This article presents a synchronic quantitative study of adjectives in the semantic field of strangeness in a large North American city, Toronto, the largest urban center in Canada. The analysis is based on nearly 2,000 adjectives, representing 11 different types, as in She’s really weird and She’s odd. The distribution of these adjectives in apparent time provides startling evidence of change. The adjective strange is quickly moving out of favor, and weird has expanded dramatically, usurping all other forms. Neither linguistic nor social factors are implicated in this change, suggesting that lexical replacement is the prevailing mechanism driving the development. Consideration of the broader context reveals that renewal and recycling of these adjectives is rooted in the history of English and is progressing in parallel at least across British and North American English. The actuation of the shift toward weird may be rooted in developments in literature and mass media, revealing that adjectives are a vibrant area of the grammar that may be used to track cultural influences on linguistic change.

in collaboration with students of the LSA Summer Institute 2011

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Author notes

sali a. tagliamonte is a professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Toronto. She is author of Roots of English: Exploring the History of Dialects (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013); Variationist Sociolinguistics: Change, Observation, Interpretation (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), Analysing Sociolinguistic Variation (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006), and coauthor of African American English in the Diaspora (with Shana Poplack, Blackwell, 2001). She has published on African American varieties, British, Irish, and Canadian dialects, teen language, and television. Her ongoing research focuses on Ontario dialects with a focus on morphosyntactic and discourse-pragmatic features and using cross-variety and apparent-time comparisons in synchronic corpora to explore linguistic change. E-mail: sali.tagliamonte@utoronto.ca.

julian brooke is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto. His area of research is computational linguistics, with a focus on quantifying lexical variation for the automatic analysis of style and sentiment. E-mail: julian.brooke@gmail.com.