Noun phrase modification

Douglas Biber, Jack Grieve, Gina Iberri-Shea

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

16 Scopus citations


Introduction Written registers in English have undergone extensive stylistic change over the past four centuries, in response to changes in the purposes of communication, the demographics of the reading public and attitudinal preferences of authors. For example, Biber and Finegan (1989, 1997) document the way in which written prose registers in the seventeenth century were already quite different from conversational registers, and how those registers evolved to become even more distinct from speech over the course of the eighteenth century. Informational expository registers like medical prose and science prose have continued to develop more ‘literate’ styles over the last two centuries, including increasing use of passive verbs, relative clause constructions and elaborated noun phrases generally (see Atkinson 1992, 2001, Biber 1995: 280–313, Biber and Finegan 1997). These linguistic developments correspond to the development of a more specialized readership, more specialized purposes, and a fuller exploitation of the production possibilities of the written mode. That is, in marked contrast to the general societal trends towards a wider lay readership and the corresponding need for popular written registers, readers of medical research prose and science prose have become increasingly more specialized in their backgrounds and training, and correspondingly these registers have become more specialized in linguistic form. Surprisingly, even some more ‘popular’ registers, such as newspaper reportage, have followed a similar historical path (see Biber 2003). One linguistic domain that reflects these historical developments is the choice among structural devices used to modify noun phrases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationOne Language, Two Grammars?
Subtitle of host publicationDifferences between British and American English
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9780511551970
ISBN (Print)9780521872195
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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