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Filling gaps – building a parsed corpus of Older Scots correspondence

Lisa Gotthard is a PhD Student and Tutor at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on syntactic developments in Scots during the time of its anglicisation, i.e. when Scots fell under increasing influence from standard English in the 16th-18th century. This research involves syntactically annotating a corpus of Older Scots, analysis of diachronic syntactic change, as well as investigating outcomes of language contact.

Abstract: Variation and change in syntax is particularly challenging to measure quantitatively, as such investigation requires syntactically annotated (parsed) corpora; a parsed digital corpus allows for retrieval of all instances of a construction or particular word order in a fraction of the time it would take to retrieve the same information by hand. Compared to English, research on syntactic change in the history of Scots has been limited, in part due to the lack of such a resource. In this talk, I will present the new Parsed Corpus of Scottish Correspondence (PCSC), consisting of 270,000 words of parsed data from the Helsinki Corpus of Scottish Correspondence 1540-1750 (Meurman-Solin and VARIENG 2016), and demonstrate the process in turning strings of words into searchable clause tokens by using a combination of automated and manual methods. The PCSC provides data from the 16th to 18th century, a previous blind spot within Scots syntax research despite being a highly interesting time period to investigate; these centuries saw a shift in the relationship between Scots and English, as English started to exert influence over Scots as a more socio-politically prestigious variety – consequently, salient Scots features were increasingly replaced by English ones in writing. Thus, the 16th-18th century marks a period of great change in Scots, as it went from being a more distinct variety on a standardisation trajectory, to the mixed, complicated, variety we encounter in Scotland today. Using the new parsed data from the PCSC, I will present results from two case studies on Scots subject-verb agreement strategies, beginning to fill the gaps in our knowledge of this period.