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Summary Details

Query:   Use of MUCH
Author:  Agneta M-L Svalberg
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Pragmatics

Summary:   Regarding query http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-1352.html

Use of MUCH

In April this year I posted a query about the use of 'much' which had originated among our MA students. Thank you to those who took the time to respond (Charley Rowe, Alfredo Lescano, Harold Shiffman, Bruce Despain, Mandy Simons - thanks! - hope I haven't left anybody out). I went on study leave shortly afterwards and so apologies for not posting a
summary/conclusions earlier.

Below I will draw on the feedback I received (responsibility for shortcomings my own), but I will also make some further suggestions. I will limit the discussion to 'much' when it premodifies a (non-count/mass) noun. The question was why 'much' seemed more or less likely in particular collocations and contexts.

'There is much happiness to be found in living a simple life' is ok, but 'There is much salt on the floor' seems odd.
The general feeling seems to be that 'much' is - common in the collocation 'not much'
- and in interrogatives. In affirmative, declarative contexts it is - used more frequently with abstract than concrete nouns - more literary/formal/old fashioned than alternative expressions (e.g. 'a lot of')

Bruce Despain was of the view that 'much' is somewhat more acceptable in generalizations than when we speak of concrete or specific amounts and that it seems to collocate well with 'be found' .
However, one can almost always find counter examples to any of the above, and many examples although decidedly odd are possible. ('There is much salt below the surface. '*There is much salt on the floor.) (There is much happiness to be found in a simple life. 'There is much salt to be found...)

Thinking about this, it seems to me that there are a couple of general principles at work which guide the speaker's choice. I have attempted to formulate them as follows:

Iconicity Principle 1: Because of its frequent lack of prominence 'much' is a less satisfactory realization of the meaning 'a great quantity' than more prominent alternatives.

(Its frequent lack of prominence is due to its brevity and a tendency to sit next to a more heavily stressed syllable. More prominent alternatives are words/expressions containing a stressed component and material separating it off from a following stressed syllable, e.g. 'a lot of', 'a great deal of'.)

(Note that stress in 'too much' makes this expression more prominent and thus a more 'satisfying' expression of quantity.)

Iconicity Principle 2: The mismatch (Iconicity 1) is exarcerbated when the meaning 'a great quantity' is asserted, i.e. in affirmative statements.
The idea is that these principles would affect the speaker's choice of realization and might tip the balance in favour of other alternatives, such as 'a lot of' , 'a great deal' and so on.

As the iconicity principles refer to spoken language, they would carry less weight in the written form and more weight when the speaker/language user wished to be more subjective/personal. This might explain the greater acceptability of 'much' in formal or literary contexts.

If anybody has any thoughts on this, I'd be interested to hear from you!

I have added a few more examples below.

Agneta M-L Svalberg
CELTEAL - School of Education
University of Leicester

There is not much salt in this dressing.

?There is much salt in this dressing.

?I put much salt in this dressing.

Is there much salt in this dressing?

How much salt is there in this dressing?

?Much salt was added to the dressing.

Much salt has been wasted in an effort to ward of evil.

There is not much happiness to be found in that place.

?There is much happiness to be found in that place.

I found much happiness in that place.

Is there much happiness to be found in that place?

How much happiness is to be found in that place?

Much happiness can be found in that place.=20

Agneta M-L Svalberg (Dr)
CELTEAL/ School of Education
University of Leicester
21 University Road
Leicester LE1 7RF

LL Issue: 15.3177
Date Posted: 12-Nov-2004
Original Query: Read original query


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