Home Language & Literature Historical Sociolinguistics: Language Change in Tudor and Stuart England
Switches from Male to Female Advantage
The CEEC data display a few cases where the gender profile of a change is altered in the middle of the process. However, these cases also have in common that the course of change is arrested or interrupted, momentarily or for good, and does not form a regular S-curve. These changes include the use of the auxiliary do in affirmative and negative statements.
Periphrastic do in affirmative statements
When analysed in 20-year periods, two rises can be seen in the use of the auxiliary do in affirmative statements, the major one peaking in 1580-99 and the minor one in 1620-39. An interesting crossing-over in the gender distribution of do takes place between these two peaks. Figure 6.9, based on Nurmi (1999a), indicates that the use of periphrastic do was male-dominated in affirmative statements in the last two decades of the sixteenth century. But it lost ground at the beginning of the next century - as Nurmi (1999a: 179181) suggests, probably due to the arrival of the Scottish court in London - and has never regained its former position since.
There was, however, a second rise in the use of the auxiliary in affirmatives in the early decades of the seventeenth century. Figure 6.9 shows that do was favoured in the language of women at the time, while the male usage was almost unaffected by the trend. The CEEC evidence is here ample for both sexes, even when the data are presented in twenty-year intervals. The linguistically most interesting interpretation of these data is to think
Figure 6.9. Periphrastic do in affirmative statements. Gender distribution of do per 10,000 words. CEEC 1998, excluding Dorothy Osborne (based on Nurmi 1999a: 139, 172).
of the second peak as an attempt to extend the systematic use of do to affirmative statements. It is supported by the simultaneous rise in the use of do in negative statements, another process clearly led by women, to be discussed below.
Why do became generalized in negative statements but failed to do so in affirmatives is another question. Nurmi (1999a: 177) shows that affirmative periphrastic do was particularly favoured by East-Anglian gentry in the early seventeenth century, men and women who generally did not lead supralocal processes. Perhaps do failed to regain its former position as part of nationwide usage because it was not promoted by the capital. Although an abortive change in purely syntactic terms, there is however some evidence that unstressed do never fully disappeared from affirmative statements in colloquial speech (Gerner 1996).
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