The right-hand column describes the proportion of its in the language of successive generations of informants, in other words in apparent time. It also shows a steady rise, from zero instances to 41 per cent for the age cohort born in 1620-1639. The oldest generation, those born before 1580, do not use the new form at all. Contrary to expectations, the youngest age group has quite a small proportion of its, 25 per cent, but the total number of occurrences in their slot, eight, hardly warrants significant conclusions.

The next apparent-time analysis concerns the second rise of the third- person singular suffix -s. Here again, we observe real-time growth in the total use. The choice of the syncopated -s variant increases from 20 per cent for the last two decades of the sixteenth century to 57 per cent and to 75 per cent for the next two 20-year periods (Table 5.2.). The apparent-time column on the right-hand side shows expansion by one generation to the next, from two per cent of -s in the language of those who were born before 1530 up to around 80 per cent of people born in 1590 or later.5

The above two tables offer interesting results concerning the nature of the progression of changes in language communities. Different usage can be

Table 5.2. Apparent-time analysis of the use of third-person -s vs. -th, 1580-1639

Time of writing

1580-1599

1600-1619

1620-1639

Percentage by generation

N/Ntotal

%

N/Ntotal

%

N/Ntotal

%

N/Ntotal

%

Year of birth

Before 1530

1/50

2

1/50

2

1530-1549

52/304

17

4/62

7

56/366

15

1550-1569

61/216

28

161/272

59

88/103

85

310/591

52

1570-1589

2/2

139/209

67

161/264

61

302/475

64

1590-1609

26/33

79

278/340

82

304/373

82

1610-1629

58/75

77

58/75

77

Total

116/572

20

330/576

57

585/782

75

Note: N represents the number of occurrences of -s, Ntotal gives the sum of all instances of the variable (-s and -th). Percentages of -s. CEEC 1998 and Supplement, quota sample.

observed between the age groups, and hence it seems correct to speak about generational change, which Labov (1994: 84) says is the type of change that occurs in phonology and morphology. All columns in the tables also speak for generational differences in linguistic choices.6

On the other hand, if we look at the longitudinal linguistic behaviour of different age groups, the generational pattern does not emerge as expected. The argument that people at an early age acquire the forms and frequencies they will use all their lives does not seem true for these changes, not at least in the quantitative sense. For example, people born 1600-1619 increase their use of its with time, as Table 5.1. indicates. Similarly, the age group 15501569 in Table 5.2. employs the shorter form -s instead of the syllabic -eth to a steadily growing degree.

On the basis of this information Labov's argument (1994: 84) about the difference between generational and communal change appears too categorical. It seems that, at least for morphological changes, generational and communal patterns operate simultaneously. Our results do not lend support to Labov's argument (e.g. 2001: 447) that the critical age for linguistic change ends at 17, by which age an individual's language has more or less stabilized. However, it is quite possible that phonology, Labov's object of study, differs from morphosyntax in this respect.

In section 5.1 age-grading was discussed, and it was suggested that the possible effects of age-grading should be taken into consideration in apparent-time studies. Tables 5.1. and 5.2. give us an opportunity to compare the linguistic choices of similar age groups, for instance the oldest and the youngest speakers, during different periods. Table 5.2. shows that the oldest speakers hardly choose the new form at all until the last period when the use

Table 5.3. Apparent-time analysis of the diminishing use of relative adverbs, 1620-1681

Time of writing

1620-1639

1640-1659

1660-1681

Percentage by generation

N/Ntotal

%

N/Ntotal

%

N/Ntotal

%

N/Ntotal

%

Year of birth

1550-1569

12/31

39

3/8

38

0/2

15/41

37

1570-1589

13/37

35

23/45

51

12/25

48

48/107

45

1590-1609

26/44

59

10/31

32

24/59

41

60/134

45

1610-1629

1/2

0/3

19/95

20

20/100

20

1630-1649

7/14

50

7/14

50

Total

52/114

46

36/87

41

62/195

32

Note: N represents the number of occurrences of relative adverbs (where plus about, after, by, on, to, unto, upon, with). Ntotal gives the sum of all instances of the variable (relative adverbs and prepositional phrases with (the) which plus about, after, by, on, to, unto, upon, with, either pied piping or stranding). Percentages of relative adverbs. CEEC 1998 and Supplement.

of -s almost explodes (from 2 and 7 per cent to 85 per cent). The very youngest generation, those below 30 years of age, do not change their usage between the second and third period at all (79 and 77 per cent). It seems that, whereas in the middle period the oldest informants had not begun to use the new form, during the third period 1620-1639 all age groups had the -s suffix as their major alternative.

Table 5.3. describes a development in which the apparent-time model does not work as nicely as for the other two changes. The object of study is the use of relative adverbs (e.g. whereby) as opposed to prepositional phrases with the which and which (e.g. by ( the) which). Relative adverbs decreased in frequency in the seventeenth century, as the real-time totals show.7 Here we would expect diminishing use by the generation, but that only happens between the age groups 1590-1609 and 1610-1629, and a rise follows this drop. On the other hand, if we exclude this last rise because of the small number of occurrences, and only look at the middle and the last period, the expected fall can be discerned in the use of adverbs among the younger generations. Although Table 5.3. does not present as neat a development as the other two, it nevertheless indicates the expected direction of change.

The above results as well as earlier studies carried out with the CEEC material data show that the combination of real- and apparent-time analysis increases our understanding of the way linguistic changes progress among populations. It suggests that generational and communal change go hand in hand.

As mentioned above, the most acute difficulty with diachronic apparenttime studies is connected with the data, i.e. the lack of birth dates of a large

Table 5.4. The subject pronoun you vs. ye and third-person singular suffix -s vs. -th (excluding have and do) in London wool-merchants' language

Time of writing

1472-1488 Cely family

1542-1553 Johnson circle

you vs. ye

N/Ntotal

%

N/Ntotal

%

Older generation

0/126

0

29/446

7

Younger generation

5/231

2

336/1073

31

Supplementary corpus

45/222

20

106/107

99

-s vs. -th

Older generation

0/14

0

27/127

21

Younger generation

96/136

71

22/400

6

Supplementary corpus

19/93

20

2/78

3

Note: N represents the number of occurrences of you and -s, respectively, Ntotal the sum of all instances of the variables (you and ye; -s and -th). Percentages of you and -s, respectively. CEEC 1996. Adapted from Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg (1998).

proportion of informants. The missing years of birth can be compensated for by choosing informants from one and the same family, in which case the relative age of the people is known to us. Parents, children and grandchildren as well as masters and apprentices represent different generations, although we do not know their exact lifespans. Even better, the social and geographical settings of families either remain constant or involve changes that can be used in interpretations.

Table 5.4. describes two ongoing changes in the Late Middle and Early Modern English in the language of two wealthy wool-merchant families active in London and Calais. Five people of the medieval Cely family have left letters to posterity: Richard Cely senior, his brother John, and Richard's three sons Robert, Richard and George (for details, see Hanham 1985). As regards the sixteenth-century Johnson family, there are letters by three brothers, John, Otwell and Richard. Their correspondence has been complemented by letters written by Anthony Cave, John's and Richard's master, representing the older generation, and John Johnson's brother-in-law, a wool-merchant called Ambrose Saunders (for details, see Winchester 1955). To make sure that the usage among the Celys and Johnsons was not fully idiosyncratic, the family corpora were supplemented by letters written by other contemporary wool-merchants.8 (For further details, see Raumolin- Brunberg 1996a.)

As Table 5.4. indicates, the older generation of Celys did not participate in either of the changes at all. The younger Celys seem quite advanced in their use of the -s suffix, but their employment of you lagged behind their peers' usage. Seventy years later, both the older and the younger generation of the Johnson circle had higher figures for their use of you than the Celys, but they appear quite conservative in relation to their contemporaries. As regards the choice of the third-person suffix, the apparent-time data testify to what we have seen to happen in real time in section 4.4.7. above, i.e. a reversal of the variants. The younger generation have a smaller frequency of -s than the older. In this change, the two Cely generations represent a case in which the apparent-time analysis does not predict correctly the future course of the developments. Seen against the general background of social stratification to be presented in Chapter 7, this shift seems to be linked with Labov's argument (2001: 76) that, in a change from below, a reversal may take place as correction from above. The interior social groups, represented by merchants in our case, are likely to react to changes in the social value of particular linguistic variants.

The range of variation among the younger generation, for both the Celys and the Johnsons, is very broad. As regards the third-person suffix of the younger Celys, the use of -s varies between zero and 95 per cent, while the employment of you among the younger Johnson circle extends from 3 to 98 per cent (Nevalainen & Raumolin-Brunberg 1998). This variation is not easy to explain, but some factors might be found in the regional background of the families (see section 8.3.).9

Using family members as informants for a close study can be illuminating even if the years of birth are known, since this method lets us keep the external constraints under control. For instance, interesting results have been acquired from a comparison of the language of Lord Keeper and Privy Councillor Sir Nicholas Bacon, born in 1510, with the variants chosen by his two sons Nathaniel, probably born in 1546, and Edward, born in 1548, both country gentlemen from East Anglia. Their letters are available from 1569 to 1594.

All three informants had adopted you as their second-person subject pronoun, except that the father had a few instances of ye (2 per cent). Sir Nicholas only used relative adverbs, such as whereby, while both sons frequently chose the analytic alternative, the prepositional phrase, e.g. by which. Nathaniel's score is 39 per cent (15 out of 39 occurrences) and Edward's 60 per cent (3 out of 5). Similarly, the father was more conservative in his choice of the object of the gerund, as he only used the of- phrase, like in for usynge of it10, whereas Nathaniel and Edward favoured the zero form, as in of recovering his money11 (53 per cent, 65/123, and 81 per cent, 13/16, respectively). The behaviour of the two generations creates a good apparenttime pattern, the sons preferring the incoming alternatives.

In the use of the third-person singular this pattern is not repeated. Sir Nicholas was the most advanced user of -s in the family, 13 per cent (9 out of 68 occurrences), while Edward had no -s suffixes at all and Nathaniel only used it in the phrase methinks. This happened during a time when the use of -s was undergoing a rapid increase (Figure 4.9 in Chapter 4), and an apparent-time pattern could be expected.

It seems that the different behaviour within the Bacon family can be explained by geographical and social differences. Sir Nicholas was a government official who spent much time in London, whereas the sons moved in narrower spheres of life in East Anglia. As London was leading the change from -th to -s, it was natural of the father to participate in this change, while the sons relied on their local -th variant. Regional differences will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter 8.

 
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