Cactuses or Cacti? : A corpus-based study on the use of Latin nominal inflection in American English

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Engelska institutionen

Author: Hanna Bengtsson; [2021]

Keywords: ;

Abstract: As a result of language contact and influence, the English language contains a significant amount of lexical items borrowed from other languages. Whilst the borrowing of inflectional morphology is not very common, English does use several Latin plurals in their original form. However, these plurals often have an angliziced counterpart and the distinction of when which plural should be used is seldom clear. This paper examines the Latin and English plural forms for the fours nouns cactus, nebula, millennium and vortex. This is done with the ambition to provide an overview of how the two plural forms are being used in contemporary written American English, in comparison with the existing recommendations of usage, as well as how this use has changed diachronically. The study is a quantitative corpus study using the two corpora COHA and COCA with a complimentary qualitative analysis based on random samples for each of the plural forms. The results show that in three of the cases, the Latin plural has been the preferred plural form over the last 200 years and remains the most popularly used today. However, in the fourth case, the English plural was the preferred one over the last two centuries with a drastic change in distribution over the last two decades which indicates that the plural pair has undergone a hyper-foreignization process. The results show a unanimous preference for the Latin noun within certain categories, such as academic and magazines, which could be a possible indication for code-switching behaviour. Additionally, the results indicate that Latin nouns whose meaning has a strong connection to the scientific field have undergone a lesser initial angliziation process. This corresponds with the existing recommendations of usage that express a general preference for the Latin plurals, especially within academic fields and language. 

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