Chris C. Palmer Kennesaw State University “Historical sociolinguistic approaches to derivational morphology: A study of speaker gender and nominal suffixes in Early Modern English.”
Sociolinguistic variables, such as gender, help nuance historical claims about language change by identifying which subsets of speakers either lead or lag in the use of different linguistic variants. But at present, scholars of historical sociolinguistics have focused primarily on syntax and inflectional morphology, often leaving derivational morphology unexplored. To fill this gap in part, this paper presents a case study of men’s and women’s use of five different nominal suffixes- ‑ness, ‑ity, -age, -ment, and –cion– within the fifteenth and sixteenth century portions of the Corpus of Early English Correspondence. This study finds that men led women in the use of derivatives ending in some suffixes (-cion and ‑ment), while women generally led men in the use of -ity. Discovering that different suffixes likely have different histories that depend, in part, on social variables, the paper argues that additional synchronic and diachronic studies of derivational morphology and social variation are needed.