Home Language & Literature Historical Sociolinguistics: Language Change in Tudor and Stuart England
Possessive determiner its
The new possessive determiner its gained ground in the seventeenth century, and just exceeded the frequency of 30 per cent by the 1680s, where our corpus ends. No gender differentiation can be observed if we consider the data in 40-year periods. However, periodization by 20 years reveals that the two sexes have different rates in adopting its in the last period, 1660-81 (see Figure 6.3). Although the absolute figures for an incipient change like this are low, the tendency is worth noting. As its is also frequent both among high-ranking and professional men (Raumolin-Brunberg 1998), women's lead is in evidence within the higher ranks.
Figure 6.3. Gender distribution of the possessive determiner its as opposed to of it and thereof. CEEC 1998.
The prop-word one is one of the innovations that were strongly favoured by women in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It parallels the rise of the subject form you in that a considerable gender difference emerges very early on (see Figure 6.4). One also parallels you in that it appears not to have spread from the lower social ranks (Raumolin-Brunberg & Nurmi 1997).
Figure 6.4. Gender distribution of prop-word one. Occurrences per 10,000 running words. CEEC 1998; excluding Dorothy Osborne (see Ch. 4, note 7).
Figure 6.5. Object of the gerund. Gender distribution of zero forms as opposed to oF-phrases. CEEC 1998 and Supplement.
Earlier corpus evidence, however, suggests that the prop-word one is yet another change that diffused from below in terms of social awareness: it first occurs in oral genres, including fiction, and is only found in more literate kinds of writing from the latter half of the seventeenth century onwards (Rissanen 1997).
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