"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more
To find some answers Tim Machan explores the language's present and past, and looks ahead to its futures among the one and a half billion people who speak it. His search is fascinating and important, for definitions of English have influenced education and law in many countries and helped shape the identities of those who live in them.
This volume provides a new perspective on the evolution of the special language of medicine, based on the electronic corpus of Early Modern English Medical Texts, containing over two million words of medical writing from 1500 to 1700.
Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2003 21:36:10 +0100 From: Joybrato Mukherjee <Joybrato.Mukherjee@anglistik.uni-giessen.de> 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.
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 contexts.
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 grammar.
Biber, D., S. Johansson, G. Leech, S. Conrad and E. Finegan (1999): The Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Harlow: Pearson Education.
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 Argument Structure. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Greenberg, J. (1966): Language Universals. The Hague: Mouton.
Hawkins, J.A. (1994): A Performance Theory of Order and Constituency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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, 149-182.
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 Linguistics. 22-36.
Wierzbicka, A. (1988): The Semantics of Grammar. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
About the REVIEWER
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.