LINGUIST List 15.2594

Sat Sep 18 2004

Disc: Re: 15.2577, FYI:Using Google Script

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  1. John Atkinson, Discussion: Re: 15.2577, FYI: Assessing Well-formedness Using Google Script

Message 1: Discussion: Re: 15.2577, FYI: Assessing Well-formedness Using Google Script

Date: Sat, 18 Sep 2004 13:51:44 +1000
From: John Atkinson <johnackobigpond.com>
Subject: Discussion: Re: 15.2577, FYI: Assessing Well-formedness Using Google Script


In Linguist 15.2577, Danko Sipka <danko.sipkaasu.edu> wrote:

> Dear Linguists,
>
> I frequently use Google to determine lexical and morphosyntactic
> well-formedness of two options in various languages. I advise my
> students to do the same. In order to save time required to go to
> Google two times for one inquiry, I have created a simple script at:
>
> http://cli.la.asu.edu/togoogleornot.htm
>
> which lets you enter two options, choose the target language and then
> get hits for both options in one window. For example, if a student of
> English enters take the liberty as the first option and take a liberty
> as the second, it will be possible to determine that the first option
> is well-formed while the other is not.

Thanks, a very convenient little program.

I must admit I was surprised when you said that "take a liberty" is not
well-formed. My native-speaker intuition tells me that "take a liberty" is
just as well-formed as "take the liberty to" [do something]. However, like
you said, Google shows the first as 16 times less common than the second.
Of course, it's no use entering "take the liberty", because three quarters
of the returns are things like "Take the Liberty Bridge Exit". Also, a type
of automobile called a Liberty seems to turn up in a high proportion of the
hits on both sides.

Perhaps the preponderance of "take the liberty to" in web-pages is because
it's common in officialese, while "take a liberty" is a rather more literary
term. Nothing to do with their relative well-formedness.

I conclude that, while Google can be a great help in deciding on the
well-formedness of phrases, it shouldn't be used blindly. There are lots of
traps for the unwary.

John Atkinson
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