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Academic Paper

Title: On the genitive's trail: data and method from a sociolinguistic perspective
Author: Bridget L. Jankowski
Institution: University of Toronto
Author: Sali A Tagliamonte
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: University of Toronto
Linguistic Field: Morphology; Semantics; Sociolinguistics; Syntax
Subject Language: English
Abstract: Research on the English genitive (e.g. Rosenbach 2007: 154) reports increasing use of the s-variant. This has been explained as extension to inanimate possessors, a semantic shift (e.g. Hundt 1998; Rosenbach 2002), or due to the pressures of economy in journalism, a register change (Hinrichs & Szmrecsanyi 2007; Szmrecsanyi & Hinrichs 2008). The present work reports on a large-scale sociolinguistic investigation of the genitive in vernacular Canadian English using socially stratified corpora and individuals of all ages. The results show that human, prototypical possessors are 96 per cent s-genitive and non-humans are 95 per cent of-genitive. Within the small envelope where both forms are possible, we discover that variation patterns quite differently depending on animacy. For humans, use of the s-genitive is stable in apparent time and correlates with whether or not the possessor ends in a sibilant. In contrast, non-human collectives/organizations reveal an increasing use of s-genitives in apparent time and a favouring effect of short possessors, persistence (when an s-genitive has occurred recently in the previous discourse) and when the individual has a blue-collar job. Groups comprising humans (collectives and organizations), such as our church's youth group, and places that are possible locations for humans (countries, cities, etc.), as in Toronto's best restaurant, are the prime conduit for this change. These findings from vernacular speech confirm the extension of the s-genitive in inanimates by semantic extension.


This article appears IN English Language and Linguistics Vol. 18, Issue 2.

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