Syntactic change during the anglicisation of Scots: Insights from the Parsed Corpus of Scottish Correspondence

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract / Description of output

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 order to meet these demands, this thesis presents 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 2017), and demonstrates 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 variety we encounter in Scotland today. Using the new parsed data from the PCSC, I present results from three case studies on syntactic change in 16th to 18th century Scots, thus beginning to fill the gaps in our knowledge of this period. The findings of the case studies reveal the transformative nature of Scots syntax in the 16th to 18th century, as the language undergoes dramatic changes in its subject-verb agreement system through the decline of the Northern Subject Rule and the rise of do-support, and further rearrangement in the verbal paradigm through the rise of verbal -ing in both participial and gerundive function. On assessing whether these changes can be attributed to influence from English, or whether they are simply parallel developments in closely related language varieties, it is found that the nature of contact between Scots and English in the 16th-18th century, and the timing in which the changes take place, speaks in favour of these changes being contact-induced. However, further fine-grained investigation into the functions and distribution of the features involved, in Scots compared to English, will be needed before more firm conclusions can be drawn regarding the origin of the changes.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Los, Bettelou, Supervisor
  • Truswell, Robert, Supervisor
  • Alcorn, Rhona, Supervisor
Award date22 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2023


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