Edgar W. Schneider

University of Regensburg

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Earlier Southern Englishes in Black and White: Corpus-based Approaches

Recent years have seen an increasing body of research based on textual documentation of earlier varieties of Southern English, and more research along these lines is required to inform our understanding of the emergence of the dialect (Montgomery fc.; Schneider 2003), still a controversial issue (Bailey 1997). At the same time, Corpus Linguistics, the systematic compilation and investigation of large electronic text corpora by means of concordancing and analysis software, has established itself as a recognized sub-discipline of linguistics (Biber, Conrad & Reppen 1998; Meyer 2003), a field suitable in particular for diachronic investigations, given that historical data, unlike present-day usage, have come down to us as a finite set of written documents which lend themselves easily to computerization and the study of language variation and change (Schneider 2002).

In this paper, the SPOC and BLUR, two electronic text collections of varieties of earlier Southern Englishes as used by white and black speakers, respectively, are discussed and compared, and sample analyses are provided. The Southern Plantation Overseers Corpus (SPOC) is a collection of about 540 overseers letters written between 1794 and 1876 (Schneider & Montgomery 2001). The BLUR (Blues Lyrics Collected at the University of Regensburg) Corpus consists of some 1.6 million words of blues lyrics, from the early phase of blues recordings, accompanied by a database that makes the texts accessible by singers, states, and recording years (Miethaner 2003).

Both corpora are briefly presented and discussed in terms of their characteristics and size. Most importantly, the ease of accessibility of electronic texts should not lure us into an uncritical acceptance of the findings, so some emphasis will be given to the limitations of interpretability that results from the nature of the texts in the corpora. Subsequently, a few sample data and analyses from the corpora will be presented. These analyses will provide a glimpse into select aspects of the syntax (clause structure patterns, including relativization and left dislocation) and morphology (verb forms) of earlier Southern Englishes in Black and White.

Bailey, Guy. 1997. "When did Southern English Begin?" In Edgar W. Schneider, ed. Englishes Around the World. Vol. 1: General
    Studies, British Isles, North America. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: Benjamins, 255-275.
Biber, Douglas, Susan Conrad & Randi Reppen. 1998. Corpus Linguistics. Investigating Language Structure and Use.
    Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Meyer, Charles F. 2002. English Corpus Linguistics. An Introduction.
    Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Miethaner, Ulrich. 2003. The BLUR (Blues Lyrics Collected at the University of Regensburg) Corpus: Compilation and Analysis.
    Unpubl. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Regensburg.
Montgomery, Michael B. fc. "Needed Research in the history of American English." In Needed Research in American Dialects.
Schneider, Edgar W. 2002. "Investigating variation and change in written documents." In J.K. Chambers, Peter Trudgill & Natalie
    Schilling-Estes, eds. The Handbook of Language Variation and Change. Oxford, Malden, MA: Blackwell 2002, 67-96.
Schneider, Edgar W. 2003. "Shakespeare in the coves and hollows? Toward a history of Southern English." In Stephen J. Nagle
    and Sara L. Sanders, eds., English in the Southern United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 17-35.
Schneider, Edgar W. and Michael B. Montgomery. 2001. "On the trail of early nonstandard grammar: An electronic corpus of
    Southern U.S. antebellum overseers' letters." American Speech 76: 388-410.