City University of Hong Kong Dep
Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics
Research Degree Forum
A Corpus-Based Study of Latinate Words in Contemporary English
Ms. CAO Jing
PhD candidate, Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics, City University of Hong Kong
Date: 21 Sept 2009, Monday
Time: 2:30 - 3:30pm
Venue: B7603 (7/F, Blue Zone), Academic Building, CityU
The English language has borrowed extensively from Latin. Despite their widely acknowledged importance, Latinate words are under-studied especially quantitatively according to their use across different linguistic settings. In this paper, we report a corpus-based survey of Latinate words and their use in contemporary English. The objective is to chart the use and distribution of Latinate words across a set of different text categories and subject domains in order to identify patterns of variation across such settings. The British National Corpus (BNC) is chosen for its large size and wide variety of texts. Our results will show that the density of Latinate words, calculated as the proportion of Latinate words amongst all running tokens, successfully separates speech from writing and, within writing, academic prose from non-academic prose. A linear regression analysis suggests a strong correlation between degrees of formality and proportions of Latinate words. Our results also show that even different domains have their own preferences for the use of Latinate words. Proportions of such words can be used to separate arts from sciences in the first place and, within sciences, medicine from technology. We shall finally conclude that there is an uneven use of Latinate words across text categories and subject domains. Our investigation is significant in that it measures the use of Latinate words both across different text categories as an important stylistic feature and across a set of different domains as a subject-specific differentia. Such an investigation lends itself to our understanding of the impact of Latin on contemporary English and will also lead to practical applications such as automatic text classification and genre detection.
Ms. CAO Jing is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics. Her research interest mainly involves corpus/computational linguistics and terminology.
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