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8 February Professor Douglas Biber

When an uptight register lets its hair down: The historical development of grammatical complexity features in specialist academic writing 

Abstract:
Using corpus-based analyses, this talk challenges widely-held beliefs about grammatical complexity, academic writing, and linguistic change in English. It challenges stereotypes about the nature of grammatical complexity, showing that embedded phrasal structures are as important as embedded dependent clauses. It challenges stereotypes about linguistic change, showing that grammatical change occurs in writing as well as speech. But perhaps most surprisingly, it challenges stereotypes about academic writing, showing that academic writing is structurally compressed (rather than elaborated); that academic writing is often not explicit in the expression of meaning; and that scientific academic writing has been the locus of some of the most important grammatical changes in English over the past 200 years (rather than being conservative and resistant to change).

Douglas Biber is Regents' Professor of Applied Linguistics at Northern Arizona University. He has worked in Kenya and Somalia, and has been a visiting professor at several universities, including the University of Uppsala, University of Helsinki, University of Zurich, the Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies, and the Norwegian Academy of Arts and Sciences. His previous books include Variation across Speech and Writing, Dimensions of Register Variation, Corpus Linguistics, The Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English, and Discourse on the Move