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"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

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Discussion Details

Title: Discussion: Re: 15.2577, FYI: Assessing Well-formedness Using Google Script
Submitter: John Atkinson
Description: In Linguist 15.2577, Danko Sipka <danko.sipka@asu.edu  wrote:
  Dear Linguists,
  I frequently use Google to determine lexical and morphosyntactic
  well-formedness of two options in various languages. I advise my
  students to do the same. In order to save time required to go to
  Google two times for one inquiry, I have created a simple script at: 
  which lets you enter two options, choose the target language and then
  get hits for both options in one window. For example, if a student of
  English enters take the liberty as the first option and take a liberty
  as the second, it will be possible to determine that the first option
  is well-formed while the other is not.
Thanks, a very convenient little program.
I must admit I was surprised when you said that "take a liberty" is not
well-formed. My native-speaker intuition tells me that "take a liberty" is
just as well-formed as "take the liberty to" [do something]. However, like
you said, Google shows the first as 16 times less common than the second.
Of course, it's no use entering "take the liberty", because three quarters
of the returns are things like "Take the Liberty Bridge Exit". Also, a type
of automobile called a Liberty seems to turn up in a high proportion of the
hits on both sides.
Perhaps the preponderance of "take the liberty to" in web-pages is because
it's common in officialese, while "take a liberty" is a rather more literary
term. Nothing to do with their relative well-formedness.
I conclude that, while Google can be a great help in deciding on the
well-formedness of phrases, it shouldn't be used blindly. There are lots of
traps for the unwary.
John Atkinson
Date Posted: 18-Sep-2004
LL Issue: 15.2594
Posted: 18-Sep-2004

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