Usage guides and usage trends in Australian and British English

Pam Peters*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper presents a mini-diachronic investigation into the question of whether usage guides (prescriptive or descriptive) affect the evolution of standard written English, using the notions of codification, standardization and hyperstandardization. It examines the commentaries on three variable usage items (-ise/-ize spellings, alright v. all right, and data in singular/plural agreement) in dictionaries, style manuals and usage guides published in Australia and Britain from 1966 to 1995. The treatment of each usage item in terms of prescription/proscription or acceptance is then compared with quantitative evidence of actual usage, using (a) a set of standard corpora (Australian and British) from 1966 to 1995, and (b) twenty-first century data from the internet (Google searches of Australian and UK sites). Changes in relative frequencies of the variants for each pair are then analysed as reflections of the standardization process and/or the putative hyperstandardizing influence of usage commentaries. Despite markedly different treatments in Australian and British references, the trends for the three variable usage items in twenty-first century English are found to be much the same. Hyperstandardization may be seen where prescribed spellings replace the alternatives previously available; but the outcomes for the other variable items suggest they are rationalized by common usage sooner or later, whether the local usage commentary is prescriptive or descriptive.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)581-598
    Number of pages18
    JournalAustralian Journal of Linguistics
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014


    • Australian English
    • usage variation
    • standardization
    • hyperstandardization
    • usage commentary
    • quantitative evidence


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