Linguistic Complexity across Two Early Modern English Scientific Text Types

  • Jesús Romero-Barranco Universidad de Granada


In linguistics the concept of complexity has been analysed from various perspectives, among them language typology and the speech/writing distinction. Within intralinguistic studies, certain key linguistic features associated with reduced or increased complexity have been identified. These features occur in different patterns across various registers and their frequency is an indicator of the level of complexity of different kinds of texts. The concept of complexity has not, to date, been evaluated in early English medical writing, especiallyin terms of different text types. Thus, the present article analyses linguistic complexity in two Early Modern English medical texts, a surgical treatise (ff. 34r-73v) and a collection of medical recipes (ff. 74r-121v) housed as MS Hunter 135 in Glasgow University Library. Since they represent two different types of medical text, they can be productively compared in terms of linguistic complexity. The results obtained confirm that the surgical treatise is more complex than the collection of medical recipes owing to the higher presence of linguistic features denoting increased complexity in the former and of those indicating reduced linguistic complexity in the latter.

Author Biography

Jesús Romero-Barranco, Universidad de Granada
Jesús Romero-Barranco is a member of the Department of English and German at the University of Granada. His research interests are historical linguistics, manuscript studies and corpus linguistics. He has published in journals such as Studia Neophilologica, Nordic Journal of English Studies and English Worldwide, among others.


Alonso-Almeida, Francisco and Mercedes Cabrera Abreu. 2002. “The Formulation of Promise in Medieval English Medical Recipes: A Relevance-Theoretic Approach.” Neophilologus 86 (1): 137-54.

Anthony, Laurence. 2014. AntConc (Version 3.4.4). Tokyo: Waseda U. [Accessed online on October 10, 2020].

Atkinson, Dwight. 1996. “The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1675-1975: A Sociohistorical Discourse Analysis.” Language in Society 25 (3): 333-71.

Banks, David. 2001. “The Reification of Scientific Process: The Development of Grammatical Metaphor in Scientific Discourse.” In Mayer 2001, 555-63.

—. 2003. “The Evolution of Grammatical Metaphor in Scientific Writing.” In Simon-Vandenburgen, Taverniers and Ravellieds 2003, 127-47.

—. 2005. “On the Historical Origins of Nominalized Process in Scientific Text.” English for Specific Purposes 24: 347-57.

Beadle, Richard and A. J. Piper, eds. 1995. New Science out of Old Books: Studies in Manuscripts and Early Printed Books in Honour of A. I. Doyle. Aldershot: Scolar Press.

Bello, Iria. 2016. “Cognitive Implications of Nominalizations in the Advancement of Scientific Discourse.” International Journal of English Studies 16 (2): 1-23.

Biber, Douglas. 1985. “Investigating Macroscopic Textual Variation through Multifeature/Multidimensional Analyses.” Linguistics 23 (2): 337-60.

—. 1986. “Spoken and Written Textual Dimensions in English: Resolving the Contradictory Findings.” Language 62 (2): 384-414.

—. 1988. Variation across Speech and Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

—. 1989. “A Typology of English Texts.” Linguistics 27 (1): 3-43.

—. 1992. “On the Complexity of Discourse Complexity: A Multidimensional Analysis.” Discourse Processes 15 (2): 133-63.

Biber, Douglas and Edward Finegan. 1997. “Diachronic Relations among Speechbased and Written Registers in English.” In Nevalainen 1997, 253-75.

Biber, Douglas et al. 1999. Grammar of Spoken and Written English. London: Longman.

Biber, Douglas, Ulla Connor and Thomas A. Upton. 2007. Discourse on the Move: Using Corpus Analysis to Describe Discourse Structure. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Biber, Douglas and Susan Conrad. 2009. Register, Genre and Style. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Blake, Norman, ed. 1992. The Cambridge History of the English Language. Vol 2, 1066-1476. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Campoy, Mari Carmen and María José Luzón, eds. 2007. Spoken Corpora in Applied Linguistics. Bern: Peter Lang.

Cantos-Gómez, Pascual. 2013. Statistical Methods in Language and Linguistic Research. Sheffield: Equinox.

Chafe, Wallace L. 1982. “Integration and Involvement in Speaking, Writing and Oral Literature.” In Tannen 1982, 35-54.

—. 1985. “Linguistic Differences Produced by Differences between Speaking and Writing.” In Olson, Torrance and Hildyard 1985, 105-23.

Chafe, Wallace L. and Jack Danielewicz. 1986. “Properties of Spoken and Written Language.” In Horowitz and Samuels 1986, 83-116.

Crystal, David and Derek Davy. 1969. Investigating English Style. London: Longman.

Dahl, Östen. 2004. The Growth and Maintenance of Linguistic Complexity. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Davies, Matthew et al., eds. 2007. Proceedings of the Corpus Linguistics 2007 Conference (CL2007). Birmingham: U of Birmingham.

Dorgeloh, Heidrun. 2005. “Patterns of Agentivity and Narrativity in Early Science Discourse.” In Skaffari et al. 2005, 83-94.

Dorgeloh, Heidrun and Anja Wanner, eds. 2010. Syntactic Variation and Genre. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter.

Eckert, Penelope and John R. Rickford, eds. 2001. Style and Sociolinguistic Variation. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Fanego, Teresa, Belén Méndez-Naya and Elena Seoane, eds. 2002. Sounds, Words, Texts and Change: Selected Papers from 11 ICEHL. Vol 2. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Finegan, Edward and Douglas Biber. 2001. “Register Variation and Social Dialect Variation.” In Eckert and Rickford 2001, 235-67.

Fischer, Olga. 1992. “Syntax.” In Blake 1992, 207-408.

Ghadessy, Mohsen, ed. 1988. Registers of Written English, Situational Factors and Linguistic Features. London: Pinter.

Greetham, David C. 1992. Textual Scholarship: An Introduction. New York and London: Garland.

Halliday, M. A. K. 1988. “On the Language of Physical Science.” In Ghadessy 1988, 162-78.

Hocket, Charles F. 1958. A Course in Modern Linguistics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Horowitz, Rosalind and S. Jay Samuels, eds. 1986. Comprehending Oral and Written Language. New York: Academic Press.

Huddleston, Rodney and Geoffrey K. Pullum. 2002. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Hundt, Marianne, David Denison and Gerold Schneider. 2012. “Relative Complexity in Scientific Discourse.” English Language and Linguistics 12 (2): 209-40.

Hunt, Tony. 1990. Popular Medicine in Thirteenth-Century England. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Janda, Richard D. 1985. “Note-Taking as a Simplified Register.” Discourse Processes 8 (4): 437-54.

Karlsson, Fred. 2014. “Complexity in Linguistic Theorizing.” The Mental Lexicon 9 (2): 144-69.

Klein-Andreu, Flora, ed. 1983. Discourse Perspectives on Syntax. New York: Academic Press.

Kohnen, Thomas. 2007. “‘Connective Profiles’ in the History of English Texts.” In Lenker and Meurman-Solin 2007, 289-308.

Lambrecht, Knud. 1994. Information Structure: Topic, Focus and the Mental Representations of Discourse Referents. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Lass, Roger. 1999a. “Introduction.” In Lass 1999, 1-12.

—, ed. 1999b. The Cambridge History of the English Language. Vol 3, 1476-1776. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Lehto, Anu. 2015. “The Genre of Early Modern English Statutes: Complexity in Historical Legal Language.” PhD diss., University of Helsinki.

Lenker, Ursula and Anneli Meurman-Solin, eds. 2007. Connectives in the History of English. Amsterdam and Philadephia: John Benjamins.

Mayer, Felix, ed. 2001. Language for Special Purposes: Perspectives for a New Millennium. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.

Meurman-Solin, Anneli, María José López-Couso and Bettelou Los, eds. 2012. Information Structure and Syntactic Change in the History of English. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Nevalainen, Terttu, ed. 1997. To Explain the Present: Studies in the Changing English Language in Honour of Matti Rissanen. Helsinki: Société Neophilologique.

Olson, David R., Nancy Torrance and Angela Hildyard, eds. 1985. Literacy, Language and Learning: The Nature and Consequences of Reading and Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Pérez-Guerra, Javier. 2007. “‘Am I more Complex When I Speak or When I Write?’ A Corpus-Based Study on Linguistic Complexity in Spoken and Written Presentday English.” In Campoy and Luzón 2007, 127-46.

Pérez-Guerra, Javier and Ana E. Martínez Insua. 2010. “Do Some Genres or Text Types Become more Complex than Others?” In Dorgeloh and Wanner 2010, 111-40.

Quirk, Randolph et al. 1985. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London and New York: Longman.

Rayson, Paul et al. 2007. “Tagging the Bard: Evaluating the Accuracy of a Modern POS Tagger on Early Modern English Corpora.” In Davies et al. 2007, n.p.

Rescher, Nicholas. 1998. Complexity: A Philosophical Overview. New Brunswick, NJ and London: Transaction.

Romero-Barranco, Jesús. 2017. “Early Modern English Scientific Text Types: Edition and Assessment of Linguistic Complexity of the Texts in MS Hunter 135 (ff. 34r-121v).” PhD diss., University of Málaga.

Sampson, Geoffrey. 2009. “A Linguistic Axiom Challenged.” In Sampson, Gil and Trudgill 2009, 1-18.

Sampson, Geoffrey, David Gil and Peter Trudgill, eds. 2009. Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Scott, Michael. 2017. WordSmith Tools (Version 7). Stroud: Lexical Analysis Software.

Seoane, Elena. 2012. “Givenness and Word Order: A Study of Long Passives from Early Modern English to Present-Day English.” In Meurman-Solin, López-Couso and Los 2012, 139-63.

Simon-Vandenburgen, Anne-Marie, Miriam Taverniers and Louise Ravelli, eds. 2003. Grammatical Metaphor: Views from Systemic Functional Linguistics. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Skaffari, Janne et al., eds. 2005. Opening Windows on Texts and Discourses of the Past. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Taavitsainen, Irma. 2002. “Historical Discourse Analysis: Scientific Language and Changing Thought-styles.” In Fanego, Méndez-Naya and Seoane 2002, 201-26.

Taavitsainen, Irma and Päivi Pahta, eds. 2011. Medical Writing in Early Modern English. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Tannen, Deborah, ed. 1982. Spoken and Written Language: Exploring Orality and Literacy. Norwood, NJ: ABLEX.

Thompson, Sandra A. 1983. “Grammar and Discourse: The English Detached Participial Clause.” In Klein-Andreu 1983, 43-65.

Toyota, Junichi. 2005. “Politeness as a Distancing Device in the Passive and in Indefinite Pronouns.” In Skaffari et al. 2005, 319-42.

Voigts, Linda E. 1995. “A Doctor and his Books: The Manuscripts of Roger Marchall (d. 1477).” In Beadle and Piper 1995, 249-314.