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    Musgrave, J. and Parkinson, J. 2014. Getting to grips with noun groups. ELT Journal, Vol. 68, Issue. 2, p. 145.


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Grammatical change in the noun phrase: the influence of written language use

  • DOUGLAS BIBER (a1) and BETHANY GRAY (a1)
  • DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1360674311000025
  • Published online: 08 June 2011
Abstract

Many discussions of grammatical change have focused on grammatical innovation in the discourse contexts of conversational interaction. We argue here that it is also possible for grammatical innovation to emerge out of the communicative demands of written discourse. In particular, the distinctive communicative characteristics of academic writing (informational prose) have led to the development of a discourse style that relies heavily on nominal structures, with extensive phrasal modification and a relative absence of verbs. By tracking the historical development of this discourse style, we can also observe the development of particular grammatical functions that are emerging in writing. We focus here on two grammatical features – nouns as nominal premodifiers and prepositional phrases as nominal postmodifiers – analyzing their historical development over the last four centuries in a corpus of academic research writing (compared to other registers such as fiction, newspaper reportage and conversation). Our analysis shows that these grammatical features were quite restricted in function and variability in earlier historical periods of English. However, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they became much more frequent and productive, accompanied by major extensions in their functions, variants, and range of lexical associations. These extensions were restricted primarily to informational written discourse, illustrating ways in which new grammatical functions emerge in writing rather than speech.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Douglas Biber . 2006. University language: A corpus-based study of spoken and written registers. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Douglas Biber . 2009. Are there linguistic consequences of literacy? Comparing the potentials of language use in speech and writing. In David R. Olson & Nancy Torrance (eds.), Cambridge handbook of literacy, 7591. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Douglas Biber & Victoria Clark . 2002. Historical shifts in modification patterns with complex noun phrase structures: How long can you go without a verb? In Teresa Fanego , María José López-Couso & Javier Pérez-Guerra (eds.), English historical syntax and morphology, 4366. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Douglas Biber & Bethany Gray . 2010. Challenging stereotypes about academic writing: Complexity, elaboration, explicitness. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 9, 220.

Joan Bybee & Paul Hopper (eds.). 2001. Frequency and the emergence of linguistic structure. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Barbara Fox . 2007. Principles shaping grammatical practices. Discourse Studies 9, 299318.

Manfred G. Krug 2000. Emerging English modals: A corpus-based study of grammaticalization. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Benedikt Szmrecsanyi , & Lars Hinrichs . 2008. Probabilistic determinants of genitive variation in spoken and written English: A multivariate comparison across time, space, and genres. In Nevalainen Terttu , Irma Taavitsainen , Päivi Pahta & Minna Korhonen (eds.), The dynamics of linguistic variation: Corpus evidence on English past and present, 291309. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Sali Tagliamonte . 2004. Have to, gotta, must: Grammaticalisation, variation and specialization in English deontic modality. In Hans Lindquist & Christian Mair (eds.), Corpus approaches to grammaticalization in English, 3355. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

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English Language & Linguistics
  • ISSN: 1360-6743
  • EISSN: 1469-4379
  • URL: /core/journals/english-language-and-linguistics
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