Small-scale quotation databases as linguistic corpora: Further insights from the Bank of Canadian English

Stefan Dollinger, GU & UBC Vancouver

On March 17th, the new edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles was released ( As a born-digital lexicographical project, this edition includes a number of features that will only be peripherally of interest to the present talk. Instead, we will take a close look at the quotations database behind the Dictionary, the Bank of Canadian English. While common for the OED, with its much larger scope (e.g. Fischer 1994, Beal and Grant 2006, Sigmund 2014), quotation databases have generally not been used for other varieties of English. Containing quotations from Canada from 1505 to 2016 (plus just one from 2017), the Bank of Canadian English consists of just about 2.7 million words but can be harnessed as a linguistic corpus more efficiently than its small size would suggest as result of its structural features.


I will present several case studies on the modal auxiliaries (Dollinger 2012, 2016) and on the subjunctive (Brinton 2015), besides some other features, in an effort to assess the database’s strengths and weaknesses in comparison to COHA for typical morphosyntactic variables. The general idea behind this talk is to "show you what we’ve got" and what we think corpus linguists might want do with it, especially those who are aiming to model post-colonial Englishes, where corpora are not always easy to come by (e.g. Bonness 2016, McCafferty & Amador-M. 2014, see Dollinger 2008 for the theoretical problems). As the database is available to researchers more generally, your input and feedback is actively encourage throughout the talk on what you would like to be able to do with North American, Canadian data (for some background see Dollinger 2010 access at


Works cited:

  • Beal, Joan C. and Anthony P. Grant. 2006. 'Make do and mend': an online investigation into processes of neologisation and the dearth of borrowing in newer English wartime vocabulary. In Syntax, Style and Grammatical Norms: English from 1500-2000, ed. by Christiane Dalton-Puffer, 55–72. Berne: Lang.
  • Bonness, Dania Jovana. 2016. 'There is a great many Irish Settlers here': Exploring Irish English diachronically using emigrant letters in the Corpus of Irish English Correspondence (CORIECOR). Ph.D. dissertation. Bergen: University of Bergen.
  • Brinton, Laurel J. 2015. Studying real-time change in the adverbial subjunctive: The value of the Bank of Canadian English. Transatlantic Perspectives on Late Modern English (Advances in Historical Sociolinguistics 4), ed. by Marina Dossena, 14–36. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Dollinger, Stefan. 2016. “The modals of obligation and necessity: development and change in North America since Late Modern times”. Manuscript.
  • Dollinger, Stefan. 2012. Canadian English in real-time perspective. In: English Historical Linguistics: An International Handbook. Vol. II. (HSK 34.2), ed. by Alexander Bergs & Laurel Brinton, 1858–1880. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Dollinger, Stefan. 2010. Software from the Bank of Canadian English as an open source tool for the dialectologist: and its features. In Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary and Beyond: Studies in Late Modern English Dialectology, ed. by Manfred Markus, Clive Upton and Reinhard Heuberger, 249–261. Berne: Peter Lang.
  • Dollinger, Stefan. 2008. Taking permissible shortcuts? Limited evidence, heuristic reasoning and the modal auxiliaries in early Canadian English. In: Studies in the History of the English Language IV: Empirical and Analytical Advances in the Study of English Language Change, ed. by Susan Fitzmaurice and Donka Minkova, 357–385. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • McCafferty, Kevin and Carolina P. Amador-Moreno. 2014. ‘[The Irish] find much difficulty in these auxiliaries . . . putting will for shall with the first person’: the decline of first-person shall in Ireland, 1760–1890. English Language & Linguistics 18(3): 407–429.
  • Siemund, Peter. 2014. The emergence of English reflexive verbs: an analysis based on the Oxford English Dictionary. English Language and Linguistics 18: 49–73.
Publisert 14. mars 2017 17:29 - Sist endret 14. mars 2017 17:29