It's easy to perceive clear historical trends in sentence length and the depth of clausal embedding in published English text. And those perceptions can easily be verified quantitatively. Or can they? Perhaps the title should be "Historical trends in English punctuation practices," or "Historical trends in English conjunctions and discourse markers." The answer depends on several prior questions: What is a sentence? What is the boundary between syntactic structure and discourse structure? How is message structure encoded in speech (spontaneous or rehearsed) versus in text? This presentation will survey the issues, look at some data, and suggest some answers -- or at least some fruitful directions for future work.
Mark Liberman is Christopher H. Browne Professor of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, and also a professor in Computer and Information Sciences there. His recent work has focused on corpus-based methods, with applications to legal, medical, educational, and political analysis, as well as to linguistic theory. He is founder and director of the Linguistic Data Consortium, and co-editor of the Annual Review of Linguistics.
This open lecture is co-sponsored by the eSciences Institute and the department of Linguistics, and is part of the Studies in the History of the English Language Conference. Learn more about the conference at https://depts.washington.edu/shel12/
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