PhD Alumni

Karolina Rudnicka Freiburg

The Statistics of Obsolescence: Purpose Subordinators in Late Modern English

ErstbetreuerProf. Dr. Dr. h. c. Christian Mair
ZweitbetreuerProf. Dr. Bernd Kortmann
Statusin Bearbeitung

This PhD project is entirely focused on the under-researched (according to e.g. Hundt & Leech 2012, Hundt 2014) topic of grammatical obsolescence understood as a situation in which a previously popular and productive construction is losing its productivity and popularity over time. There are several “subgoals” of the project, namely i) to develop a theoretical approach to loss and decline of grammatical constructions; ii) to offer practical insights into the process of grammatical obsolescence – with an empirically-based case study; iii) to analyze and describe possible causes and explanations for the observed cases of grammatical obsolescence comparing them with findings from the literature (e.g. Ashby 1981, Hund & Leech 2012, Hilpert 2012, Hundt 2014), and, at the same time, situating grammatical obsolescence in the landscape of language change processes.

Methods: Grammatical obsolescence is often a very gradual and long process that proceeds until the construction disappears or there are only residues/ fossilized forms left. The function of the obsolescent construction may discontinue or continue to be (fully or partially) expressed by alternative means. An important part of the project was to formalize this observation by means of the “criteria catalogue” designed for the investigation of potentially obsolescent constructions. The methodology is based on a combination of statistical analysis of data extracted from different language corpora.

The investigated variable: Subordination of purpose. The PhD project focuses on the following variants: in order to ( in order not to) – infinitival clause without notional subject; in order that – finite clause; in order for * to – infinitival clause with notional subject (for-NP); so as to (so as not to) – infinitival clause without notional subject; lest (negative purpose) – finite clause.


Ashby, W. 1981. The loss of the negative particle ne in French: a syntactic change in progress. Language 57: 647 – 660.

Hilpert, Martin. 2013. Constructional change in English: developments in allomorphy, word formation, and syntax. Cambridge: CUP.

Hundt, M. & Leech, G. 2012. Small is beautiful: On the value of standard reference corpora for observing recent grammatical change. In Nevalainen T. & Traugott E. (eds.), The Oxford handbook of the history of English. New York: Oxford University Press. 175–88.

Hundt, M. 2014. The demise of the being to V construction. Transactions of the Philological Society 112(2): 167-187.


Curriculum Vitae


Doctoral thesis published: April 2019 (Available at
Doctoral thesis defended: December 2018

10.2013 – 12.2018
Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg
Doctoral Candidate in English Philology
Doctoral Thesis: “The Statistics of Obsolescence: Purpose Subordinators in Late Modern English”

1st Supervisor: Prof. Christian Mair
2nd Supervisor: Prof. Bernd Kortmann

10.2004 – 07.2009 University of Warsaw, Institute of Applied Linguistics
Major: applied linguistics (English and German)
Master’s program (five years)
MA Thesis: “Towards a multimedia dictionary of language used in standardized medical documents”
Supervisor: Prof. Krzysztof Hejwowski


10.2015 – 09.2018
Doctoral Researcher
Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg
DFG-funded Research Training Group “Frequency Effect in Language”

08.2017 – 02.2018
PhD Completion Scholarship
Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg
“Abschlussstipendium nach dem Landesgraduiertenförderungsgesetz”

09.2016 – 09.2017
Parental leave

04.2014 – 10.2015
Tutor and Research Assistant
Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg, English Department

07.2012 – 07.2013
Parental leave

10.2010 – 06.2012
University of Warsaw, Institute of Applied Linguistics

07.2009 – 06.2013
Consecutive interpreter, translator (self-employed)
Languages: English, German, Polish


Rudnicka, Karolina. 2018. Variation of sentence length across time and genre: influence on the syntactic usage in English. In Diachronic Corpora, Genre, and Language Change, Richard Jason Whitt (ed.). Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Rudnicka, Karolina. 2019. The Statistics of Obsolescence: Purpose Subordinators in Late Modern English. NIHIN Studies. Freiburg: Rombach.

Rudnicka, Karolina. (submitted) So-adj-a construction as a case of obsolescence in progress. In Proceedings of the Lost in change workshop held at the DGFS 2018 in Stuttgart, Svenja Kranich & Tine Breban (eds.). Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.


National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
Language Change in English and Beyond: Linguistic Theory and Historical Corpora
full paper: "The Statistics of Obsolescence: Purpose Subordinators in Late Modern English"

University of Stuttgart, Germany
DGFS 2018: 40th Annual Conference of the German Linguistic Society
full paper: "Obsolescence in the network of English purpose subordinators"

Charles University, Czech Republic
full paper: "Sentence length, genres and grammatical obsolescence"

University of Nottingham, England
Diachronic Corpora, Genre, and Language Change
full paper: "Grammatical obsolescence, genres and sentence length: some of the interesting things diachronic multi-genre corpora can tell us"

University of Helsinki, Finland
From data to evidence. Big Data, Rich Data, Uncharted Data
full paper: "How to investigate grammatical obsolescence? A case study from Late Modern English grammar"

University of Helsinki, Finland
Changing English: Integrating cognitive, social & typological perspectives
full paper: "The statistics of obsolescence: case studies from
Late Modern English"

Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg, Germany
Measuring recency and frequency effects in diachronic and synchronic data
talk: "Barely explored landscapes of grammatical obsolescence"

Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy
Usage-based theories and approaches in linguistics
poster: "Statistics of obsolescence: a pilot corpus study"


Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań
Department of the History of English

Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Interdisciplinary Centre for Research on Lexicography, Valency and Collocation
"Variation of sentence length across time and genre: influence on the syntactic usage in English"

Polish Mother tongue
English C2
German C2
Spanish A2


Corpus linguistics, language variation and change, diachronic linguistics, quantitative approaches to language change, English as lingua franca, contact linguistics

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Current research

DIS-AGREE (Grant: The European Campus „Seed Money“)

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