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Same time, across time: simultaneity clauses from Late Modern to Present-Day English*


In this article we offer a diachronic analysis of simultaneity subordinator as against the background of simultaneity subordinators while, whilst, when from 1650 to the end of the twentieth century. The present survey makes use of data extracted from the British English component of ARCHER (version 3.1), focusing in particular on fiction, the register par excellence for the use of simultaneity subordinators. We analyse our data according to a selection of parameters (ordering, verb type, duration, tense and aspect, subject identity, simultaneity type) and show that, against a background of relative stability, the major change is a dramatic increase in the frequency of simultaneity as-clauses from the first half of the nineteenth century onwards. Adapting the historical work on stylistic change by Biber and Finegan (1989, 1997), as well as theoretical and experimental accounts of the semantics of English simultaneity markers, we highlight an interesting parallelism between the spread of as-clauses in oral narrative from childhood to adulthood and the spread of as-clauses in modern fiction. In either case, the spread of as may be symptomatic of an evolution in narrative techniques, particularly in respect of the means by which complex events are typically represented.

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Douglas Biber & Edward Finegan . 1989. Drift and the evolution of English style: A history of three genres. Language 65, 487517.

Cristiano Broccias . 2006a. The construal of simultaneity in English with special reference to as-clauses. Annual Review of Cognitive Linguistics 4, 97133.

Cristiano Broccias . 2008. Imperfectivity and transience: The two sides of the progressive aspect in simultaneity clauses. Journal of English Linguistics 36, 155–78.

Renaat Declerck (in collaboration with Susan Reed & Bert Cappelle). 2006. The grammar of the English tense system. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Holger Diessel . 2008. Iconicity of sequence. A corpus-based analysis of the positioning of temporal adverbial clauses in English. Cognitive Linguistics 19, 457–82.

Stefan Evert . 2006. How random is a corpus? The library metaphor. Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik 54, 177–90.

Monika Fludernik . 1996. Towards a ‘natural’ narratology. London: Routledge.

Ana I. González-Cruz 2007. On the subjectification of adverbial clause connectives: Semantic and pragmatic considerations on the development of while-clauses. In Ursula Lenker & Anneli Meurman-Solin (eds.), Connectives in the history of English, 145–66. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Bernd Kortmann . 1997. Adverbial subordination: A typology and history of adverbial subordinators based on European languages. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Barbara Schmiedtová . 2004. At the same time. . .: The expression of simultaneity in learner varieties. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

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English Language & Linguistics
  • ISSN: 1360-6743
  • EISSN: 1469-4379
  • URL: /core/journals/english-language-and-linguistics
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