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The diffusion of subject you: A case study in historical sociolinguistics

  • Helena Raumolin-Brunberg (a1)

Based on the Corpus of Early English Correspondence (CEEC) and the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts (HC), this study describes how the second-person object form you diffused among the population of England during the late middle and early modern period (1350–1710). After the take-off in c. 1480, you replaced the old subject form ye very rapidly, in about three generations of speakers. This article shows that this was a change from below in terms of social awareness, because you was preferred in oral genres and informal registers in the earliest stages of its use. The study suggests that the social origin of you was among the middle ranks, and women led the change in its critical period of diffusion. No specific region has been found as the origin of this change, but London and the Court adopted it before the North and East Anglia.The research reported here was supported in part by the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence funding for the Research Unit for Variation and Change in English at the Department of English, University of Helsinki. I am grateful to an anonymous referee for helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.

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Labov, William. (1990). The intersection of sex and social class in the course of linguistic change. Language Variation and Change 2:205254.

Milroy, James, & Milroy, Lesley. (1985). Linguistic change, social network and speaker innovation. Journal of Linguistics 21:339384.

Milroy, James, & Milroy, Lesley. (1993). Mechanisms of change in urban dialects: The role of class, social network and gender. International Journal of Applied Linguistics 3(1):5777.

Nevalainen, Terttu. (2000). Gender differences in the evolution of standard English: Evidence from the Corpus of Early English Correspondence. Journal of English Linguistics 28(1):3859.

Nevalainen, Terttu. (2002a). Language and woman's place in earlier English. Journal of English Linguistics 30(2):181199.

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Language Variation and Change
  • ISSN: 0954-3945
  • EISSN: 1469-8021
  • URL: /core/journals/language-variation-and-change
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