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Determinants of grammatical variation in English and the formation / confirmation of linguistic hypotheses by means of internet data

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Chapter Summary

My paper discusses in turn some of the effects produced in English by four kinds of (universal and) functionally motivated tendencies: (a) the complexity principle which states that in the case of more or less explicit constructional options the more explicit one(s) tend to be preferred in cognitively more complex environments (b) a hierarchy of clause embeddings for extraction contexts which stipulates, for instance, that unmarked infinitives are more difficult to extract out of than marked infinitives (c) the horror aequi principle which involves the widespread (and presumably universal) tendency to avoid the use of formally (near-)identical and (near-)adjacent grammatical elements or structures (d) the tendency (motivated by the quantity principle) for the variants scarved and leaved to be more strongly attracted to plural contexts than their rivals scarfed and leafed. The present study involves two kinds of corpus-linguistic resources, the internet data supplied by Google, and the large corpus collection available at Paderborn. The Google data are used mainly for the heuristic purposes of constructing and testing relevant hypotheses. Considering a wide variety of grammatical variation phenomena it is seen that the results of lexically and grammatically much more specific Google analyses are generally paralleled by the findings of contextually more open and much more laborious searches in controlled newspaper corpora.



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