LINGUIST List 25.1107

Wed Mar 05 2014

Diss: English, Historical Ling, Morphology, Text/Corpus Ling, Cognitive Science: Lorenz: 'Contractions of English Semi-modals ...'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <>

Date: 04-Mar-2014
From: David Lorenz <>
Subject: Contractions of English Semi-modals: The emancipating effect of frequency
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Institution: Universit├Ąt Freiburg
Program: Hermann Paul Graduate School of Language Sciences
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2013

Author: David Lorenz

Dissertation Title: Contractions of English Semi-modals: The emancipating effect of frequency

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science
                            Historical Linguistics
                            Text/Corpus Linguistics

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

Dissertation Director:
Bernd Kortmann
Christian Mair

Dissertation 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

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

- 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.

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