Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Determinants of the synthetic–analytic variation across English comparatives and superlatives 1

  • LAWRENCE CHEUNG (a1) and LONGTU ZHANG (a1)
Abstract

Some English adjectives accept both synthetic and analytic comparative and superlative forms (e.g. thicker vs more thick, happiest vs most happy). As many as 20+ variables have been claimed to affect this choice (see Leech & Culpeper 1997; Lindquist 2000; Mondorf 2003, 2009). However, many studies consider one variable at a time without systematically controlling for other variables (i.e. they take a monofactorial approach). Further, very little research has been done on superlatives. Following Hilpert's (2008) multifactorial study, we investigate the simultaneous contribution of 17 variables towards comparative and superlative alternation and further measure the strength(s) of the predictors. On the whole, phonological predictors are much more important than syntactic and frequency-related predictors. The predictors of the number of syllables and final segments in <-y> consistently outrank other predictors in both models. Important differences have also been identified. Many syntactic variables, such as predicative position and presence of complements, are weak or non-significant in the comparative model but have stronger effects in the superlative model. Further, higher frequency of an adjective leads to a preference for the synthetic -er variant in comparatives but the analytic most variant in superlatives. The study shows that generalizations about comparatives do not straightforwardly carry over to superlatives.

Copyright
Footnotes
Hide All
1

We want to express our gratitude to Britta Mondorf, Javier Pérez-Guerra and three anonymous reviewers for comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this article. An earlier version of the article was presented at the 5th International Conference on the Linguistics of Contemporary English (ICLCE 5), University of Texas, Austin, 25–29 September 2013. We want to thank the audience for their comments. Last but not least, thanks go to Mercy Wong and Carleon Mendoza for their hard work and patience with the annotation of the examples. All remaining errors are ours.

Footnotes
References
Hide All
Allison, Paul D. 2012. Logistic regression using SAS: Theory and application. Cary, NC: SAS Institute.
Aston, Guy & Burnard, Lou. 1997. The BNC handbook: Exploring the British National Corpus with SARA. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Baayen, R. Harald. 2008. Analyzing linguistic data: A practical introduction to statistics using R. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Biber, Douglas, Johansson, Stig, Leech, Geoffrey, Conrad, Susan & Finegan, Edward. 1999. Longman grammar of spoken and written English. London and New York: Longman.
Burnard, Lou (ed.). 2007. Reference guide for the British National Corpus (XML edition). Research Technologies Service at Oxford University Computing Services. www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/docs/URG
Burns, Robert P. & Burns, Richard. 2008. Logistic regression. In Business research methods and statistics using SPSS, chapter 24. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (Extra online chapter: www.uk.sagepub.com/burns/chapters.htm)
Claridge, Claudia. 2007. The superlative in spoken English. Language and Computers 62, 128–67.
Field, Andy & Miles, Jeremy. 2010. Discovering statistics using SAS. Los Angeles: Sage.
González-Díaz, Victorina. 2008. English adjective comparison: A historical perspective. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Görlach, Manfred. 1991. Englishes: Studies in varieties of English, 1984–8 (Varieties of English around the World 9). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Hawkins, John A. 1994. A performance theory of order and constituency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hilpert, Martin. 2008. The English comparative: Language structure and language use. English Language and Linguistics 12 (3), 395417.
Huddleston, Rodney & Pullum, Geoffrey K.. 2002. The Cambridge grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kytö, Merja & Romaine, Suzanne. 1997. Competing forms of adjective comparison in Modern English: What could be more quicker and easier and more effective? In Nevalainen & Kahlas-Tarkka (eds.), 329–52.
Kytö, Merja & Romaine, Suzanne. 2000. Adjective comparison and standardization processes in American and British English from 1620 to the present. In Wright, Laura (ed.), The development of Standard English 1300—1800: Theories, descriptions, conflicts, 171–94. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Leech, Geoffrey & Culpeper, Jonathan. 1997. The comparison of adjectives in recent British English. In Nevalainen & Kahlas-Tarkka (eds.), 353–73.
Lindquist, Hans. 1998. The comparison of English disyllabic adjectives in -y and -ly in Present-day British and American English. In Hans Lindquist et al. (eds.), The major varieties of English. Papers from MAVEN 97, 205–12. Växjö: Acta Wexionensia.
Lindquist, Hans. 2000. Livelier or more lively? Syntactic and contextual factors influencing the comparison of disyllabic adjectives. Language and Computers 30, 125–32.
Menard, Scott. 2011. Standards for standardized logistic regression coefficients. Social Forces 89 (4), 1409–28.
Mondorf, Britta. 2003. Support for more-support. In Rohdenburg & Mondorf (eds.), 251–304.
Mondorf, Britta. 2009. More support for more-support: The role of processing constraints on the choice between synthetic and analytic comparative forms. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Mondorf, Britta. 2014. (Apparently) competing motivations in morpho-syntactic variation. In MacWhinney, Brian, Malchukov, Andrej & Moravcsik, Edith (eds.), Competing motivations in grammar and usage, 209–28. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nevalainen, Terrtu & Kahlas-Tarkka, Leena (eds.). 1997. To explain the present: Studies in the changing English language in honour of Matti Rissanen. Helsinki: Société Néophilologique.
Plag, Ingo. 1998. Morphological haplology in a constraint-based morpho-phonology. In Kehrein, Wolfgang & Wiese, Richard (eds.), Phonology and morphology of the Germanic languages, 199215. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
Poutsma, Hendrik. 1914. A grammar of late modern English. Groningen: Noordhoff.
Quirk, Randolph, Greenbaum, Sidney, Leech, Geoffrey & Svartvik, Jan. 1985. A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman.
Rohdenburg, Günter. 1996. Cognitive complexity and increased grammatical explicitness in English. Cognitive Linguistics 7 (2), 149–82.
Rohdenburg, Günter & Mondorf, Britta (eds.). 2003. Determinants of grammatical variation in English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Schlüter, Julia. 2005. Rhythmic grammar: The influence of rhythm on grammatical variation and change in English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Sweet, Henry. [1891] 1968. A new English grammar: Logical and historical. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Szmrecsanyi, Benedikt. 2005. Language users as creatures of habit: A corpus-linguistic analysis of persistence in spoken English. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory 1 (1), 113–50.
Thomson, Audrey J. & Martinet, Agnes V.. 1980. A practical English grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tonidandel, Scott & LeBreton, James. 2011. Relative importance analysis: A useful supplement to regression analysis. Journal of Business and Psychology 26 (1), 19.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

English Language & Linguistics
  • ISSN: 1360-6743
  • EISSN: 1469-4379
  • URL: /core/journals/english-language-and-linguistics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed