Modern diachronic corpus-assisted discourse studies

Modern diachronic corpus-assisted discourse studies (MD-CADS) is a field of studies recently developed largely by the SiBol Group which is characterised by the novelty both of its methodology and the topics it is consequently in a position to treat. It employs large corpora of a parallel structure and content from different moments of contemporary time in order to track changes in modern language usage but also social, cultural and political changes over modern times, as reflected in language.
The use of corpora of texts to study language dates from the 1960s and so, by the 1990s it was possible to compile corpora similar in content and structure to earlier ones for the purposes of diachronic linguistic comparison. However, because early corpora were, for both technical and economic reasons, relatively very small (for instance the Brown and LOB corpora of, respectively US and UK Englishes in the early 1960s each contain one-million words of text) such comparative studies were necessarily limited to the analysis of changes in the behaviour of very frequent words or constructions; they were studies therefore largely on grammar. Using very recently compiled much larger corpora from different time periods, typically containing over 100 million words of newspaper texts, the first set of MD-CADS work, published by the SiBol Group, studies firstly a far wider variety of grammatical constructions, secondly typical discourse practices within a discourse type (that is typical ways of saying things) and also compare earlier with more recent attitudes to certain social, cultural and political phenomenon, as projected by the mainstream UK quality press (Partington ed. 2010).
Grammatical developments observed include changes in time of favoured tense usage, of preferred linkers, prepositions and even function verbs and auxiliaries. There has been an increase in the use of personal pronouns and verb contractions and a decline in the use of honorifics.
Developments in newspaper discourse practices observed include changes in evidentiality, that is, how newspapers give evidence for the claims they make, the ways in which science is reported and, above all, that the UK so-called ‘quality’ papers are adopting many of the practices and language behaviours once thought more typical of their down-market ‘tabloid’ rivals.
Sociopolitical and cultural studies saw changes in what the UK papers considered moral and immoral over the period and what were favoured “moral panics” (including differences between newspapers of different political leaning), changes and similarities in the way BOY and GIRL were represented and the appearance in the later data of dramatic and disturbing new representations of antisemitism in Europe and the UK (see Publications by theme).