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An historical perspective on aspects of spoken grammar

An historical perspective on aspects of spoken grammar

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An historical perspective on aspects of spoken grammar

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  1. An historical perspective on aspects of spoken grammar Ivor Timmis, Leeds Metropolitan University

  2. Spoken Grammar Findings • “...written-based grammars exclude features that occur widely in the conversation of native speakers of English, across speakers of different ages, sexes, dialect groups, and social classes, with a frequency and distribution that simply cannot be dismissed as aberration” McCarthy and Carter (1995: 142)

  3. In from the cold? • Existential there and variable concord e.g. There’s some rum buggers in this town. • Right dislocation (or Tails) e.g. They all want throwing out, the government. • Left dislocation (or Heads) e.g. Most of these navvies, they come in here and have a pint you see.

  4. An historical perspective “…a new description of a feature or a new perspective on a feature does not necessarily imply that the feature described is itself new or that it has recently acquired a new function” (Timmis 2010: 1).

  5. The Bolton Corpus • Mass Observation: a sociological and anthropological movement founded in 1937 by Harrisson, Madge and Jennings • Aim: to assemble large teams of observers to make a detailed study of the behaviour and attitudes of the working classes • Bolton [Worktown] was a particular focus • ‘Overheards’, ‘Directs’, and ‘Indirects’

  6. There’s + plural NP • There’s is most commonly selected form even when NP Complement is plural (Biber et al 1999; Carter 1999). • ETB concord variation is gaining prominence and acceptability (Cheshire 1999: 138).

  7. Bolton Corpus Data – 1937-1940 First child: There’s no dragons today Second child: Yes, there is C1: There’s not C2: There is C1: No, there’s not C2: There is. Dragons eat people in Australia. There’s kangaroos there C1: There’s not C2: There are

  8. Back in time • 19th century NZE had non-standard -s in expletive there sentences; by 1900 non-standard -s was marginal; increased in C20 and is now robust in contemporary NZE (Rupp 205?) • …default singulars have existed in every century of the language e.g. There was many Dukes, Erles and Barons c.1533

  9. Processing factors • Ruehlemann (2007) Ease of processing under real time constraints • Crawford (2005): “…the cognitive difficulty of maintaining long turns…” • Cheshire (1999: 137): “…existential there can be seen as a way for speakers to take the floor quickly and easily in lively conversation. Clearly it would be functional for such a useful construction to be shared and accessed as a prefabricated phrase….”

  10. Linguistic factors • Trudgill (2008: 343): “It is agreed in linguistic typology that singular number is unmarked, as opposed to plural and other possible numbers, in all the languages of the world that have a number distinction… • Sobin (1997) – canonical concord with existential there is a learned alternative: a ‘grammatical virus’.

  11. Tails a)Noun alone can be a tail (Aijmer 1989) • They all want throwing out, the government. b) Demonstrative pronoun alone can be a tail (Aijmer 1989) • It’s going to be a long do, this. c) The tail can include an operator which follows the noun (Carter, Hughes and McCarthy 1998) • I think it’s a shame, a jolly outrage, I do. d) The tail can include an operator which precedes the noun (Carter, Hughes and McCarthy 1998) • Oh well, he’s a nuisance is that man.

  12. Back in time • Durham (2007): tails in Victorian literature • Lambrecht (2001): ‘dislocation’ occurs across a wide range of different languages.

  13. Tails:retrospective clarification • Where did he come from, that bugler boy? • It’s awful, isn’t it, Tuesday night? • ‘[Tails] are attentive to the online management of interaction (Carter and McCarthy 1997: 409)

  14. Tails: evaluation Evaluation and tails (e.g. Aijmer 1989) Around 50% of the tails in the Bolton corpus follow a clause in which there is an evaluative adjective ( e.g. ‘good’ 10 times) e.g. She’s a good girl, that. She never grumbles whether thi’ lose or not. Emotional colouring e.g. rum, awful, shocking, numb, stiff, bloody [3] e.g. nuisance, sluvvin [sloven], outrage, bestiality, bugger [3] and pillan [pillock].

  15. Heads (left dislocation) • Heads involve the utilisation of a topic slot before the core constituents of a canonical sentence (McCarthy and Carter 1995). • You wouldn’t think he could sleep in his bed. Hitler, he’s to blame for this. • Some of these lower class types, they don’t wash till Friday.

  16. Back in time • Traugott (2007): examples of left dislocation in Old English • Lambrecht (2001): dislocation occurs in many other languages

  17. Function of heads • Aijmer (1989): The main function of heads according to is to foreground a particular item, • McCarthy (1998: 77): Heads are “an act of consideration to the listener” • Carter and McCarthy (1995): Heads are especially common in the narrative genre.

  18. Conclusion • The durability of non-canonical features may in part be explained from a functional perspective: processing factors; pragmatic functions • Language stability is at least as interesting as language change, and we are now in a position to research which are the most durable features in spoken language