Pinpointing prescriptive impact : using change point analysis for the study of prescriptivism at the idiolectal level

Malory, Beth (2021) Pinpointing prescriptive impact : using change point analysis for the study of prescriptivism at the idiolectal level. In: Modelling Orescriptivism, 2021-09-23 - 2021-09-25, Virtual.

Full text not available from this repository.


It has long been hypothesized that the literary review periodicals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were a consistentsource of prescriptivism, and that this prescriptivism had a significant impact on the language usage of reviewed authors (McIntosh, 1998; Percy, 2009). However, a lack of research in this area has left this hypothesis unsubstantiated by empirical data until now. As it is notoriously difficult to evaluate the success of prescriptivist endeavours in other contexts, attempting to do so in relation to these review periodicals poses a significant challenge. However, this paper demonstrates, through a single‐author case study, that the application of a novel statistical method can provide substantial evidence of prescriptive impact at the idiolectal level. The single author chosen for this case study is Fanny Burney (1752‐1840), whose long life and prolific writing habit have allowed a purpose‐built corpus of 3 million wordsto be compiled from her published prose writing, diaries, and outbound correspondence. Burney was, moreover, subject to specific, overtly‐targeted, prescriptivism, in a Monthly Review article of 1796. Here, her third novel Camilla was reviewed, and her exposure to this article is documented in her correspondence. This paper reports that using change point analysis, a method of statistical modelling which has previously been applied to linguistic data only rarely, it is possible to discern a change in Burney’s idiolectal usage which corresponds strikingly with the publication of the prescriptive review of Camilla in 1796. These findings demonstrate the highly significant impact which prescriptivism mediated through the genre of the periodical review could have on the Late Modern author. However, the primary focus of this paper is methodological. In demonstrating how effectively change point analysis can provide a sophisticated correlation which is indicative of a causal link, it showcases the remarkable suitability of this statistical method to the study of prescriptivism.

Item Type:
Contribution to Conference (Paper)
Journal or Publication Title:
Modelling Orescriptivism : Language, Literature and Speech Communities
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
17 Nov 2022 16:10
Last Modified:
08 Nov 2023 00:22