Grammar

To boldly go

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Written by Liz Potter

The newly published Spoken British National Corpus is a fantastic resource for language researchers and anyone interested in how language is changing. The corpus of 11.5 million words of spontaneous British English speech collected by Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press between 2012 and 2016 is being made available to the public free of charge and can be accessed here.

There will be material in the corpus to keep researchers happy for many years to come, not least because its data can be compared with that of the British National Corpus, compiled in the early 1990s. Early findings from comparisons of the two corpora reveal that use of sentence initial ‘like‘ has risen almost threefold, while split infinitive use has also almost tripled. Other words that have jumped in frequency include awesome and massively, while it will come as no surprise even to those who still use it that marvellous has declined. Our regular guest blogger Stan Carey looked at some of these changes in a post back in April called ‘Golly, matey – vocabulary change is massively awesome’.



Macmillan Dictionary has been tracking these kinds of changes in language use on its blog for several years now. Our Real Grammar series with Editor-in-Chief Michael Rundell includes a post and associated video on the topic of split infinitives, while the Real Vocabulary series with Scott Thornbury focuses on vocabulary choices such as whether to use less or fewer, and when it is OK to use awesome to mean ‘extremely good’. Our most recent series, meanwhile, on Real World English with Ed Pegg, looks at how English usage varies across countries and cultures. So go ahead: it’s time to boldly dig around in the Macmillan Dictionary blog archive. It’s marvellous.

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Liz Potter

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