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Dissertation Information


Title: Contractions of English Semi-modals: The emancipating effect of frequency Add Dissertation
Author: David Lorenz Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Homepage: https://uni-freiburg.academia.edu/DavidLorenz
Institution: Universität Freiburg, Hermann Paul Graduate School of Language Sciences
Completed in: 2013
Linguistic Subfield(s): Historical Linguistics; Morphology; Text/Corpus Linguistics; Cognitive Science;
Subject Language(s): English
Director(s): Bernd Kortmann
Christian Mair

Abstract: The current restructuring of the English modal system has long been noted
as an ongoing language change process. Semi-modal constructions such as 'BE
going to' and 'HAVE got to' are textbook cases of grammaticalization. As
grammaticalization comes with a rise in frequency, these semi-modals are
also typical examples of the 'reducing effect' of frequency, which leads to
the contracted forms 'gonna' and 'gotta'. These forms have in recent times
become conventional in spoken English.

This book presents the first comprehensive corpus-based study of the use
and development of the semi-modal contractions 'gonna', 'gotta' and
'wanna'. Focusing on American English, it considers synchronic data from
spontaneous spoken language as well as diachronic data from a corpus of
speech-purposed writing. The findings are complemented by data from an
elicitation experiment, yielding insights into how listeners perceive these
forms.

Beyond documenting the use of the contractions and full forms in American
English, the book provides an investigation into the mental representation
of the contractions between phonetic reduction and lexicality. An
'emancipating effect' of frequency is proposed by which the contracted
forms move from reduction to lexicality, that is, they are increasingly
used and perceived as lexical items independent of their source forms.

Resulting from these studies, five parameters of lexical emancipation are
proposed:

- an increase in relative frequency (relative to the source form)
- a decline of reduction features
- a decline of social restrictions
- a semantic/functional divergence (from the source form)
- a structural divergence (from the source form)

Based on this, lexical emancipation can be described as a change by which
the item proceeds through various stages, namely on-line phonetic reduction
> on-line morpho-phonological fusion > stored pronunciation variant >
stored lexical variant > independent lexical item.