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New methods for analysing diachronic suffix competition across registers

Abstract: This paper tracks stylistic variation in the use of two roughly synonymous suffixes, the Romance -ity and the native -ness, during the Early Modern English period. We seek to verify from a statistical viewpoint the claims of Rodríguez-Puente (2020), who reports on a decrease of -ness in favour of -ity in registers representative of the speech-written and formal-informal continua at that time. To this end, we develop new methods of statistical and visual analysis that enable diachronic comparisons of competing processes across subcorpora, building upon an earlier method by Säily and Suomela (2009). Our results confirm that -ity gained ground first in written registers and then spread towards speech-related registers, and we are able to time this change more accurately thanks to a novel periodisation. We also provide strong statistical support indicating that the proportion of -ity was significantly higher in legal registers than in other registers.
Keywords: ness / suffixes / building / ity / speech / written / diachronic / statistical / registers than

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