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Date: Tue, 7 Jun 2005 21:19:17 +0200 From: Clemens Fritz Subject: The Progressive in 19th-century English
AUTHOR: Smitterberg, Erik TITLE: The Progressive in 19th-century English SUBTITLE: A process of integration SERIES: Language and Computers 54 PUBLISHER: Rodopi YEAR: 2005
Clemens Fritz, Freie Universität Berlin
Smitterberg's "The progressive in 19th-century English" is a superb account of the development of the progressive, its different forms and uses in Late Modern English English (EngE). For the nineteenth century the development of the passive progressive and the progressive form of 'be' have been recorded, but so far there has been no comprehensive corpus-based study of the progressive using periods, genre and gender as variables. The author's findings are corpus-based and are related to previous research throughout. The basic line of argument is that quantitative developments reveal where and to what extent the progressive became increasingly integrated into EngE. The book's wide scope will make it a convenient and reliable reference work and should stimulate further research.
STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK
The book is divided into eight chapters, a references section and three appendices; an index, which would have made the book even more accessible, is missing. The table of contents is very detailed allowing quick access to select points of interest. At the beginning of each chapter and sub-chapter the planned course is outlined; summaries are provided throughout. The first two chapters deal with methodology and the corpus used. In Chapters 3-7 several investigations are presented which are then summarized in Chapter 8.
Chapter 1: It contains the general background, the aim and scope of the study, the terminology, the analytical frameworks and typographical and statistical conventions. Smitterberg chose the nineteenth century, since it is a relatively neglected period of study. Too long it was assumed that language use then was next to identical to present-day English (PDE). Only recently interest in late Modern English has grown; e.g. Bailey (1996), Fritz (fc.), Goerlach (1999) and Romaine (1998).
The progressive in the nineteenth century has been dealt with in several important articles, e.g. Arnaud (1998), Geisler (2003) and Hundt (2004). Apart from that, historical grammars, e.g. Visser (1973) and Denison (1998) are taken into account by Smitterberg. Another very influential background is Biber (1988) with his cross-genre analysis of the co-occurrence patterns of a large number of linguistic features. Biber identified several dimensions of language, e.g. involved vs. informational production; some of them distinguish typically oral from literate genres. Smitterberg uses all these investigations to find research questions and as points of comparison for his results.
Chapter 2: Smitterberg here presents his database, a Corpus Of Nineteenth Century English (CONCE). This corpus was not specially built for the study and is not available publicly yet. CONCE contains ca. 900,000 words of nineteenth century EngE. It is subdivided into three periods (1800-30, 1850-70 and 1870-1900), each of which contain the same amount of words in the following genres: Debates, Drama, Fiction, History, Letters, Science and Trials.
Two limitations fall into view immediately. First, CONCE is small compared to corpora of present-day English; but other historical corpora, like ARCHER and the Helsinki Corpus, even have a smaller number of words per century. Second, the material used is restricted to published material mostly by well-educated, well-known and well-off persons. This raises questions of representativity. Although Smitterberg retrieves the progressives from CONCE via a concordance program, WordSmith Tools, he takes great care to find the best search strings and through extensive post-editing he arrives at reliable data.
Chapter 3: This chapter discusses four methods of measuring the frequency of the progressive and states how these methods relate to variationist studies. Three have already been used in previous research, the fourth method is a new one designed by the author himself.
In the following Smitterberg uses the M-coefficient, which normalizes the raw frequency of the progressive to occurrences per 100,000 words, and the S-coefficient, which establishes the number of progressives in relation to the number of non-progressives. Applying the M-coefficient, Smitterberg can show that the progressive rises considerably in frequency over the three periods (172 – 263 - 316).
The seven genres show widely differing M-coefficients; they are lowest for Science (85) and Debates (89) and highest for Letters (307) and Trials (309). Clearly, use of the progressive is very genre- specific. Differences increase over time, showing that the genres themselves develop new forms and functions and that the progressive aids these developments. Progressives are also much more frequent in female than in male writings. Here, too, differences increase over time.
Chapter 4: The chapter compares some of the results from Chapter 3 with the results of Geisler's (2003) factor score analysis. The aim is to see whether, for example, high frequencies of the progressives co-occur with high frequencies of features characteristic of involved or informational production. This can yield insights into the functions of the progressive. Smitterberg shows that orality correlates positively with higher frequencies for the progressive. The same goes for involved production and situation-dependent reference.
Chapter 5: In this chapter, the occurrence patterns of the progressive within the verb phrase is analysed. Four features are looked at: tense (present vs. past), the perfect, voice and modal auxiliaries. For the first two, no clear diachronic development could be established. For the fourth, the number of progressives was actually decreasing. The investigation of voice is particularly interesting since there was a new type, the passive progressive 'The house is being built', that eventually replaced the passival 'The house is building'. The passive progressive started in informal genres, gradually spread and finally became the dominant mode of expressing passive voice with progressives.
Chapter 6: Here Smitterberg examines five linguistic variables that have been found to be important for the development and distribution of the progressive. They are: (1) the main verbs that can form progressives, (2) the Aktionsart value of the progressives (stative/non-stative; durative/non-durative), (3) the agentivity of the subjects, (4) the modification by temporal adverbials and (5) the type of clause progressives occur in.
Smitterberg found clearer indications of change with (4) and (5) than with (1)-(3). Non-agentivity with progressives had already risen considerably between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but do not increase within the nineteenth century. For (4) he states that increased integration of the progressive probably led to a decrease in the need for modification by temporal adverbials. For (5) the result was that the progressive indeed became more frequent in main clauses.
Chapter 7: The term 'not solely aspectual' is used for progressives that express something beyond purely aspectual meaning, for instance subjectivity, emotional involvement and emphasis. In sum they imply an attitudinal focus from the speaker's perspective. This meaning of the progressive has been marginalized in present-day English; in CONCE ca. 1/4 of all progressives were classified as 'not solely aspectual'. Smitterberg investigates (1) progressives modified by 'always' and similar adverbials, (2) 'experiential' progressives and (3) 'interpretative' progressives. (1) did not change in the course of the century, (2) increased significantly in frequency and (3) increased greatly but not significantly.
Chapter 8: In this chapter Smitterberg again summarizes all his findings and here and there adds a new note. He stresses that period, genre and gender have a definite impact on the frequency of the progressive. He also cautions that a multi-faceted feature like the progressive requires a multi-faceted approach. The question whether or to what extent the progressive became more integrated in nineteenth century English greatly depends on the feature investigated. To exemplify this he states that some aspects of the integration process had already taken place before or by 1800 while others did not really start before 1900. He closes the book with suggestions for further research.
Appendices: These list the sources used for CONCE and its text-level codes and spell out the statistical tests done on the data.
As already stated initially, Smitterberg (2005) is a remarkable and very valuable contribution to the historical study of the English language. Nevertheless a few critical comments have to be made. The first regards the representativity of the corpus used. CONCE is a rather small corpus of educated EngE. This should always be borne in mind when interpreting the data and generalizing the results. Although true representativity can never be achieved, the size and the status bias of CONCE certainly greatly influence the outcomes. Smitterberg tends to downplay this.
Time and again, Smitterberg admits that due to restrictions of time he was unable to follow-up some interesting results with additional investigations. While this is very honest, and also understandable, the reader sometimes can get the feeling that if Smitterberg had used another six months preparing the book it would have been even more interesting than it is now.
In isolated cases the coherence of the book seems improvable. Smitterberg (p253) states that "the aspects of the progressive that were investigated were chosen largely on the basis of what previous research has indicated as being of interest and, when possible, on the basis of pilot studies". Sometimes the chapters look more like a collection of independent papers, a fact partially, but not totally remedied by the summarizing chapter 8. In principle it is good that Smitterberg continually writes extensive intros and summaries. On the other hand, his writings can become repetitive and thus invite skipping (since the results will be summarized again later anyway). However, this is a potentially dangerous thing, because Smitterberg's carefully worded interpretations sometimes become much stronger in the summaries and are presented as facts.
It is very laudable that Smitterberg discusses his sources and his methodology always using illustrative examples. He is aware of possible limitations and he is open about them. This enables the readers to find out for themselves whether a result is reliable or significant or how it relates to other studies. This also makes it easier to compare his findings. His excellent discussion of the theoretical issues make the book an excellent reference work for the history of the progressive.
Smitterberg is very careful in his data-collection and his interpretations. This is wonderfully captured in the phrase "potentially 'experiental' progressives" which he uses to show that his method of extracting such progressives is not 100 per cent perfect and also entails subjective choices. This is not a criticism of Smitterberg. He only openly states what all researchers do but do not always talk about.
The book contains numerous quotes which help the reader to understand Smitterberg's points and also allow independent judgments. Another important point is that Smitterberg investigated a period of English that has come into focus only recently. No doubt his book is another milestone here. Basically there are two desiderata which invite more research in this field. Smitterberg's results should be compared to results from other, contemporary, varieties and the influence of socio-economic status should be investigated.
Fritz (fc.) has looked at nineteenth century English in Australia using a self-collected two-million word corpus, COOEE. He found that the frequency of the progressive was much more influenced by the origin of the author than by gender; origin as a factor is even stronger than genre. Status is much less influential than other factors. In general progressives are much less frequent in nineteenth century Australia than found in Britain (Smitterberg 2005). COOEE and CONCE disagree most widely in the genres TRIALS and DRAMA, but are fairly equal for HISTORY, SCIENCE and LETTERS.
Arnaud, R., 1998, The development of the progressive in 19th century English: a quantitative survey, Language Variation and Change 10, 123-52.
Bailey, Richard W., 1996, Nineteenth-Century English, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
Biber, Douglas, 1988, Variation across Speech and Writing, Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Fritz, Clemens, fc., From English in Australia to Australian English: 1788-1900.
Geisler, Christer, 2003, Gender-based variation in nineteenth century English letter writing, In: Leistyna, P. and C. Meyer, eds, Corpus Analysis: Language Structure and Language Use, Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 87-106.
Goerlach, Manfred, 1999, English in Nineteenth-Century England. An Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Hundt, Marianne, 2004, The passival and the progressive passive: a case study of layering in the English aspect and voice systems, In: Lindquist, H. and C. Mair, eds, Corpus Approaches to Grammaticalization in English, Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 79-120.
Romaine, Suzanne, ed, 1998, 1776-1997 (= Cambridge History of the English Language, Vol IV), Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Visser, Fredericus Th., 1973, An Historical Syntax of the English Language, Leiden: Brill.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
After studies in Regensburg, Germany, and Galway, Ireland, Clemens Fritz graduated with a master's degree in English and History in 1995. For ten years now he has worked and published on early Australian English. A particular focus is on Irish English and its survival in Australia. In 1998 the reviewer started a two-year teacher training programme and has been teaching English, history and drama in a German secondary school since 2000. For a more detailed CV and a list of publications see: .