1 Introduction


Research Methods: Home

Welcome to the webpage accompanying Chapter 18 "Quantifying variation and estimating the effects of sample size on the frequencies of linguistic variables" by Heikki Mannila, Terttu Nevalainen and Helena Raumolin-Brunberg.

The necessity of handling small data samples is typical of the field of historical sociolinguistics. Frequently applied methods for gathering data like conducting interviews, questionnaires or elicitation as well as analyzing spoken language data cannot be used for obvious reasons. Thus, primary data almost always refers to written language samples which are available rather randomly (Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003: 26). Thus, historical linguistic data is often considered to be insufficient, but as Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg (Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003: 27) show, historical material also has advantages that must not be neglected: In comparison to contemporary examinations, historical data can provide information on both real time and apparent time changes as several corpora offer contributions from informants throughout a longer period (real time) as well as throughout age groups of a population (apparent time).  However, the phenomenon of historical data requires a different analytical approach as the data samples are smaller than in other fields of linguistics:

In the book chapter “Quantifying variation and estimating the effects of sample size on the frequencies of linguistic variables,” Mannila, Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg (2013) show different methods of how small data samples can be handled, i.e. how to determine frequencies of different variants as well as when a sample is of sufficient size to obtain realistic results. While their methodology was mainly designed for the field of historical sociolinguistics, it can also be used in other fields that have to cope with a shortage of primary data.

The authors present two case studies which both pertain to changes that have occurred during the Early Modern English time. The first one is the syntactic change from the (logical) object of a gerund expressed as an of-phrase to a direct object, the second is a change in the area of grammatical morphology of the subject pronoun ye, which is replaced by you. Both of these changes are dealt with in detail in the monograph entitled Historical Sociolinguistics by Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg (2003). The aim of this paper is to introduce the methodology used by the authors in more detail. Furthermore, it will be applied to a similar Early Modern English change in order to assert advantages as well as disadvantages that are inherent in its application. Thus, the focus of this webpage will be on using the methodology rather than on the change examined.

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