Erik Smitterberg

Professor i engelska med inriktning mot engelsk språkvetenskap vid Engelska institutionen

018-471 15 67
Engelska parken, Thunbergsvägen 3 L
Box 527
751 20 Uppsala
Akademiska meriter:
FD, docent


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I received my PhD in English Linguistics from Uppsala University, where I also became a docent in English in 2008. On 1 January 2022, I was promoted to professor. My doctoral thesis, a revised version of which was published by Rodopi in 2005, was an investigation of the development of the English progressive during the nineteenth century. After the completion of my PhD project in 2002, I worked as a senior lecturer in English Linguistics at Örebro University (2002–2003) and the University of Gävle (2003 and 2008), and as a post-doctoral research fellow in English Linguistics at Stockholm University (2004–2007). From January 2009 until September 2014, I was a Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities research fellow in English Linguistics based at the Department of English here in Uppsala; I have been a senior lecturer in English Linguistics at the same department since my fellowship ended.

All of my research is empirical and based on corpora, i.e. electronic collections of authentic texts that are assumed to be representative of some language or language variety. My main research interest is Late Modern English (c. 1700–1900) syntax. In my latest monograph (published by Cambridge University Press in late 2021), I compared what we know about the nature of language change with existing descriptions of Late Modern English in order to resolve the stability paradox: social-network theory would predict that large-scale language change should have taken place in Late Modern English, but the period is nevertheless typically described as comparatively stable linguistically. I demonstrated how these accounts can be reconciled by using the individual speaker’s idiolect as the starting-point for discussion. I also carried out four case studies of changes which occurred in the 1800s and which can be classified as instances of colloquialization and densification. Colloquialization is the process by which linguistic features characteristic of informal, spoken discourse become more frequent and/or acceptable in written – especially printed – texts; densification is the expression of a given meaning using less linguistic material than previously. Analysing these developments sheds light on the complex interplay between speech and writing and on the impact of extralinguistic changes such as the extension of literacy, the increasing availability of newspapers that were subject to market forces, and the need to manage increased information density in printed texts.

I am also interested in other aspects of Late Modern English. Together with Peter Grund (University of Kansas), I am currently investigating the use of conjuncts such as however and furthermore in nineteenth-century English. I am also looking at changes in punctuation practice since the 17th century and what these changes can tell us about how language users processed written texts. I have published on the distribution of partitive constructions such as a piece of advice and of multal quantifiers such as much and a great deal in nineteenth-century texts, and edited a collected volume of studies of nineteenth-century English together with Merja Kytö and Mats Rydén. Merja Kytö and I organized the Sixth International Conference on Late Modern English in Uppsala in 2017 and edited the proceedings volume, which was published by John Benjamins in 2020.

In addition to Late Modern English, I take an interest in the study of learner English and in the advice given to learners. In 2007, Studentlitteratur published my problem-based workbook Spotting the Error, in which students are asked to identify, explain, and correct authentic learner errors. Together with Sarah Schwarz, I recently published an article where we examined whether linguistic features that are frequently proscribed in advice given to learners – and native speakers – of English are in fact avoided in contemporary academic writing.

I mainly teach courses on English language structure, English Linguistics, and the history of English. I also supervise MA and PhD thesis projects.

I also maintain Anglisten, a blog in Swedish about the English language.


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Erik Smitterberg