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Linguistic Society of America

Drift and the Evolution of English Style: A History of Three Genres Author(s): Douglas Biber and Edward Finegan Source: Language, Vol. 65, No. 3 (Sep., 1989), pp. 487-517 Published by: Linguistic Society of America Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/415220 . Accessed: 25/03/2014 01:13
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DRIFT AND THE EVOLUTIONOF ENGLISH STYLE: A HISTORYOF THREE GENRES


DOUGLAS BIBER AND EDWARD FINEGAN

University of Southern California


The present study uses a multidimensional approach to trace the historical evolution of written genres of English. We briefly present a model of stylistic variation developed in our previous work, focusing on three empirically defined dimensions of linguistic variation that are associated with differences among 'literate' and 'oral' varieties: 'Informational versus Involved Production'; 'Elaborated versus Situation-Dependent Reference'; and 'Abstract versus Nonabstract Style'. We then show how fiction, essays, and letters have evolved over the last four centuries with respect to these dimensions. Although they have evolved at different rates and to different extents, we show that all three genres have undergone a general pattern of 'drift' towards more oral styles-more involved, less elaborated, and less abstract. We discuss several possible functional and attitudinal influences on the observed patterns of drift; these include the rise of popular literacy and mass schooling, the demands of scientific and expository purposes, and conscious aesthetic preferences. In so doing, we extend Sapir's notion of drift to include the evolution of genres and the influence of nonstructural underlying motivations.*

Language moves down time in a current of its own making. It has a drift. (Edward Sapir, Language) 1. INTRODUCTION. Historical linguists and sociolinguists have traditionally

takenvery differentapproachesto the analysisof variation.Besides the obvious differenceof focus on diachronyor synchrony,thereare two otherfundamental differences: placing the locus of variationin linguisticforms or linguisticvarieties, and analyzingthe variationitself in absolute or relative terms. Within historical linguistics, variationhas generally been considered in terms of absolute differencesbetween two or more competingforms, leadingto the eventual displacementof one form by another. Sociolinguists, by contrast, have typically characterizedvariation in terms of the differences among language varieties with respect to their relative use of linguisticforms. Certaintypes of variationhave been slightedby both of these approaches. For example, morphologicaland syntactic variationhave been overshadowed by phonologicalvariation. Further, although sociolinguisticstudies focus on the relationsamongvarieties, they have been directedprimarily to the analysis of social dialects of urbanspeakergroups and have largelyignoredsituational variation.Only a few studies have attemptedto combine the concerns of historical linguistics and sociolinguistics. The groundbreaking work of Labov (1972, 1981)and Weinreich,Labov, and Herzog (1968)in this area focused on the way that diachronic sound change evolves out of synchronic variation. Romaine (1982) advocates a broader 'socio-historical' linguistics, which in* A pilot study, based on only three centuries and a considerably smaller database, is summarized in the conference proceedings of ICAME 1987 (Biber & Finegan 1988) and GURT 1988 (Biber & Finegan 1989). We wish to thank Thomas Barry, Sharon Crowley, Matti Rissanen, Suzanne Romaine, Deborah Tannen, and an anonymous reviewer for Language for their criticisms and suggestions on earlier drafts. 487

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488

LANGUAGE, VOLUME 65, NUMBER 3 (1989)

eludes analysis of the relativefrequencyof forms in situationalvarieties from differenthistoricalperiods. She illustratessuch an approachthroughan analysis of the alternation amongrelativeclause markersin MiddleScots English. Kyto & Rissanen (1983) and Rissanen (1986) advocate this approachin studying historicalsyntax in early British and AmericanEnglish. As far as we know, no studywithinlinguisticshas tracedthe overallhistorical development of particularsituationalvarieties. There has, however, been a good deal of investigationwithinthe relatedfield of diachronicstylistics. This research, undertakenfrom a literaryperspective, describes the linguisticand rhetorical characteristics of 'period styles' in English (e.g. Gordon 1966, Adolph 1968, Bennett 1971, Fowler 1987). Although the linguistic analyses typically found in these studies are less complete than those proposedfor sociohistoricalanalyses, they provide an importantsource of backgroundinformationon the historicaldevelopmentof genres in English. The present study uses a sociohistoricalapproachto analyze the evolution of three written genres' in English over the last four centuries. In particular, we trace the evolution of essays, fiction, and letters. Ourstudy is social in that it analyzes the linguisticcharacteristicsof these genres in relativeterms, conditioned by a variety of situationalfactors. It is historicalin that it traces the linguisticevolution of these genres across four centuries. Ratherthanfocusing on the evolution of individualforms, this study shows how languagevarieties can evolve; and it describes strikingpatternsof historicalchange in the RELATIVE frequencyof linguisticforms (ratherthan in the displacement of one form by another). The notion of linguisticco-occurrenceis central to sociolinguisticanalyses of style (see Ervin-Tripp1972, Hymes 1974,and Brown & Fraser 1979:38-9), and several researchers have described the distributionof co-occurringlinsocial and situationalvarieties. In the present guistic features across particular study we analyze linguisticco-occurrencein terms of underlyingDIMENSIONS of variation(Biber 1986,1988).Dimensionsare continuousparameters of variation, such that each parametercomprises a group of co-occurringlinguistic features. These co-occurrencepatternsare identifiedempirically(ratherthan being proposedon a-priorifunctionalbases). Ourprevious studies have shown thatno singledimensionis adequatein itself to accountfor the rangeof linguistic variationin English; rather,a multidimensional analysis is required. Dimensions have both linguisticand functionalcontent. The linguisticcontent is defined by a group of linguistic features (such as nouns, attributive adjectives, and prepositionalphrases)that co-occur with a markedlyhigh frequency in texts. On the assumptionthatco-occurrencereflects sharedfunction, these co-occurrencepatternsare interpreted functionally.Each dimensionthus characterizes the situational,social, andcognitivefunctionsmost widely shared by the co-occurringlinguisticfeatures. In turn, the dimensions are used to define the RELATIONS among texts. A
' We use the term 'genre' for those varieties readily distinguished by native speakers, corresponding to situational differences in purpose, mode, speaker/listener relationship, etc.

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DRIFT AND THE EVOLUTION OF ENGLISH STYLE

489

with respect to each dimension,determinedby the text has a characterization frequency of occurrence in that text of the group of features definingthe dimension. By considering the characterizationsof texts along all dimensions and differences, simultaneously,we can define the overalllinguisticsimilarities i.e. the textual relations, among texts. In earlierinvestigationswe have used the notions of dimensionand relation to characterizeand comparevarietiesof use in English. For example, we have analyzed spoken and written varieties (Biber 1986),Britishand Americanvarieties (Biber 1987),and complex and simple varieties (Finegan& Biber 1986). model of stylistic variationin English. Biber 1988develops a multidimensional In the presentstudy we turnto the historicalevolutionof Englishgenres within this model of variation. Specifically, we show that the linguistic characteriover the last zations of essays, fiction, and letters have changeddramatically four centuries.We furthershow that, althoughthese genreshave been evolving at differentrates alongthreeindependent dimensions,these developmentshave not been random;rather,they reflecta singleunderlying patternof drifttowards
more ORAL essentially in linguistic characterizations. We use the term DRIFT

the same sense as Sapir (1921:Chs.7 and 8) to suggest a cumulativeseries of graduallinguistic developments in a consistent direction:'The drift of a language is constituted by the unconscious selection on the part of its speakers of those individualvariations that are cumulativein some special direction'
(Sapir 1921:155).

motivations In the conclusion, we discuss possible functionaland attitudinal for this pattern, offering an elaboration and reunconscious) and (conscious drift' 'elusive Sapir's of (1921:169). finement
OFVARIATION.Of the six major dimensions OFTHEDIMENSIONS 2. OVERVIEW

of variationidentified in Biber 1988, we focus here on three dimensionsthat are associated with 'oral' and 'literate'differencesin English.2The dimensions were identifiedby analyzingthe distributionof 67 functionallyimportantlinguistic features across 481 spoken and written texts of contemporaryBritish English. The texts, which were taken principallyfrom the Lancaster-Oslo/ corpora,represent23 differentgenres(e.g. academic Bergenand London-Lund prose, press reportage,conversation,radiobroadcasts).The linguisticfeatures and functionalcategories: (i) tense and aspect represent sixteen grammatical markers,(ii) place and time adverbials,(iii) pronounsand pro-verbs,(iv) questions, (v) nominalforms, (vi) passives, (vii) stative forms, (viii) subordination features, (ix) prepositionalphrases, adjectives, and other adverbs, (x) lexical specificity, (xi) lexical classes, (xii) modals, (xiii) specializedverb classes, (xiv) (xv) coordination,and (xvi) nereducedforms and discontinuousstructures3, gation. The features are identified automaticallyin texts by computer programs.4A full discussionof the modelof variationas well as the methodological
2 The dimensions labeled A, B, and C in the present study correspond to Dimensions 1, 3, and 5 of Biber 1988. 3 For example, split infinitives and stranded prepositions. 4 The frequency counts of all linguistic features are normalized to a text length of 1000 words.

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490

LANGUAGE,VOLUME65, NUMBER 3 (1989)

approach, includingdescription of the texts, linguisticfeatures, and computational and statistical techniques, is given in Biber 1988;we present only a condensed overview of the dimensionshere. The co-occurrence patternsamong features are identifiedquantitativelyby a factor analysis. This procedureidentifies sets of linguisticfeatures that cooccur frequentlyin texts; a set of co-occurringfeatures is called a factor. In a factor analysis, a large numberof originalvariables(in this case the linguistic features)are reduced to a small set of derived variables-the factors. Table 1 summarizesthe importantdefiningfeatures for the three factors used in this study.5 The numberlisted after each feature gives the weight of that feature on the factorin question.For instance, some of the important featureson Factor A are nouns, word length, and prepositions(at the top, with positive weights) andprivateverbs, that-deletions,andcontractions(at the bottom,with negative weights). The clusters with negative and positive weights on a given factor representtwo groups of features that occur in a complementary pattern.That is, when the features with positive weights occur togetherfrequentlyin a text, the features with negative weights are markedlyless frequentin that text, and vice versa.6
2.1. INTERPRETATION OFTHE The interpretation of a factor as a DIMENSIONS.

functionaldimensionis based on the assumptionthat a co-occurrencepattern indicates an underlyingcommunicativefunction shared by the co-occurring features. That is, it is assumed that particularsets of linguistic features cooccur frequently in texts because they serve a related set of communicative functions. The interpretation of a factor thus involves an assessment of the communicativefunction(s)most widely sharedby its definingfeatures. In the interpretation,it is importantto consider the likely reasons for the complementarydistributionbetween positive and negative feature sets as well as the reasons for the co-occurrencepatternswithin those sets. ConsiderFactorA again.To interpretthis dimension,we assess the functions sharedby these co-occurringfeatures. We begin with the featureshavingpositive weights, because they are relatively few and their interpretation is relatively straightforward. Nouns, word length, prepositionalphrases, type/token ratio, and attributiveadjectives all have positive weights largerthan .45, and none of these features has a largerweight on anotherfactor. High frequencies of all these featuresare associated with communicativesituationsthat have an informationalfocus and provide ample opportunityfor careful integrationof informationand precise lexical choice.
5 Each factor is a simple summation of all of the linguistic features, with different features having different weights (known as FACTOR LOADINGS). A restricted set of the linguistic features has salient weights on a given factor, identifying these features as good representatives of the construct, or textual dimension, underlying the factor. In the factor interpretations, features with weights smaller than | .35 | are not considered salient and are not included. 6 The polarity of Dimension A has been reversed from that of Dimension 1 in Biber 1988 to make the oral/literate correspondences of the dimensions more transparent.

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DRIFTAND THE EVOLUTIONOF ENGLISHSTYLE


A FACTOR 1
FACTOR B

491

nouns word length prepositions type/tokenratio attributiveadjectives privateverbs that-deletion contractions present-tenseverbs 2nd-personpronouns
DO as pro-verb

.80 .58 .54 .54 .47


- .96 .91 - .90 - .86 - .86 - .82 - .78 -.76 - .74 - .74

wH-relative clauses on object positions constructions pied-piping clauses on subject wH-relative positions phrasalcoordination
nominalizations
-

.63 .61 .45 .36 .36


- .60 - .49 - .46

time adverbials place adverbials other adverbs

analyticnegation demonstrative pronouns generalemphatics Ist-personpronouns


pronoun it BE as main verb

TOR C FACd

conjuncts agentless passives

-.71
-.71

adverbialclauses past participial


by-passives

causative subordination discourseparticles indefinitepronouns generalhedges amplifiers sentence relatives


wH-questions

-.66
-.66

wiHIz deletions past participial other adverbial subordinators


[No negative featL ires]

.48 .43 .42 .41 .40 .39

.62
-.58 - .56
- .55

possibilitymodals coordination nonphrasal


wH-clauses

final prepositions

- .52 - .50 - .48 - .47 - .43

of the three dimensions. TABLEI. Summary

The set of features with negative weights on Factor A is more complex, althoughall of these features have been associated in one way or anotherwith an involved, noninformational focus, related to a primarilyinteractiveor affective purposeandhighlyconstrainedproduction circumstances.Privateverbs (e.g. think,feel) and present-tenseverbs are among the features with largest weights on this factor, indicatinga verbal, as opposed to nominal,style. These features can also be consideredinteractiveor 'involved', as can first- and second-personpronouns,wH-questions, emphatics,amplifiers,and sentence relatives; all of these features mark interpersonalinteraction or expression of personalfeelings. Other features with negative weights on Factor A marka reduced surface form, a generalizedor uncertainpresentationof information,and a generally fragmentedproductionof text; these include that-deletions(e.g. 1 think[that]
he went), contractions, the pro-verb
DO,

the pronominal forms, and final

(stranded)prepositions.In these cases a reductionin surfaceform also results in a more generalized, less explicit content. Overall, Factor A thus represents a dimension markinghigh informational

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492

LANGUAGE, VOLUME 65, NUMBER 3 (1989)

density and exact informationalcontent (the features above the dashed line) versus affective, interactional,and generalizedcontent (the featuresbelow the dashed line). Two separate communicativeparametersseem to be entailed here:the primarypurposeof the writer/speaker versus involved) (informational and the productioncircumstances(those enablingcareful editing possibilities versus those dictated by real-time constraints). Reflecting both of these paVERSUS INVOLVED PRODUCTION rameters, the interpretive label INFORMATIONAL

can be used for the dimensionunderlyingthis factor. On Factor B, three different forms of relative clauses are grouped as the clauses on object positions, wH-relative primarypositive features: wH-relative clauses on subjectpositions, and pied-piping constructions.These featurescan all serve as devices for the explicit, elaboratedidentificationof referentsin a text. The co-occurrenceof phrasalcoordination and nominalizations with these relativizationfeatures indicates that referentiallyexplicit discourse also tends to be integratedand informational. Three features have large negative weights on Factor B: time adverbials, place adverbials, and other adverbs. Place and time adverbialsare used for locative and temporalreference(e.g. above, behind;earlier,soon); these forms typically markexophoric reference to places and times outside the text itself, often servingas deictics thatcan be understoodonly by referenceto an external physical and temporalsituation.The class of 'other adverbs' includes manner and other adverbials. Consideringboth positive and negative features, the dimension underlying Factor B seems to distinguishbetween highly explicit, 'context-independent' reference, on the one hand, and nonspecific, 'situation-dependent' reference, on the other. wH-relativeclauses are used to specify the identity of referents in an explicit and elaboratedmannerso as to leave no doubtaboutthe intended referent. Time and place adverbials, on the other hand, usually require the addresseeto identifythe intendedplace andtime referentsin the actualphysical
context of the discourse. Overall, the label ELABORATED VERSUS SITUATIONDEPENDENT REFERENCE thus seems suitable for this dimension.

On Factor C, the features with positive weights are conjuncts, agentless


passives, past participial adverbial clauses, by-passives, past participial WHIZ deletions (e.g., the textbook [which was] used in that class), and other adverbial

subordinators.These forms are all used to present propositionswith reduced emphasison the agent, giving prominenceto the patient,the entity acted upon. This promotedelementis typicallyan inanimate referentand is often an abstract ratherthan a concrete entity. Discourse with very frequentpassive constructions is thus typically abstract and technical in content, suggestingthe label ABSTRACT VERSUS NONABSTRACT STYLE for DimensionC.
2.2. TEXTUAL RELATIONS AMONG CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH GENRES. In the

same way thatthe frequencyof nouns in a text mightbe called the 'noun score'
of that text, DIMENSION SCORES(or FACTOR SCORES)can be computed for each

text. A dimensionscore is computedby summing the frequenciesof the features

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DRIFTAND THE EVOLUTIONOF ENGLISHSTYLE

493

having salient loadings on that dimension.7For example, for each text a dimension score for Dimension B can be computed by addingtogether the freclauses on object positions, pied-piping constructions, quencies of wH-relative wH-relativeclauses on subject positions, phrasalcoordinators,and nominalizations-the features with positive loadings-and then subtractingthe frequencies of time adverbials,place adverbials,and other adverbs-the features with negative loadings. In the present study, all frequenciesare standardizedto a mean of 0.0 and a standarddeviation of 1.0 before the dimensionscores are computed. A dimension score for each dimension is computedfor each text; then the mean of each dimensionscore for each genre is computed.Plots of these dimension scores permitlinguisticcharacterization of any given genre, comparisonof the relationsbetween any two genres, and a fuller functionalinterpretation of the underlyingdimension. ConsiderFigure 1, which plots the mean dimensionscores of seven contemversus Involved Proporary English genres for Dimension A, Informational duction. The genres with large negative values, such as conversation, have highfrequenciesof present-tenseverbs, privateverbs, first-and second-person pronouns,contractions,etc. (the features with salient negative weights on Dimension A), together with markedlylow frequencies of nouns, prepositional phrases, long words, etc. (the features with salient positive weights on Dimension A). Genres with large positive values, such as academicprose, have very high frequenciesof nouns, prepositionalphrases, etc., plus very low frequencies of privateverbs, contractions,etc. The relationsamonggenres shown in Fig. 1 confirm the interpretation of Dimension A as distinguishingamong texts accordingto the demandsand possibilitiesof informational production. Conversationaltexts are largely interactive and involved, since participants typically do not have time for highly informational production,nor are they inclined to highly informational purposes. Genres such as spontaneous because they have a relativelyinformational speeches are intermediate purpose but participants are constrainedby on-line production.Finally, genres such as academic prose are extremely informational in purpose and produced under highly controlledand edited circumstances. It is possible to characterizeparticular genresas relativelyLITERATE or ORAL, where 'literate' refers to languageproducedin situations that are typical for writing,and 'oral' refersto languageproducedin situationstypicalof speaking. Conversationis a stereotypicallyoral genre, and academicprose a stereotypically literate genre. However, there is no necessary correspondencebetween literate and oral characterizations,on the one hand, and the physical modes of writing and speech on the other. For example, personal letters are among the most involved, and therefore 'oral', genres on DimensionA, even though they are written.
7 Some features have salient loadings on more than one factor; to ensure the experimental independence of factor scores, each feature was included in the computation of only one factor score. (See Biber 1988 for further discussion.)

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LANGUAGE, VOLUME 65, NUMBER 3 (1989)

INFORMATIONAL

15

Academic prose

10

Broadcasts Professional letters

Fiction

-5

-10

-15

-20

Spontaneous speeches Personal letters

-25

-30

-35

Face-to-face conversations

INVOLVED

FIGURE1. Mean scores of Dimension A (Informational versus Involved Production) for seven contemporary English genres.

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DRIFTAND THE EVOLUTIONOF ENGLISHSTYLE

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From this perspective, DimensionsA, B, and C can be consideredliterate/ oral dimensions in that the poles of each dimension characterizeacademic exposition and conversation, respectively. However, these three dimensions are by no means equivalent:each is defined by a differentset of co-occurring features, and each defines differentrelationsamonggenres. This can be illustratedby consideringthe differentrelationsamongspontaneousspeeches, general fiction, professional letters, and broadcasts with respect to these three dimensions,as shown in Figs. 1-3. Withrespectto DimensionA (Informational versus InvolvedProduction),spontaneousspeeches are relativelyinvolvedand thereforeoral, while fiction, professionalletters, and broadcastsall have simivalues not markedlyoral or literate(see Fig. 1). Withrespect lar, intermediate to DimensionB (Elaboratedversus Situation-Dependent Reference, Figure2), the same four genres have quite differentrelations to one anotherand to the oraland literatepoles: professionallettersare even moreliteratethanacademic prose, markinghighly explicit, elaboratedreference;broadcastshave the lowand est score by far, markingreference that is extremely situation-dependent therefore oral; spontaneous speeches have a moderatelyhigh literate score, and general fiction has a moderately low oral score. Finally, Dimension C (Abstractversus NonabstractStyle, Figure3) shows yet anotherset of relations among these four genres: none of the four is abstract and therefore literate; professionalletters have an intermediatescore; and broadcasts, spontaneous speeches, and fiction all have nonabstract,oral scores. Thus, although Dimensions A, B, and C all distinguishbetween oral and literate discourse in some sense, each defines an independentset of relationsamonggenres. In the followingsections we explorethe historicaldriftof threewrittengenrestowards modelof oral and literate moreoral styles, as definedby this three-dimensional relations.
3. RELATIONS AMONG 17TH-CENTURY, 18TH-CENTURY, 19TH-CENTURY, AND

Because the co-occurrencepatternsdescribed in ?2 are deMODERN GENRES. wide range of spoken and written texts, they can be taken very rived from a dimensionsof variationin English. As such, they functional to representbasic can be used to compare other English varieties-for example, British and Americanwriting,differentstyles of fiction, or, as in the present case, genres from differenthistoricalperiods. In our previous research we have found that adequatedescriptionsof language use requirecomparativeanalysis of several differentkinds of texts with respect to the relevant dimensions. In the present study we focus on three fiction, essays, genres that representquite differenttypes of communication: and personal letters. Fiction and essays are both literate from a situational perspective: they are produced and edited carefully and directed towards a audience. They differin that large, specific but unboundedand unindividuated fiction describes events and situations for purposes of aesthetic enjoyment, or perwhile essays have an informationaland sometimes an argumentative suasive purpose. Personalletters differfrom both these genres in that they are interactiveand directed towards a specific individual.In personal letters the

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496

LANGUAGE,VOLUME65, NUMBER 3 (1989)


ELABORATED

Professionalletters
6
+

Academicprose
4 +

Spontaneousspeeches I 1
O + 4-t

-1

-2

-3

+ Fiction Personalletters Face-to-faceconversation

-4 -5
-6

+ +
+

-7

-8 -9

Broadcasts

SITUATION-DEPENDENT

Reference)for 2. Mean scores of DimensionB (Elaboratedversus Situation-Dependent FIGURE Englishgenres. seven contemporary

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DRIFTAND THE EVOLUTIONOF ENGLISHSTYLE


ABSTRACT

497

Academicprose
5 , +

Professionalletters
O +

-1

Broadcasts
-2 +

Fiction; Spontaneousspeeches Personalletters


-3 +

Face-to-faceconversation
NONABSTRACT

versusNonabstract 3. Meanscoresof DimensionC (Abstract FIGURE Style)forseven contemporary Englishgenres.

writer and reader typically know each other well and are familiarwith each other's physical and temporal surroundings,so that a letter writer is free to refer directlyto personalfeelings and situations.These three genres thus have quite differentcommunicativecharacteristics. The authors of the texts used in the study are listed in Table 2. We divide texts into four periods: 17th century, 18th century, 19th century to the year 1865,and modern(from 1865to about 1950).Altogether,we analyze 115texts containingapproximately120,000words. We have not distinguishedbetween Britishand Americantexts, althoughin futureresearchwe will examine these two traditionsseparately.8
or descriptiveand includealmost no diaThe fiction texts chosen for this study are narrative in popularanthologiessuch as logue. We were guidedin our selection of texts by representation the Norton series, and we recognizecertainlimitationsin our corpus. For example, most of our of popularletters letters were written by literaryfigures and are not necessarilyrepresentative fromthese periods.Most of our writersfromall periodsare male;in additionto any gender-based
8

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498

LANGUAGE,VOLUME65, NUMBER3 (1989)

A. 17thCentury Newton; Essays (12 texts): Bacon;Browne;Burton;Butler;Dryden;Hobbes;Locke;Mather; Sprat;Temple Fiction (5 texts): Behn; Bunyan Letters(9 texts): Strype;Oxinden;Peyton B. 18thCentury Essays (18 texts): Addison; Boswell; Burke;Cooper; Defoe; Johnson; Mandeville;Paine; Pope; Steele; Swift Fiction (8 texts): Austen; Defoe; Fielding;Johnson;Swift Letters (6 texts): Gray;Jefferson;Junius;Walpole C. 19thCentury(to 1865) Melville;Mill;Poe; Whitman Essays (10 texts): Darwin;Dickens; Emerson;Macaulay; Fiction (7 texts): Dickens; Hawthorne;Kingsley;Melville;Mill; Poe Letters (6 texts): Dickens; Keats; Lamb;Lincoln;Melville D. Modern(since 1865) L. Huxley; Lawrence;Orwell;Twain; Essays (11 texts): Arnold;Crane;Gosse; Hemingway; Woolf Fiction (13 texts): Harte;Hemingway;Lawrence;Lewis; Orwell;Steinbeck;Twain;Woolf Letters(10 texts): Hemingway;Steinbeck;Twain;Woolf TABLE 2. Authorsof the 115 historicaltexts from the 17thCentury, 18thCentury, 19thCentury, and Modernperiods.

The mean dimensionscores for each genrein each centuryare given in Table 3. This table also includesstatisticsthat indicatewhetherthe differenceswithin a genre across the four centuries are statisticallymeaningful.Table 3 shows that, apartfrom essays on Dimension A and letters on DimensionC, the historicaldevelopmentsof all genres on each dimensionare statisticallysignificant (F score values) and important(R-squaredvalues).9 Figs. 4-6 plot the mean scores for Dimensions A, B, and C given in Table 3 and show the relations among the genres across the four centuries. Generally,all three genres exhibitparalleldevelopmentson each dimension: texts are relativelyoral; 18th-century texts become more literate 17th-century
differences,male writerswould have been heavily influencedby formal, Latin-based educations in the early periods(whereasfemale writersfrom these periodsmightrepresenta more 'natural' fictionis takenfromonly two writersbecauseof the scarcityof fictional Englishprose). 17th-century prosein this period.Finally,the periodsthemselvesaredefinedconventionally rather thanderiving from our linguisticanalysis. We are investigating these and other issues in ongoingresearch.Our presentgoal is to capturethe rangeof variationin fiction, essays, and letterswithineach period, andto tracethe overalldriftof these genresacross the centuries;for thatgoal, ourcorpusprovides a solid database. 9 The F SCORE summarizes a test of statisticalsignificance; a value for p less than .05 indicates a statisticallysignificantresult-that the differencesamongthe meanscores for each centuryare large relative to the differencesamong the texts within each century. The value for R-squared indicatesthe importance or strengthof the relationship; in particular, it shows the percentageof variancein the dimensionscores of texts that is accountedfor by knowingthe centuryof the text. A relationship can be statisticallysignificant(p < .05) but not important (R-squared< 5%);con> 20%)buttechnicallynot significant can be important versely, a relationship (roughly,R-squared (p > .05). We reportthe resultsfor letterson DimensionsA and B becausethey have interestingly largevalues for R-squared (around23%),even thoughthey do not quite have significant F scores of the paper,however, dependson these scores. (p < .066). None of the majorgeneralizations

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DRIFT AND THE EVOLUTION OF ENGLISH STYLE


FICTION DIMENSIONA: ESSAYS LETTERS

499

17th Century 18th Century 19th Century Modern F score p < R-squared
DIMENSION B:

-1.0 7.2 11.6 6.8 4.0 .017 29.4%

6.1 8.7 9.7 3.4 1.9 n.s. 10.7%

-7.2 -2.0 -3.0 - 10.9 2.7 (.066) 23.0%

17th Century 18th Century 19th Century Modern F score p < R-squared
DIMENSIONC:

5.4 9.6 5.3 -I.1 6.2 .002 39.8%

6.2 8.4 7.6 2.7 5.0 .004 23.9%

- 1.0 3.3 1.2 -3.4 2.7 (.066) 22.3%

17th Century 18th Century l9th Century Modern

0.8 2.7 -0.8 -1.6

2.5 2.4 1.7 -1.1

-0.3 -1.8 -1.3 -1.8 2.2 n.s. 19.3% centuries.

5.2 12.7 F score .003 .0001 p < 56.8% 24.6% R-squared TABLE3. Dimension scores for fiction, essays, and letters in four

in style; and later texts then graduallyshift to more oral styles. By the modern period, the three genres are usually considerablymore oral than their 17thcentury counterparts.
3.1. HISTORICAL RELATIONS WITH RESPECT TO THE INVOLVEMENT DIMENSION

versus Involved Pro(A). As Figure4 shows, on DimensionA (Informational lettersare quite duction)lettersillustratethis typicaldevelopment.17th-century involved and therefore oral (with frequent private verbs, contractions, firstand second-person pronouns, etc.). 18th- and 19th-centuryletters are much less involved, while modern letters are by far the most involved of the four. As an illustration of this development,considerthe followingtwo text samples. Sample 1 is a 19th-centuryletter by John Keats, and Sample 2 is a modern letter by VirginiaWoolf. Both are writtento personalfriends,and both discuss literaryconcerns.
1. John Keats letter (19th century) TEXTSAMPLE You say "I fear there is little chance of anything else in this life." You seem by that to have been going through with a more painful and acute zest the same labyrinth that 1 have-I have come to the same conclusion thus far. My Branchings out therefrom have been numerous: one of them is the consideration of Wordsworth's genius and as a help, in the manner of gold being the meridian Line of worldly wealth,-how he differs from Milton.-And here I have nothing but surmises, from an uncertainty whether Milton's apparently less anxiety for Humanity proceeds from his seeing further or no than Wordsworth: ...

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S00

LANGUAGE,VOLUME65, NUMBER3 (1989)


INFORMATIONAL

Fiction-19th Century
11 +

10

Essays-19th Century Essays-18th Century


8 +

Fiction-18th Century& Modern 6


+

Essays-17th Century

Essays-Modern
2 +

Fiction-17th Century -2 + Letters-18th Century Letters-19th Century


-4
+

-6

Letters-17th Century
-8 +

-10

- 11

Letters-Modern

INVOLVED

for fiction, versus Involved Production) FIGURE 4. Mean scores of DimensionA (Informational essays, and letters in four centuries.

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DRIFT AND THE EVOLUTION OF ENGLISH STYLE

501

TEXT SAMPLE 2. Virginia Woolf letter (modern) I'm reading David Copperfield for the sixth time with almost complete satisfaction. I'd for-

gotten how magnificentit is. What's wrong, I can't help askingmyself? Why wasn't he the
greatest writer in the world? For alas-no, I won't try to go into my crabbings and diminishings.

So enthusiasticam I that I've got a new life of him: which makesme dislikehim as a human being. Did you know-you who know everything-the story of the actress?He was an actor, I think;very hard;meretricious? Somethinghad shriveled?And then his velvet suit, and his
stupendous genius? But you won't want to be discussing Dickens at the moment.

The difference between these samples is striking.The 19th-century sample begins with one of the few direct acknowledgmentsof the addressee in the entire letter, and then plunges into a detailed, informationalexposition of Keats's own thoughts.This exposition seems relativelyunplanned in its overall it with but is informational to its Dimension A charorganization, quite respect acterization:many nouns, prepositions, and long words and a quite varied vocabulary, coupled with very few involved features such as pronominalor reduced forms and hedges. In contrast, the modern sample is extremely involved. Woolf writes as if she were actually having a dialogue, with a series of questions and answers assuminga very high degree of shared background knowledge. This sample, which is by no means the most involved section of the letter from which it is taken, illustratesvery frequentuse of the involved featuresof DimensionA: first- and second-personpronouns,contractions,private verbs (you know,I think),WH-questions, etc. These two samplesillustrate the developmentto a muchmoreinvolved style thatoccurredin lettersbetween the 19thand 20th centuries. Essays and fiction followed a similarpatternalong the involvementdimension (A), althoughthe differencesamongessays across these centuriesare too smallto be statisticallysignificant(as shownin Table3). Fig. 4 shows, however, that essays have followed the same generalpatternof development:18th-and 19th-centuryessays are more informationalthan 17th-centuryessays, while modernessays are the most involved. Fiction is somewhatdifferentfromthese other two genres in that the 17th-century texts are quite involved relative to all three of the subsequent periods. 19th-century fiction, on the other hand, like 19th-century essays, is extremely informational and carefullyplanned.
3.2. HISTORICAL RELATIONS WITH RESPECT TOTHEELABORATED REFERENCE DI-

MENSION (B). On Dimension B (Elaboratedversus Situation-Dependent Reference), all threegenres have followed a singlecourse, as Figure5 shows: 17thcentury texts are relatively elaboratedin reference (relativelyhigh dimension scores), 18th-century texts are more elaborated,while 19th-century texts have shifted back towards a less elaboratedstyle, and moderntexts are relatively situated and unelaboratedin reference. The developmentof fiction along this dimension is striking: 17th-centuryand 19th-centuryfiction are moderately elaborated;18th-century fiction is the most elaboratedof our threegenres; and modernfiction is among the most situated.Text Samples 3, 4, and 5 illustrate these differences.Sample3 is froma 17th-century story by Mrs. Behn, Sample 4 from a story by Samuel Johnson (18th century), and Sample 5 from a story by D. H. Lawrence (modern period). The major features of the elaborated

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502

LANGUAGE,VOLUME65, NUMBER3 (1989)

ELABORATED

Fiction-18th Century
9 +

Essays-18th Century
8 +

Essays-19th Century
7 +

Essays-17th Century
6 +

Fiction-17th Century& 19thCentury


5 +

Letters- 18thCentury
3 +

Essays-Modern
2 +

Letters-19th Century
1 +

-1

Letters-17th

Century

Fiction-Modern
-2 +

-3

Letters-Modern
-4 +

SITUATION-DEPENDENT

5. Mean scores of DimensionB (Elaboratedversus Situation-Dependent FIGURE Reference)for fiction, essays, and letters in four centuries.

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DRIFTAND THE EVOLUTIONOF ENGLISHSTYLE

503

reference dimension (B) are capitalized in these samples. (Majorfeatures of the abstract style dimension [C], which will be discussed below, are underlined.)
TEXTSAMPLE 3. Mrs. Behn: Oroonoko (17th century)

The prince return'dto court with quite anotherhumourthan BEFORE; and though he did not speak much of the fair Imoinda,he had the pleasureto hear all his followers speak of of the old king, nothingbut the charmsof that maid, insomuchthat, even in the PRESENCE they were extolling her, and heightening,if possible, the beautiesthey had found in her: so that nothingelse was talk'd of, no other sound was heardin every cornerWHERE there were whisperers,but "ImoindaImoinda".
TEXTSAMPLE 4. Samuel Johnson: The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinica

(18thcentury)
Ye WHO to the whispers of fancy, and pursue with EAGERNESS listen with CREDULITY the

phantomsof hope; WHO expect that age will performthe promisesof youth, and that the
DEFICIENCIES of the present day will be supplied by the morrow-attend

to the history of

Rasselas, princeof Abyssinia. Rasselaswas the fourthson of the mightyemperor,INWHOSE dominions the Fatherof waters beginshis course;WHOSE bountypoursdown the streamsof plenty,and scattersover half the world the harvestsof Egypt. has descendedfromage to age amongthe monarchsof the Accordingto the custom WHICH torridzone, Rasselaswas confinedin a privatepalace, withthe other sons AND daughtersof
should call him to the throne. Abyssinian ROYALTY,till the order of SUCCESSION The place, WHICHthe wisdom or policy of ANTIQUITY had destined for the RESIDENCE of the

on every Abyssinianprinces, was a spacious valley in the kingdomof Amhara,surrounded side by mountains,OFWHICH the summitsoverhangthe middlepart. The only passage, BY
WHICH it could be entered, was a cavern that passed under a rock, OFWHICH it has long been

disputed whetherit was the work of natureor of humanindustry.The outlet of the cavern was concealedby a thick wood, and the mouthWHICH opened into the valley was closed with gates of iron, forgedby the artificersof ancientdays, so massy that no mancould withoutthe help of engines open or shut them.
TEXTSAMPLE 5. D. H. Lawrence: 'The Fox' (modern)

'He could not sleep. He could not keep still. He rose, QUIETLY dressedhimself,andcreptOUT
on to the landing ONCE more. The women were silent. He went SOFTLY DOWNSTAIRS and OUT

to the kitchen. THEN he put on his boots and his overcoatand took the gun. He did not thinkto go AWAY from the farm. No, he only took the gun. As SOFTLY as possible he unfastenedthe door and
went OUTinto the frosty December night ... He went STEALTHILY AWAY DOWN a fence-side,

lookingfor somethingto shoot.'

Both the 18th-centuryand the modern samples (4 and 5) have strikingly markedcharacterizations with respect to the elaboratedreferencedimension. In the relatively short 18th-century passage by Johnson (Sample4) there are ten wH-relative clauses, includingfour pied-pipingconstructions;in addition, there are seven nominalizedforms. Many of the descriptive details in this passageare containedin the relativeclauses, resultingin a text thatis extremely elaboratedin reference. The modern passage from Lawrence (Sample 5), in contrast, is markedly unelaboratedin reference while making several direct references to the temporaland physical context (e.g. out, away, down). Contrastingwith both these samples, the 17th-century passage from Behn (Sample 3) is intermediate,with few of the featuresmarking elaboratedreference(such as wH-relative clauses and nominalizations) as well as few of the featuresmark-

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504

LANGUAGE,VOLUME65, NUMBER3 (1989)

ing situated reference. These samples illustrate the extreme shift along DimensionB in fiction normsfrom the 18thto the 20thcenturies-from a heavily elaboratedand nominalizedstyle to a relativelysituatedand unelaborated descriptionof referentsand events. Over the centuriesessays have changedless thanfiction or letters along the elaboratedreference dimension,but the trend has been in the same direction. As Fig. 5 shows, 17th-centuryessays are relatively elaboratedin reference, 18th- and 19th-centuryessays are extremely elaborated, and modern essays are much less elaboratedthan those of the previousperiods. Text Samples68 illustrate these differences. Sample 6 is by Thomas Sprat (17th century), Sample 7 by Joseph Addison (18th century), and Sample 8 by Mark Twain (modern period). Again, features of the elaboratedreference dimension are capitalized(featuresof the abstractstyle dimensionare underlined).
TEXTSAMPLE 6. Thomas Sprat: The History of the Royal Society (17th century)

the only remedythat can They have thereforebeen most rigorousin puttingin EXECUTION
and that has been a constant RESOLUTION be found for this EXTRAVAGANCE: to reject all the ANDSWELLINGS of style, to return BACK to the primitive PURITY DIGRESSIONS, AMPLIFICATIONS, ANDSHORTNESS, WHEN men delivered so many things almost in an equal number of words.

They have exacted from all their membersa close, naked, naturalway of SPEAKING positive
clear senses, a native EASINESS EXPRESSIONS, bringing all things as NEARthe mathematical PLAINNESS as they can; and preferring the languageof artisans,countrymen,and merchants

before that of wits or scholars.


TEXTSAMPLE 7. Joseph Addison: from The Spectator, No. 591 (18th century)

the materialworld, BYWHICH 1 Thoughthere is a great deal of pleasurein contemplating mean that system of bodies INTO WHICH naturehas so curiously wroughtthe mass of dead
WHICH those bodies bear to one another, there is still, matter, with the several RELATIONS on the world of life, methinks, something more wonderful and surprising in CONTEMPLATIONS BYWHICH I mean all those animals WITH WHICH every part of the universe is furnished.... EXISTENCE are endowed with PERCEPTION is a blessing to those beings only WHICH and is,

in a manner,thrownAWAY upon dead matterany furtherthan as it is subservientto beings


WHICH are conscious of their EXISTENCE. TEXTSAMPLE 8. Mark Twain: Christian Science (modern)

There are plenty of people WHO this book; I know this, for 1 have imaginethey understand talkedwith them;but in all cases they were peopleWHO also imaginedthattherewere no such
and death, and no REALITIES in the world; nothing actually existent things as pain, SICKNESS,

but Mind.It seems to me to modifythe valueof theirtestimony.Whenthese peopletalkabout ChristianScience they do as Mrs. Fullerdid: they do not use their own language,but the
... book's; they pour out the book's showy INCOHERENCES

The 17th-century Sprat selection (Sample6) is relativelyunelaborated in its use of relativeclauses but shows a frequentuse of nominalizedforms. In contrast, Addison(Sample7) illustratesthe extremelyelaboratedstyle of reference common in 18th-century essays, markedby very frequentrelativeclauses that exact referential permit specificationand supplydescriptivedetails, and by the frequentuse of nominalizedforms. Finally, the Twain passage (Sample 8) illustratesthe relativelyunelaboratedstyle found in the modernessay, which is not nearly as situated as modernfiction but is much less elaboratedthan the essays of earliercenturies. The development of letters from the 17th century to the modern period is also very pronounced,as Fig. 5 shows. 17th-century letters are relativelysitu-

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DRIFT AND THE EVOLUTION OF ENGLISH STYLE

505

letters are markedlyelabated in reference, whereas 18th-and 19th-century As with fiction and essays, then, oratedin their DimensionB characterization. letters underwenta dramaticshift between the 19thcentury and the modern period, so that modernletters are the most situatedgenre consideredhere. To summarize,a single trend has influencedall three genres with respect to on the elaboratedreference dimension(B): from an intheir characterization in the 17thcenturyto an extremelyelaboratedand termediatecharacterization explicit markingof reference in the 18thcentury, followed by a transitionto a much more situated and less elaboratedstyle in the modernperiod.
3.3. HISTORICAL RELATIONS WITH RESPECTTO THE ABSTRACT STYLE DIMENSION

(C). The development of genres along the abstract style dimension (C) is slightly more complex, but the overall directionof change-towards less passive, and therefore more oral, styles-is parallel to that along the other dimensions, as Figure 6 shows. Fiction follows essentially the same patternas fiction is moderatelyabon the elaboratedreference dimension: 17th-century stract and passive in style, 18th-centuryfiction becomes extremely passive in style, and there is then a transitionto relativelynonabstractstyles in 19thcentury fiction, which continues to the markedlynonabstractstyle of modern fiction. Samples 3-5 illustratethese styles, with the majorfeatures of the abstract style dimension underlined.In particular,note the extreme frequency Johnson passage (Sample4), in contrast of passive forms in the 18th-century to the total absence of such forms in the modernLawrence passage (Sample
5).

The development of essays and letters on the abstractstyle dimensionhas been more direct, beginningwith an abstractstyle in the 17thcenturyfollowed by a steady progressionto a less abstractstyle in the modernperiod. The shift essays being withinessays has been quitedramatic,with 17th-and 18th-century extremely abstractin style while modernessays are among the least abstract genres. Text Sample 9, writtenby Johnson in the 18thcentury, illustratesthe extreme passive and abstractstyle adoptedin typical essays of this period.
9. Samuel Johnson: 'Preface' to A Dictionary of the English Language TEXTSAMPLE (18th century) would be that of a nation raised The language most likely to continue long without ALTERATION secluded from strangers, and totally employed in a little, and but a little, above BARBARITY, can be expected in a people of life; ... But no such CONSTANCY procuring the CONVENIENCES one part of the community is sustained polished by arts, and classed by subordination, WHERE ANDaccommodated by the labor of the other.

By contrast, the Twain text (Sample 8 discussed earlier)illustratesthe direct, nonpassive style common in modernessays. Finally, there has been relativelylittle change in the style of personalletters with respect to the abstractstyle dimension,as shown by the nonsignificantF score in Table3 and the relativelysimilarscores plottedon Fig. 6. Seventeenthcenturyletters are relativelynonabstractin forn,and those of the more recent periods have become even less abstract. We thus see a single directionof change in all threegenres alongthe abstract style dimension, towards a less passive and less abstract style. Unlike their

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506

LANGUAGE, VOLUME 65, NUMBER 3 (1989) ABSTRACT 3 + Fiction -18th Century Essays-17th Century Essays-18th Century 2 +

+ Fiction -17th Century Essays-19th Century

+ Letters- 17th Century Fiction-19th Century

-I

+ Essays-Modern Letters-19th Century Fiction Modern Letters- 18th Century & Modern

-2

NONABSTRACT FIGURE 6. Mean scores of Dimension C (Abstract versus Nonabstract Style) for fiction, essays, and letters in four centuries.

essays andlettershave on the otherdimensions, 17th-century characterizations on this dimension,and their developmentsince quite literatecharacterizations then has reflected a steady progressiontowards more oral styles.
THECENTURIES.To summarize our ACROSS 4. THE DRIFT OF STYLISTIC NORMS

findings to this point, we can consider the generality of these historical developmentsfromfourperspectives:the dimensions;the genres;the chronology; and the overall developmentof style. (i) There have been very majorchanges along DimensionA (Informational versus Involved Production),Dimension B (Elaboratedversus Situation-Dependent Reference), and Dimension C (Abstractversus NonabstractStyle). (ii) The three genres-fiction, essays, and letters-have all undergonemajor changes with respect to the three dimensions.Althoughthe differencesamong

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DRIFTAND THE EVOLUTIONOF ENGLISHSTYLE

507

essays on the involvement dimension (A) and among letters on the abstract style dimension (C) are not statistically significant, the direction of change within each genre is consistent with the other observed patterns. (iii)Withrespectto the chronology,all genrestend to follow the same general texts tend to be moderately patternon all dimensions: 17th-and 18th-century or extremely literate, with a transitiontowards more oral styles in the 19th in the modern centuryand the developmentof a distinctlyoral characterization period. (iv) As far as style is concerned, all genres have been driftingtowardsmore That is, across the four centuriesall genres have tended oral characterizations. towardsmore involved, more situated, and less abstractstyles. We can get a feel for the processes involved in these historicaldevelopments by examiningthe rangeof variationwithineach genrein each period,as plotted in Figs. 7-9. These figures indicate a strong relationshipbetween synchronic variationand historicalchange in the overallevolutionof these genres, parallel to that shown for the evolution of particular phonologicalfeaturesin the work of Labov and others. It would appear that duringsome periods the range of variationbecomes extended as writersexperimentwith new forms. Then, as a new norm becomes accepted, we see a shift in the central tendency of the genre and a narrowingof the rangeof acceptablevariation. For example, on the elaborated reference dimension (B) and the abstract style dimension (C) (Figures 7 and 8), there was a considerableextension of variationin the 18thcentury relative to both the precedingand the following centuries. Thus, as Fig. 7 shows, the 18thcentury was a periodof quite fluid normsfor fiction, essays, and letters with respect to elaboration;Fig. 8 shows the same thing with respect to abstract style. In all these cases, the range of variationin the 17th century was quite restrictedrelative to that of the 18th century. Then, in the 19thcentury, new norms of variationbegan to emerge which were more restrictedthan those of the 18thcentury. These developments were also systematic with respect to the literate and oral poles. Figs. 7 and 8 show an overall transitionto more oral styles. The texts representsa period very wide rangeof variationfoundin the 18th-century includingsome texts that are more elaborated of considerableexperimentation, and more abstractthan in any other century, but also some texts that are more texts tended to be oral than any found in the 17thcentury. The 19th-century those of the while texts, than 18th-century less elaboratedand less abstract modernperiod show a markedshift towards more oral styles as the accepted norm (more situatedand less abstract). Along the involvementdimension(A; Figure9) the pictureis not so straightforward,althoughthe same generalpatternholds. The 18thcentury witnessed considerably expanded norms for fiction and letters along the involvement dimension,and this expansiveness was narrowedin the 19thcentury.The general driftof all three genres with respect to the literateand oral poles is roughly analogousto DimensionsB and C: relativelyinvolved(oral)in the 17thcentury, styles (literate)in the 18thcentury followed by a markedshift to informational and then a gradualreturnto involved styles in the modernperiod.

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508

LANGUAGE,VOLUME65, NUMBER3 (1989)

FICTION 17c ELABORATED 25 + 18c 19c MOD 17c

ESSAYS 18c 19c MOD 17c

LETTERS 18c 19c MOD

20

15

10

* *

+
* * *

l
-5 +

10

SITUATED 7. Drift of norms along Dimension B (Elaborated versus Situation-Dependent Reference) FIGURE for fiction, essays, and letters. ('*' marks the mean score of each genre.)

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DRIFTAND THE EVOLUTIONOF ENGLISHSTYLE


FICTION 17c ABSTRACT 18c 19c MOD 17c ESSAYS 18c 19c MOD 17c LETTERS

509

18c

19c

MOD

8 7 6 5 4 3 2
1

+ + + + + +
* *

+
+

I *
+
*

-1

+
*

* *

-2 -3

+ +

NONABSTRACT 8. Drift of norms along Dimension C (Abstract versus Nonabstract Style) for fiction, essays, FIGURE and letters. ('*' marks the mean score of each genre.)

The development along the involvement dimension (A) shows certain differences from the other two dimensions, however. First, the range of possibilities for all three genres has increased in the modern period along the involvement dimension; it is unclear whether such a range of possibilities will continue or will be narrowed as new norms establish themselves. In addition,

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510

LANGUAGE, VOLUME 65, NUMBER 3 (1989)

FICTION

ESSAYS

LETTERS

17c
INFORMATIONAL

18c

19c MOD

17c 18c

19c MOD

17c

18c 19c MOD

20

15

+
* * *

10

* 5 + -

* *

* -5
+

* *

-10

-15

-20

INVOLVED

FIGURE 9. Drift of norms along Dimension A (Informational versus Involved Production) for fiction, essays, and letters. ('*' marks the mean score of each genre.)

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DRIFTAND THE EVOLUTIONOF ENGLISHSTYLE

511

modernfiction, while more involved (more oral) than 18th-and 19th-century fiction.'0 fiction, is on average less involved (less oral) than 17th-century Apart from these relativelyminor wrinkles, Figs. 7-9 show that a common overall patternholds across all dimensionsand genres-a drift towards more oral styles, with the middle centuriesbeing periods of experimentation exhibitinga wide rangeof literateand oral styles. Both the centraltendency and the extensionsof the rangeof variationshow a progression towardsmoreoralstyles fromthe 17thcenturyto the modernperiod.In nearlyevery case, though,there is a reactionagainstthis generaldriftin the middleperiods. This reactiondoes not negate the general patternof drift, because these middleperiodsgenerally show the presence of some texts that are more oral than any texts found in the previous period. Rather, the middle periods seem to representa state of flux in genre norms, resulting in extreme experimentationwith literate styles in additionto the general drift towards more oral styles. It is possible to analyze the extent of this reactionin terms of the 'preferred pole' of a genre, which is determinedby its primarysituationalcharacteristics and purposes.Essays have a consistentlyliteratepreferred pole: they are written in situationsthat permitcarefulplanningand revision;they are addressed to a large, unknownaudience; they do not often make direct referenceto the time or place of writing;they generally do not permit interaction;and their purposesare typicallyinformational. Letters, in contrast,tend towardsthe oral pole: they tend to be less carefullyplannedor revised; they are addressedto a specific individualand permit delayed interaction;and they have primarily interpersonal purposes.Fiction is morecomplex. It has a preferred literatepole in that it is carefully plannedand revised, and it is not directly interactive;it has a preferredoral pole in that it is not writtenfor strictly informational purposes, and it is very situatedrelative to its fictional context. The preferredpole of a genre influences its developmentinsofar as a genre tends to shift towardsits preferredpole earlier,maintainan extendedrangeof variationin the direction of its preferredpole longer, and shift furtherin the
10As an analysisof Fig. 9 shows, fiction was relativelyinvolved in the 17thcenturyand, with an expandedrangeof possibilities in the 18thcentury,it developedtowarda relativelyinformational style in the 19thcentury. The modernperiod,in contrast,shows a much-expanded rangeof possibilitiesas comparedto the 19thcentury,as well as a changeof directionto a moreinvolved(more oral) characterization. Its meandimensionscore here (as given in Table3) is 6.8, which is significantly more oral than 19th-century fiction (11.6) and slightlymoreoral than 18th-century fiction (7.2), but still less oral than 17th-century fiction. In light of the expandedrangeof permissiblevariationalong DimensionA and the directionof changewith respect to 19th-century fiction, we would predictthat fiction in the late 20thcentury is movingalongDimensionA towardsmoreinvolved,moreoralcharacterizations. Whilewe have not yet tested this hypothesis,thereis some evidencethatour interpretation is correct.Recallthat we presentedmean scores in ?2.2 for selected contemporary Englishgenres. In particular, Fig. 1 shows that contemporary fiction has a score of 0 on DimensionA. Given that the fiction texts in the LOB Corpus,on which this score is based, are fromthe year 1962,and that the moderntexts in the presentstudy date from 1865until about 1950,the contemporary texts of Fig. 1 represent a later stage of developmentthan the moderntexts of Fig. 9. This score of 0.0 for contemporary fictionis very close to the score of - 1.0for 17th-century fiction,and we wouldpredictthatfiction will move still furthertowardinvolvementand oralityas the centurycloses.

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512

LANGUAGE,VOLUME65, NUMBER3 (1989)

direction of its preferredpole. Consider the case of essays. On both the involvement dimension(Fig. 9) and the abstractstyle dimension(Fig. 8), essays have alreadyextendedtowardsthe literatepole in the 17thcentury.They maintain this extended literaterangeof variationthroughthe 19thcentury, and the shiftto a moreoral style, when it comes in the modernperiod,does not progress as far as in letters (with an oral preferredpole). The same generalizations hold for essays on the elaboratedreferencedimension(Fig. 7), except that the literate extension does not occur until the 18thcentury. Letters follow the opposite pattern. On all three dimensions, letters are alreadyrelativelyoralin the 17thcentury.In the 18thcentury,the rangeof letters is extended to includemore literatestyles, but then it contractsin the direction of more oral styles in the 19th century and evolves into the most oral styles in the modernperiod.The only exceptionto this patternis on the abstractstyle dimension(Fig. 8), where there is relatively little change across the periods. As noted above, fiction is more complex. On the elaboratedreference dimension (Fig. 7) and the abstractstyle dimension(Fig. 8), fiction follows the general patternof letters, with the 18th century being the only period of extension towards literate norms, and the eventual shift in the modern period resultingin a considerablymore oral style than that of essays. On the involvement dimension (Fig. 9), fiction follows the patternof essays, maintaining a quite literate range of variationthroughboth the 18th and 19th centuries and beginningto shift to more oral styles only in the modernperiod.
5. DISCUSSION. Two major questions arise out of this historical description

of genre evolution. First, why does the overall pattern of drift move in the directionof moreoral styles? And second, whatprompted the reactionsagainst this overall patternin the middle periods? It is possible to address these questionsby referenceto both conscious and unconscious motivations. Certainconscious motivationsare attested as attitudes explicitly expressed by writers of these periods, while the overall demographicsand the purposes of writingin these periods may have influenced conscious as well as unconscious motivations. Such influences, conscious or not, were functionalto the extent that styles evolved in response to situational and communicativedemands. Some of the conscious factors, though, might be labeledaesthetic, because they representevolving normsof taste apartfrom considerationsof function.Althoughthese are not sharplydistinctmotivations, we will attemptto differentiatebetween acknowledgedinfluencesin these periods and other functionalinfluences. We recognize various minortrends and attitudesbut focus on the main developmentsin each century. The 17th century witnessed the rise of experimentalscience and a general preferencefor rationalismover emotionalism.For the first time, writerswere using Englishalmostas much as Latin(Fowler 1987:124), and new genres such as the scientific expository essay, biography,and history began to appear.To serve these realistic, informationalpurposes, simple and 'plain' expository
styles were developed. As Sprat writes in The History of the Royal Society

(1667; cf. Sample6), the emphasis was on 'things' ratherthan 'words'. Sprat

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DRIFTAND THE EVOLUTIONOF ENGLISHSTYLE

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thus rejects all 'amplifications,digressions,and swellingsof style', concluding that 'eloquence ought to be banishedout of all civil societies as a thing fatal to peace and good manners'. He advocates a 'primitivepurityand shortness' and a 'close, naked, naturalway of speaking' as requiredfor the new informationalexpository purposes. Attitudes concerningthe centralityof scientific andrationalpursuits,andthe appropriateness of its plainexpositorystyle, were widely shared duringthe last half of the 17th century. Such attitudes are reflected in the relativelyfocused and oral normsfor prose genres in this period. In contrast, the 18th century witnessed considerableconflict over the appropriatepurposesand styles of writtenprose. The 18th-century essay samples (7 and 9) are quite literate (elaboratedin reference and passive in style). But much of the prose from this period was markedlycolloquialand structurally simple. Consider,for example, the followingpassageby Addison(andcontrast its style with Sample 7, by the same author).
TEXTSAMPLE 10. Joseph Addison: from The Spectator, No. 69

For these reasonsthere are not more useful membersin a commonwealth than merchants. They knit mankindtogether in a mutualintercourseof good offices, distributethe gifts of
to the great. Our nature, find work for the poor, add wealth to the rich, and MAGNIFICENCE

Englishmerchantconverts the tin of his own countryinto gold, and exchangeshis wool for
rubies. The Mahometans are clothed in our British manufacture, and the INHABITANTS of the

Frozen Zone warmedwith the fleeces of our sheep.

With respect to the elaboratedreference dimensionand the abstract style dimension, this sample is oral-with little referentialelaboration,few nominalizations, and few occurrencesof past participialfeatures. These characterizations are in keeping with the informationalexpository purposes initiated duringthe 17thcentury. In addition, the 18th century witnessed the rise of a popular,middle-class literacyfor the firsttime in Englishhistory.The readingpublicgrew throughout this period and came to includeupper-and middle-classreadersof both sexes. Although it is difficult to assess literacy levels in earlier periods, there was clearly a markedexpansion of the generalreadingpublic duringthe 18thcennotes that 'perhapsas manyas 60%of men in England tury. Laqueur(1976:255) by 1754 and 40% of the women could sign the marriageregisterand there is evidence that an even higher proportionwere probablyable to read'. Based on self-reports,by the year 1800,male adultsin Englandclaimed62%literacy, in Scotland 62%, and in New England90%(Clifford1984:475). For the first time there were writers like Defoe and Richardson,who were from the middleclass themselves and addressedthemselves primarily to middle-class readers. Periodicalssuch as The Spectatorand The Tatlerbegan to appearin the early 18thcentury, and the first modernmagazine(Gentleman's This popularpress was priMagazine) appearedin 1731(Abrams 1979:1735). marilyinformational,with essays and articles about politics, science, and philosophy as well as local scandaland gossip. These periodicalshad substantial circulations;Addison, in the March 12, 1711, edition of The Spectator, estimates that there were 3,000 copies of the paper distributedevery day, and twenty readersof each copy. By the late 18thcenturya largenumberof books,

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tracts, almanacs, and magazineswere in widespreadcirculationamong ordi1986:21). nary people (Cook-Gumperz There is anotherside to this picture, however. Much writingof this period, by such authorsas Swift, Pope, and Johnson, remaineddistinctly aristocratic in its subject matter and intended audience. In addition, a strong conscious reaction arose against strictly expository purposes and their attendantplain Johnsoncontrasts styles. In the followingpassage (cited in Abrams1979:1737), a rationalisticinformationalstyle, illustratedby Swift's prose, with his own preferencefor a more elaborated,emotional style. For Johnson, this stylistic preferenceis a naturalresultof the appropriate purposeof prose-to persuade ratherthan expound.
'His [Swift's] style was well suited to his thoughts, which are never subtilized by nice disquisitions, decorated by sparkling conceit, elevated by ambitious sentences ... He pays no court to the passions ... he always understands himself, and his readers always understand him ... For purposes merely didactic, when something is to be told that was not known before, it [Swift's style] is the best mode; but against that inattention by which known truths are suffered to lie neglected, it makes no provision; it instructs, but does not persuade.'

Similarsentimentswere commonlyexpressedin the New World.For example, BenjaminFranklinwrites in 1750: 'Art is long, and their [students']Time is short. It is thereforepropos'd that they learn those Things that are likely to be ... most ornamental ...' (cited in Baron 1982:123). The 18th century was thus a period of considerableconflict concerningliteracy, with markedlydifferentviews of intendedreaders,the appropriate purposes of prose, and appropriate styles. The extremelywide rangeof prose styles describedin the present study reflects this conflict-many authorsused markfor didactic, informational edly oral styles that were appropriate purposesand intendedfor a broadpopularaudience;others, in reactionto this popularoral shift, used extremely elaborated,abstractstyles to serve persuasivepurposes among specialized, elite audiences. By the 19thcentury, the shift towardsa popularliteracybegan to be widely acceptedas the norm.Mass schoolingreinforcedthis shiftandresultedin nearly universal literacy (Cook-Gumperz1986, de Castell & Luke 1986). Fiction genres such as the novel and the short story became well established and were widely read by the generalpublic. This trend was also reinforcedby an overt interest in nature and a philosophical preferencefor naturalnessand utility, which found expression in Romantic art, music, and literature.In prose, these Romanticattitudes resulted in a preferencefor an individual,colloquialself-expressionratherthanan elabFor example, William orated, impersonal,and abstractstyle of argumentation. Hazlitt in 1822 draws explicit parallelsbetween the appropriateness of naturalness in the arts and in prose style:
'It is not pomp or pretension, but the adaptation of the expression to the idea that clenches a writer's meaning:-as it is not the size or glossiness of the materials, but their being fitted each to its place, that gives strength to the arch ... I hate any thing that occupies more space than it is worth' [Table-Talk, 'On Familiar Style'].

For many writers of the Romanticperiod, naturalprose meant a colloquial style, reflectingconversation'splace as the most basic mode of communication.

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Wordsworthwrites in his influentialpreface to Lyrical Ballads (1800) of his attemptto relate incidentsand situations'in a selection of languagereallyused by men'-language which conveys feelingsin 'simpleand unelaborated expresand capricioushabits of expression' used sions', as opposed to the 'arbitrary by earlierauthors. This preference for colloquial, 'natural'languagewas found on both sides of the Atlantic, and it characterized as well as literarydiscussions grammatical (Finegan 1980). For example, Noah Webster wrote in his 1807 grammarof Englishthat 'It struckme ... as the most monstrousabsurdity,thatbooks should
teach us a language altogether different from the common language of life ...';

in fact, he goes so far as to ask 'why should we retainwords in writingwhich are not generally recognized in oral practice!' (cited in Finegan 1980:42).By
the time his American Dictionary of the English Language was published in

1828, Webster was enthusiasticallyendorsing a wholly naturalisticview of usage. He writes that the
'authority of universal colloquial practice ... I consider as the real and only genuine languMage.

I repeatthis remark,thatgeneralandrespectableusagein speakingis the genuineor legitimate languageof a countryto which the writtenlanguageoughtto be conformed.Languageis that whichis utteredby the tongue,andif mendo not writethe language as it is spokenby the great body of respectablepeople, they do not write the real language'(cited in Finegan1980:45).

These trendscontinuedinto the modernperiod. Literacybecame nearlyuniversal in the United States and England,so that readershad a very wide range of backgroundsand interests, and a large body of literaturewas written for this general readingpublic. The developmentof a popularliteracy fostered a shift towards more oral styles, reflecting the general levels of literacy competence. This shift was reinforcedby an aesthetic preferencefor naturaland colloquialstyles. These attitudescontinue to the present time, as reflected by college handbooks on writing, which praise direct, 'active' styles and warn against passive, nominalized,and structurally complex styles. 6. CONCLUSION. In this article we have describeda patternof stylistic drift very much akin to Sapir's series of individuallinguisticdevelopmentscumulative in a particular direction(1921:155).We have demonstrated how complex patternsof historicalchange, involving developmentsof three writtengenres along three dimensions of variation,are cumulativein the direction of more oral styles. We have traced the particularpaths taken by fiction, essays, and letters across four centuries.Althoughthe changes along each dimensionhave differedin rate and extent, all these developmentsreflect a steady progressson towards more oral styles. We have paid special attentionto the 18th century because it was characterized by conflictingtendencies. On the one hand, many writers in tune with the generalpatternof driftproducedtexts more oral than those of the 17thcentury. Other writers, though, consciously reactingagainst the driftto oral styles (and to the functionalmotivationsunderlying that drift), producedtexts more literate than those in any other period of our study. The drift towardsorality has been steady and cumulative-but not always without resistance. This patternof drift reflects a range of functionalforces. The shift to more

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oral styles served the demands of a progressively wider reading public. As largenumbersof middle-and working-classspeakersbecame literate,the reading public representeda wide rangeof interests, concerns, and competencies. A general, popularliteracy, appealingto a broad spectrumof the population, was thus increasinglyrequired.In addition,relativelyoral, direct styles arose in the 17th and 18th centuries to meet the functionaldemandsof the new informational,expository genres. Finally, the trend towards more oral styles to preferencesfor natureand natreflects aesthetic attitudes,tied in particular uralness. The reaction to this trend in the middle periods was due at least in part to conscious disagreementconcerningthe appropriatepurposes and audiences for written prose. These counterpurposesresulted in the preference for extremely literate styles found in some writersduringthese periods. The driftdescribedhere is similarto Sapir'sin thatit is long-term,consistent, and cumulative in a particulardirection. We have refined and extended his notion, however. First, we have suggesteda numberof functionalmotivations for the patternsobserved here, while Sapirfocused chiefly on structural forces underlyingdrift. In addition, patterns of stylistic drift are often consciously accessible (andconsciouslyadvancedor resisted)ratherthanprogressing below the level of consciousness. Whethersuch characteristicsof drift pertainonly to the evolution of styles or also influencethe evolution of individuallinguistic features remainsto be investigated. There also remaina numberof questions concerningthe evolution of other languagevarieties in English. Primaryamongthese is the evolution of spoken genres (such as court proceedings,town meetings, congressionaldebates, sermons, and dramaticdialogue). In research currentlyunderway, we are analyzing additionaltexts, to trace the evolution of style across smallerperiods of time; additionalgenres, to assess the generalityof these processes; older and additional contemporaneous periods, to extend the analysisdiachronically; such of drift. motivations social the explore to discussions of style,
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Department of Linguistics University of Southern California University Park Los Angeles, CA 90089-1693 [Received 21 October 1987; revision received 12 December 1988; accepted 9 March 1989; final draft received 3 April 1989.]

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