Given the relatively short history of computerized corpora of spoken language, it is not surprising that few diachronic studies have been done on the grammatical features recently highlighted by the analysis of such corpora. This article, however, does take a diachronic perspective on one such feature: the syntactic feature of tails' (Dik 1978). The use of tails is analyzed in terms of form, frequency, and function in a 50,000 word corpus of informal conversations which took place in the North of England between 1937 and 1940. This analysis shows that tails were a systematic and quite frequent feature of spoken English at that time. It also shows that there are marked similarities in terms of form and function between tails in this small corpus and those in more widely based contemporary corpora. The article argues that the durability of tails may lie in the fact that the feature has both an important psycholinguistic function and important affective functions and concludes that this kind of diachronic research is of great potential value for spoken language research.
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