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What defines a Parent?: A Corpus Study of the Shift in Meaning of the Word Parent in American English during the 19th and 20th Centuries
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.
2019 (English)Independent thesis Basic level (degree of Bachelor), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

This essay examines how the sense of the word parent has developed and possibly changed during the 19th and 20th centuries. The hypothesis is that father was the most common meaning in the early 1800s and that by the end of the 20th century it had changed into having a more general sense, denoting all caregivers of a child. The research has been performed as a corpus study, looking at and analyzing corpus data in the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) from three different decades – the 1820s, the 1900s, and the 1990s. The word parent was analyzed in 100 samples from each of the three decades by studying the expanded contexts of the word in COHA, and categorizing the perceived meaning into one of seven definitions. The results show that father was the most common sense in the 1820s, while origin was the most frequent meaning in the 1900s. Last but not least, in the samples from the 1990s, either as sense had the highest frequency. Occurrences are analyzed both by decade and by source type. The results indicate that one should be mindful about making assumptions about meaning based only on knowledge of the sense as used in current discourse. Any text should be read and understood in context while taking historical circumstances into account. The definition of parent has changed, both in dictionaries and in the public mind, and there are signals that changes in the legal definition of parent are also to be expected.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019. , p. 90
Keywords [en]
Parent, Corpus Linguistics, Corpus Studies, the Corpus of Historical American English, COHA, Semantic Change
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URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-169709OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-169709DiVA, id: diva2:1324784
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(English)
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Available from: 2019-08-12 Created: 2019-06-14 Last updated: 2019-08-12Bibliographically approved

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CiteExportLink to record
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Citation style
  • apa
  • ieee
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More languages
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