LINGUIST List 14.3136

Sat Nov 15 2003

Review: Phonology/Syntax: Rohdenburg & Mondorf (2003)

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  1. Joybrato Mukherjee, Determinants of Grammatical Variation in English

Message 1: Determinants of Grammatical Variation in English

Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2003 16:04:54 -0500 (EST)
From: Joybrato Mukherjee <>
Subject: Determinants of Grammatical Variation in English

Rohdenburg, Guenter and Britta Mondorf, eds. (2003) Determinants of
Grammatical Variation in English, Mouton de Gruyter, Topics in English
Linguistics 43.

Announced at

Joybrato Mukherjee, University of Giessen.

The volume under review goes back to a symposium on ''Determinants of
Grammatical Variation in English'', held in Paderborn/Germany in June
2000. On more than 560 pages, it provides a multidimensional
perspective on grammatical variation in English, i.e. on how it can be
described and explained as well as on how it may be implemented in
linguistic models. The editors are certainly right in pointing out in
their introductory remarks that the ''sixteen contributions selected
for this volume are all based on solid empirical research''
(p. 1). But what makes the volume particularly rich and stimulating is
not just the empirical, data-oriented methodology underlying all
analyses, but the fact that, firstly, virtually all the contributors
combine descriptive research with a discussion of theoretical
implications and that, secondly, they usually do not confine
themselves to one factor of grammatical variation alone. Without any
doubt, the book is a goldmine for all functionalists because it brings
together a wide range of interesting approaches to the description and
analysis of grammatical variation in English. In the following, I will
briefly summarise the contents of each paper. Afterwards, I will
provide a brief critical evaluation of the volume.


In the opening paper, Manfred Krug delves closely into the role and
importance of frequency as a determinant in grammatical variation and
change. He starts off by discussing and exemplifying traditionally
established frequency-related concepts (such as irregularity and
analogy) as well as more recent concepts (e.g. entrenchment in
cognitive grammar) that try to map frequency in language use on models
of language. From the point of view of language change in general and
grammaticalisation theory in particular, frequency is regarded as
having two different effects: conservative and progressive. That is to
say, frequent items (e.g. the irregular verb BE) tend to resist
regularisation much more persistently than infrequent items, but it is
also frequency that helps to trigger off the grammaticalisation of
forms (such as the contraction of ''it is'' > ''it's''). In the second
part of the paper, Krug gives various examples of the two effects of
frequency. For example, he discusses the cliticisation of HAVE and BE
onto pronouns in present-day spoken English by drawing on data
obtained from the British National Corpus, the Bank of English and the
London-Lund Corpus. It transpires that there is a strong correlation
between the frequency of the combination of pronoun and auxiliary
(i.e. its ''String Frequency'') and the tendency to use the contracted
form (e.g. ''I have'' > ''I've''). For various other examples, Krug
reveals that not only String Frequency, but also Transitional
Probability and the combination of the two measures (an alternative
formula which gives the percentage of the frequency of a sequence of
words in relation to the frequency of the first word) are appropriate
and good tools for the description and prediction of such phenomena of
coalescence of adjacent linguistic items.

In taking issue with the clear-cut distinction between syntax as part
of a conceptual-intentional system and phonology as part of an
articulatory-perceptual system as proposed by Chomsky (1995), Julia
Schlueter argues that phonology is not a syntax-external factor but a
system- internal determinant of grammatical variation. After providing
some neurophysiological background information on what a realistic and
biologically viable linguistic network model should look like,
Schlueter presents data from various corpus analyses, including forms
of BE in Chaucer's language (''be/bee'' vs. ''ben/been'') and the
forms of the indefinite article before <h>-initial words (e.g. ''an
historical'' vs. ''a historical''), and discusses why specific
instances of the attributive construction ''Det + not + Adj'' are
admissible while others are not (e.g. ''a not unhappy person''
vs. *''a not happy person''). On the basis of her findings, she
postulates an ''ideal syllable structure'' of the consonant-vowel (CV)
type, which may help to explain, for example, why ''an'' is used in
front of <h>-initial adjectives whenever the corresponding /h/-sound
is devoiced. Furthermore, she formulates a ''principle of rhythmic
alternation'' which is intended to capture ''a prosodic tendency that
is equally marked by alternating structural patterns''
(p. 88). According to this principle, sequences of stressed syllables
as well as sequences of unstressed syllables are said to be avoided,
resulting, for example, in the inadmissibility of *''a 'not 'happy
person'' due to a ''stress clash''. In the final resort, then,
Schlueter claims that phonological factors may well function as
determinants of grammatical variation at the levels of both morphology
and syntax.

The variation in the post-verbal order of constituents is at the heart
of Thomas Wasow and Jennifer Arnold's contribution. They provide an
in-depth discussion of various factors that have been shown to
influence the choice between variants with or without dative
alternation (e.g. ''Kim handed a toy to the baby'' vs. ''Kim handed
the baby a toy''), between variants with different verb-particle
positions (e.g. ''We figured the problem out'' vs. ''We figured out
the problem'') and similar constructional alternatives. These factors
include weight (i.e. more complex vs. less complex constituents),
information structure (i.e. given vs. new information), semantic
connectedness (e.g. collocational or idiomatic links between the verb
and post-verbal elements as in ''take into account'') and lexical bias
(i.e. the preference of particular verbs for specific
constructions). The authors also discuss the extent to which ambiguity
avoidance may function as a determinant of grammatical variation,
e.g. in speakers' preference of ''Pat saw with a telescope a man in a
funny hat'' over ''Pat saw a man in a funny hat with a
telescope''. Throughout the paper, Wasow and Arnold discuss how
individual factors strengthen or weaken the effect of other factors
(e.g. lexical bias and ambiguity avoidance). Not only does the paper
provide a multifactorial view of constituent ordering on the
descriptive level, but it also makes a plea for a multimethod approach
to syntax in making use of corpus data and experimental data.

The concept of multifactorial analysis is a cornerstone of Stefan
Th. Gries's research into alternative particle placements (e.g. ''John
picked up the book'' vs. ''John picked the book up''). In a similar
vein to Wasow and Arnold, Gries argues that previous approaches have
suffered, among other things, from too rigid a focus on one particular
determinant, be it structural (e.g. complexity) or functional
(e.g. discourse familiarity of items). In contrast, Gries takes into
account a wide range of morphosyntactic, semantic and
discourse-functional factors and offers a linear discriminant analysis
of these factors ''in order to (i) weigh their importance for the
dependent variable (here: the choice of construction) and (ii) predict
the resulting value of the dependent variable (here:
verb-particle-object ordering or verb-object- particle ordering)''
(p. 164). On the one hand, Gries thus offers a highly innovative and
statistically sound multifactorial methodology; on the other hand, the
predictive power of his findings prove that a strict focus on
morphosyntactic factors (as for example suggested by Hawkins (1994) in
his model of Early Immediate Constituents) does not provide a
comprehensive picture of the determinants that are involved in native
speakers' choice between the verb-particle-object ordering and the
verb-object-particle ordering.

John A. Hawkins confirms the plausibility of Rohdenburg's (1996)
complexity principle by sketching out an explanation in terms of
processing efficiency. The complexity principle states that the more
explicit variant is preferred over the less explicit variant in
cognitively more complex environments. With regard to the variation
between explicitly-marked phrases and their zero-marked alternatives,
the complexity principle implies that zero- marked phrases must be
positioned close to their heads (e.g. ''() he had done it'' in ''I
realized () he had done it with sadness in my heart''), while more
distant positions are only possible for explicitly-marked variants
(compare the admissibility of ''I realized with sadness in my heart
that he had done it'' as opposed to the dubious status of ?''I
realized with sadness in my heart () he had done it''). By drawing on
his own model of Early Immediate Constitutents, Hawkins argues that
zero-marked phrases need to be adjacent to their heads because they
can be assigned semantic and/or syntactic properties only by the
superordinate node being parsed. For example, while the
explicitly-marked phrase ''that he had done it'' is clearly marked as
a subordinate clause (being one essential syntactic property), the
zero-marked variant ''() he had done it'' is ambiguous in this respect
and is thus cognitively more complex because the clarification of its
status ''depends'', as it were, on the parsing of its head. Hence the
parsing preferences as predicted by the model of Early Immediate
Constituents corroborate the applicability of the complexity principle
to alternations between explicitly-marked phrases and their
zero-marked equivalents.

Unsurprisingly, the complexity principle plays a central role in
Rohdenburg's own paper as well, in which he analyses the factors that
are responsible for the variation in the use of interrogative clause
linkers after nouns, verbs, adjectives and phrasal expressions. In
this context, Rohdenburg distinguishes between zero links (e.g. ''She
was at a loss () what to do''), prepositional links (e.g. ''She was at
a loss about/as to what to do'') and verbal links (e.g. ''She was at a
loss to know what to do''). Rohdenburg draws on various corpora and
other databases and argues on the basis of many quantitative analyses
that the variability can be explained to a large extent by the
complexity principle and the ''horror aequi'' principle. As for the
complexity principle, Rohdenburg argues in particular that ''novel and
more explicit structures are first established in more complex
environments'' (p. 217), as for example in the transitive use of the
verb ''check'' (e.g. ''He checked the car to see whether ...'') as
opposed to the intransitive use of the same verb, which is often
marked by zero links (e.g. ''He checked whether ...''). Additionally,
Rohdenburg claims that ''more explicit recessive structures survive
longer in contexts involving an increased processing load''
(p. 217). As for the verb ''depend'', for example, he points out that
the prepositional link tends to be used much more frequently in
discontinuous structures (e.g. in ''It entirely depends, after all, on
how they go about it'') than in structures without intervening
elements on either side of the verb. The horror aequi principle
captures the tendency, among other things, to avoid the use of
formally identical grammatical structures in immediate adjacency. This
principle, Rohdenburg claims, may help explain, for example, the
frequent use of ''... to wait and see ...'' instead of the double
infinitive ''to wait to see ...''.

Britta Mondorf's paper, too, is inspired by the complexity
principle. She draws on this principle in order to identify the
determinants of the alternation between the synthetic comparative form
of the adjective (e.g. ''readier'') and its analytic variant
(e.g. ''more ready''). Her overall claim is captured by the notion of
''more-support: In cognitively more demanding environments which
require an increased processing load, language users tend to make up
for the additional effort by resorting to the analytic (more) rather
than the synthetic (-er) comparative'' (p. 252). By drawing on
quantitative data from the British National Corpus and various
newspaper archives for 28 adjectives, she identifies several relevant
determinants (e.g. the length, the final segment and the frequency of
the adjective) and quantifies the contribution of each factor to the
alternation between synthetic and analytic forms. For example, it is
shown that while the synthetic option is preferred with generally
frequent adjectives, the analytic variant with ''more'' tends to be
used with infrequent adjectives, which are more difficult to access:
''More- support by separating form and function then serves to
apportion the otherwise complex expression of adjective and degree
marker in one lexeme'' (p. 260). Mondorf not only takes syntactic
factors into consideration, but also discusses morphological,
phonological, lexical, semantic and pragmatic factors. She is thus
able to offer an unprecedentedly comprehensive picture of what may
lead language users to opt for the analytic comparative in specific

Uwe Vosberg is concerned with diachronic effects of the complexity
principle and the horror aequi principle on the evolution of clausal
verb complements. In this context, he places special emphasis on
extractions, i.e. non-canonical syntactic structures that produce
filler-gap dependencies and, accordingly, traces (cf. i < ti) as in
''Now, how many(i) do you remember to have heard named(ti)?''. On the
basis of several case studies (e.g. the complementation of the verb
''remember'' in Early Modern and Modern English), evidence is provided
for Vosberg's ''Extraction principle'' (p. 308), which states that
infinitival complementation tends to be preferred over gerundial
complementation in the cognitively complex environments of syntactic
extractions. Vosberg also shows that gerundial complementation after
ing-forms of the verb are generally avoided, thus corroborating the
relevance of the horror aequi principle as another determinant in the
variation between variants of clausal verb complementation.

The alternation between infinitival and gerundial complementation is
also discussed by Christian Mair, though with an explicit reference to
the verbs ''begin'' and ''start''. Mair starts off from an outline of
some explanations that have so far been offered for the
complementation of the two verbs at hand. For example, he refers to
the well-known constraints on gerund complements (e.g. when an
adverbial is placed after ''begin'' and ''start'', resulting in the
inadmissibility of *''began in the following years selling''), and to
the different levels of formality (i.e. the preference for ''start''
in informal contexts and for ''begin'' in formal contexts), which is
also corroborated by corpus findings (cf. Biber et al. 1999: 373,
747). By referring to various corpora of British and American English
in the 1960s and 1990s as well as other databases, Mair argues that so
far the importance of variation as a determinant in its own right has
been largely ignored. For example, while the infinitive after
''begin'' has remained the default case and statistical norm in
British English, a significant shift towards the gerundial complement
can be noted in American English from the early 1960s to the early
1990s. In general, it seems that complement choice after ''begin'' and
''start'' is a good example of on-going language-change and,
accordingly, a field in which a clear distributional pattern of use
has not (yet?) emerged. Rather, the situation is characterised by
synchronic - regional and stylistic - variation amidst a process of
diachronic change.

The variation between complement clauses is also the topic of Dirk
Noel's paper. In particular, he focuses on the alternation between
infinitival and finite complements after verbs of the type of
'believe', e.g. ''I believe Mary to be dishonest'' vs. ''I believe
that Mary is dishonest''. In the light of data obtained from the
British National Corpus, he takes issue with many semantico-syntactic
approaches to grammar (which he considers to be, in his own words,
examples of ''semantic extremism''). For example, Wierzbicka (1988:
26) claims that ''ALL contrasts between TO, ING and THAT can be
accounted for in terms of meaning''. However, Noel argues forcefully
and convincingly that the different semantic representations of the
different clause types that are offered by Wierzbicka (1988) do not
allow for a semantically clear-cut distinction between, say, ''I
believe Mary to be dishonest'' and ''I believe that Mary is
dishonest'': the variation between the fused construction with the
to-infinitive on the one hand and the that-clause on the other may
display a difference in the use of the two constructions, but this
pragmatic difference is not primarily semantically
motivated. Furthermore, Noel shows that the structures that are deemed
dubious by Wierzbicka (1988) on semantic grounds (for example, she
claims that ''John knows Mary to be a Mormon'' is not fully acceptable
because ''KNOW (X) to be'' expresses ''personal experiential
knowledge'' and is thus used with first-person subjects only) are far
from being rare in the British National Corpus: in actual fact and
contrary to Wierzbicka's predictions, in the case of ''KNOW (X) to
be'', 58% of all instances have a third-person subject. It thus seems
that many semantic determinants of grammatical variation in the field
of clausal complementation that have so far been offered on purely
intuitive grounds cannot be shown to be relevant to the distribution
of forms and structures in real corpus data.

The alternation between the s-genitive and the of-genitive in English
(e.g. ''the boy's eyes'' vs. ''the eyes of the boy'') is scrutinised
in Anette Rosenbach's paper. She takes into consideration the
following three factors: (1) the animacy of the possessor, (2) the
topicality of the possessor, (3) the type of possessive relation. In
order to assess in an elicitation experiment with British and American
speakers to what extent these factors influence the choice between the
two genitives, she first of all identifies the features of genuine
''choice contexts'' (e.g. the realisation of the possessor as a full
lexical noun phrase) and - within these choice contexts - the features
of truly ''comparable contexts'' (e.g. with a possessor not ending in
/s/ or /z/ because in these phonological contexts the s-genitive is
usually avoided). Finally, in designing the experiment she defines the
above-mentioned three factors in terms of prototypical binary choices,
e.g. personal nouns vs. concrete nouns for animate (+a) vs.
inanimate (-a) possessors. The experiment, in which native speakers
were asked to spontaneously choose between s- genitive and of-genitive
in given, comparable choice contexts, reveals that in general the
importance of the three factors can be ranked as follows: animacy >
topicality > possessive relation. Rosenbach also infers from the data
that there is an ''ongoing change towards an increasing use of the
s-genitive with (-animate) possessors'' which ''is not lexically
restricted'' (p. 399). She concludes her paper by explaining the
findings in terms of increasing cognitive economy, which may or may
not be linked to iconicity in grammar.

Interestingly enough, the article by Anatol Stefanowitsch also deals
with the two genitives in English. However, his approach - including
basic assumptions, the underlying theory, methodology and the overall
results - is fundamentally different. To begin with, Stefanowitsch
takes issue with what he calls the ''discourse-functional
hypothesis'', which views the two genitives as discourse- pragmatic or
information-structural alternatives but regards them as more or less
semantically equivalent. He rejects this approach also on grounds of
the outcome of a quantitative analysis of 100 examples obtained from
the Corpus of Spoken Professional American English which do not bear
out the predictions of the discourse-functional hypothesis. In
contrast, he argues by putting forward a ''semantic hypothesis'' that
''the two genitives are semantically distinct constructions, whose
primary function is the assigning of semantic roles to their head and
modifier slots'' (p. 414). Stefanowitsch's approach is thus firmly
based on construction grammar (cf. Goldberg 1995). Accordingly, he
argues that the two genitive constructions assign different semantic
roles to the two components: while the s-genitive is said to assign
the roles of POSSESSEE and POSSESSOR to its head and modifier, the of-
genitive is understood to assign the roles of ENTITY and INTRINSIC
ENTITY respectively. He sketches out an elaborated model which, among
other things, also takes into account that specific lexical items can
override the typical semantic roles. For example, Stefanowitsch notes
that while *''the shoes of Kate'' is not possible because ''shoes''
does not evoke an ownership relation, ''the budget of the university''
is admissible because '''budget' already evokes a relation of
ownership and can thus override the semantics of the of-genitive''
(p. 432).

The determinants of grammaticalisation both in formal and functional
theories are discussed in detail by Olga C.M. Fischer. In the first
part, she critically reviews some key issues and concepts in current
grammaticalisation theory: the idea of unidirectionality, conceptual
chains (i.e. the semantic motivation of grammaticalisation), the
question of whether grammaticalisation itself is a determinant of
language change or whether it denotes an epiphenomenon, and the
question of what the parameters of grammaticalisation are. In the
second part, Fischer discusses two case studies (i.e. the
grammaticalisation of infinitival ''to'' and of ''have to'') in order
to show that processes of grammaticalisation are not only complex but
also highly individual so that it is difficult - if not impossible -
to abstract away general principles or determinants. For example, she
shows that while semantic bleaching of ''have to'' was a prerequisite
for its grammaticalisation, semantic bleaching occurred only
simultaneously with other factors in the early stages of the
grammaticalisation of infinitival ''to''. In a wider setting, Fischer
also calls into question the universal nature of other principles of
grammaticalisation that have been repeatedly suggested in the
literature, especially unidirectionality. For example, in late Middle
English and in Early Modern English, the grammaticalisation of ''to''
to an infinitival marker was to some extent reversed: the appearance
of split infinitives, for example, is indicative of a process of
partial degrammaticalisation. It is thus evident that not all general
parameters of grammaticalisation are present in all actual processes
of grammaticalisation because, as Fischer pointedly concludes, ''(i)n
the real linguistic world many rules are no more than tendencies''
(p. 469).

Peter Siemund deals with grammatical variation in the field of
intensifiers and reflexives from both a cross-linguistic and a
dialectological perspective. By combining the perspectives of
linguistic typology and dialectology, Siemund sets out to show that
synchronic and diachronic grammatical variation in English follows
cross-linguistic generalisations to a very large extent. He thus maps
general processes of the grammaticalisation of reflexive marking on
the diachronic change of the English language and, what is more, on
the synchronic present-day variation between dialects of English. For
example, the variation between diachronic forms of English without
reflexives and those with reflexives (e.g. Old English vs. Modern
Standard English) can still be found in the synchronic variation
between Standard English (e.g. ''He has cut himself'') and
non-standard dialects (e.g. ''He has cut him'' in Yorkshire) and also
in the variation between Standard English on the one hand and
English-based pidgins and creoles like Sranan (e.g. ''a kil hem'' =
''he has killed himself''), which reflect the original Old English
situation, on the other. The paper also provides some interesting
comments on - and examples of - ''free self-forms'', i.e. self-forms
that are not in the same local domain as their antecedent, as for
example in ''Of course most of us, including myself, will accept the
democratic decision''. Siemund convincingly suggests an analysis of
such free self-forms as headless adnominal intensifiers.

Principles of linguistic typology and the description of dialects of
English are also fruitfully combined by Lieselotte Anderwald. Her
focus is on negation in non- standard English from the point of view
of markedness theory. Following Greenberg (1966) and Croft (1990), she
takes into consideration the following markedness criteria: zero value
(S1: unmarked = zero), syncretisation (S2: unmarked = more forms),
irregularity (S5: unmarked = more irregular) and frequency (S8:
unmarked = more frequent). In Standard English negation, criteria S1
and S8 are satisfied, while S2 and S5 are not. Anderwald then
discusses the negation in non-standard English by zooming in on the
frequency and use of ''don't'', ''ain't'' and
''wasn't/weren't''. Interestingly, some dialects display a crossover
pattern and turn out to generalise ''was'' in positive contexts but
''weren't'' in negative contexts. In general, Anderwald reveals that
while Standard English satisfies only two of the above-mentioned
markedness criteria, many non-standard varieties conform to all four
markedness criteria because the marked negative paradigm can be shown
to have fewer forms (criterion S2) and to be less irregular through
simplification (criterion S5): often, ''ain't'' is the only negative
counterpart to ''am/are/is'' and to ''have/has'', ''don't'' the only
negative counterpart to ''do/does'', and ''weren't'' the only negative
counterpart to ''was/were''.

In the final paper, Sali A. Tagliamonte explores the variation between
''have'', ''have got'' and ''got'' for stative possessive meaning in
three varieties of English: Buckie (Northern Scotland), Wheatley Hill
(Northeast England) and the city of York. Tagliamonte starts off by
discussing the extent to which determinants such as contraction,
negation and the distinction between abstract and concrete objects
exert an influence on the choice of one of the three variants in
spoken language. On the basis of a multivariate statistical analysis
of the data, the conclusion is drawn that the factors that are
responsible for the variation are very much the same across the three
communities at hand. This finding is interpreted by Tagliamonte as an
indication of ''persistence'' and as a vindication of Kroch's (1989)
''constant rate hypothesis which holds that grammatical constraints
will hold constant over time despite the fact that a form or
construction may be taking over from another'' (p. 550).

The book is concluded with an author index and a subject index.


As stated at the beginning, Rohdenburg and Mondorf have no doubt
succeeded in putting together a very interesting collection of
high-quality articles. As the synopsis reveals, the book includes a
wide range of quite different - complementary as well as conflicting -
approaches to the description and analysis of grammatical variation in
English. What they all have in common is an affinity for functional
explanations of variation rather than formalist and rule-governed
accounts. It is a particular strength of the present volume that
practical studies are complemented throughout with theoretical
discussions and linguistic model-building (e.g. in Fischer's
discussion of grammaticalisation theory, in Rohdenburg's abstraction
of the complexity principle and the horror aequi principle, and in
Noel's hilarious and convincing attack on extreme semantico-syntactic
approaches to grammatical variation). The proof-reading is almost
perfect. There are less than a handful of blunders that have come to
my notice (e.g. the wrong number of words given for the BNC on p. 298,
which is not 10+900 million words in size but 100 million words; *''3
instance'' on p. 552). The contributors and the editors have ensured
an easily accessible style and a clear and easy-to- follow line of
argumentation in all articles.

It goes without saying that a collection of articles, in particular
whenever it is based on and/or inspired by papers previously read at a
conference, cannot cover all aspects that would be relevant to the
overall topic in a systematic and comprehensive way. Nevertheless, I
would like to point up four issues that could have been addressed in
more detail in general and in individual papers in particular.

Firstly, it is not always explicitly stated why which data were used
for linguistic analysis. For example, it is not straightforwardly
clear why phonological claims and conclusions should be based on
spoken data that were orthographically encoded in the written medium
(e.g. the British National Corpus in Krug's paper) or on written
newspaper archives (e.g. The Guardian in Schlueter's paper). The
question arises, for example, whether the orthographic representation
of spoken data is the best source for a quantitative analysis of
contractions in spoken English if the original spoken data had not
been directly accessed (if they had, this should have been explicitly
mentioned). Also, some articles provide only vague information on the
database that has been used. For example, it is not made clear by
Stefanowitsch on what grounds he chose the 100 examples from the
Corpus of Spoken Professional American English and, accordingly, what
the quantitative analysis of these examples is intended to represent.

Secondly, one sometimes wonders whether the implicit assumption of
semantic equivalence between grammatical variants is entirely true to
the facts. A good case in point is Rohdenburg's discussion of ''wait
to see'' and ''wait and see''. It is at least worth-discussing whether
the two constructions are genuine variants - or whether they are
semantically non-equivalent in the first place (thus picking up, in a
sense, on Stefanowitsch's semantic hypothesis). In this context, it
should also be mentioned that not all of the many principles suggested
by various authors are convincing in the light of slight variations of
the examples that the authors themselves provide. For example,
Schlueter's principle of rhythmic alternation may explain why *''a
'not 'happy person'' is blocked due to a stress clash (unlike ''a 'not
un'happy person''), but it fails to account for the admissibility of
''a 'not 'impolite person'', marked by a similar stress clash.

Thirdly, it is not always clear how the actual and individual speaker
(and his/her choice of grammatical variants) and the more abstract
population (and equally abstract determinants of grammatical variation
at this level) are related to each other. It is only Fischer in her
discussion of grammaticalisation developments who goes into detail
about the problem of how to reconcile the focus on what individual
speakers do on the one hand (and their competence/performance) and on
what happens at the level of the supra-individual speech community
(and the abstracted competence/performance of a population) on the
other. Whenever determinants of grammatical variation are described,
it might be useful to also discuss whether and to what extent a
determinant is relevant to all, some or only specific individidual
speakers. It is strange that idiolectal variation has been largely
ignored in many papers to which this level of variation might have
been relevant.

Fourthly, there are only few indirect hints at chance as a determinant
of language variation (cf. Butters 2001), including the possibility of
a linguistic butterfly effect (cf. Schneider 1997). Only Mair, in
discussing the complementation of ''begin'' and ''start'', explicitly
refers to the problem of how to deal with variation at a stage at
which functional motivations for variation are yet to emerge. But the
question of why there should be variation in the first place is not
discussed in detail. The crucial point in this context seems to me
that above and beyond highly abstract principles such as Rohdenburg's
complexity principle and more fine-grained patterns of language-
internal (regional or stylistic) variation as discussed by Mair there
always is variation in language not only because of principles, rules
and regularities but just because language is by nature variable
(cf. Sapir 1921: 147). And this very nature of language, based on
chance, chaos or other pre-linguistic driving forces, should probably
be regarded as one of the most basic determinants of any kind of
variation in language.

In spite of these critical remarks on several aspects that could have
been covered in more detail in the book under review (and to which
more attention might be paid in future research in this field), I am
sure that the volume will prove stimulating and thought-provoking for
all functionally-oriented linguists who are interested in how to come
to grips with the variability of forms and structures in English


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Butters, R.R. (2001): ''Chance as cause of language variation and
change'', Journal of English Linguistics 29, 201-213.

Chomsky, N. (1995): The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Croft, W. (1990): Typology and Universals. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Goldberg, A. (1995): Constructions: A Construction Grammar Approach to
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Greenberg, J. (1966): Language Universals. The Hague: Mouton.

Hawkins, J.A. (1994): A Performance Theory of Order and
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Kroch, A.S. (1989): ''Reflexes of grammar in patterns of language
change'', Language Variation and Change 1, 199-244.

Rohdenburg, G. (1996): ''Cognitive complexity and increased
grammatical explicitness in English'', Cognitive Linguistics 7,

Sapir, E. (1921): Language: An Introduction to the Study of
Speech. New York, NY: Harcourt.

Schneider, E.W. (1997): ''Chaos theory as a model for dialect
variability and change?'', Issues and Methods in Dialectology,
ed. A.R. Thomas. Bangor: University of Wales Bangor, Department of
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Wierzbicka, A. (1988): The Semantics of Grammar. Amsterdam: John


Joybrato Mukherjee is Professor of English Linguistics at the
University of Giessen, Germany. His research interests include applied
linguistics, corpus linguistics, intonation, stylistics and syntax.
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