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Understanding comparative alternation in y-adjectives: What else might we need? 1


This paper investigates the contribution of lexical spreads (or type counts) of English comparative more and -er constructions to an understanding of comparative alternation in the $y$ -adjectives, that is adjectives ending in an orthographic ${<}\text{y}>$ and an /i/ sound, e.g. lazy. Comparative $y$ -adjective constructions from seven corpora of stage plays spanning from the 17th to the 20th century were analysed with mixed-effects modelling and correlations drawn between the comparatives of $y$ -adjectives and those of other adjectives. The findings indicate that while morphological complexity in $y$ -adjectives biases them towards more, more occurrences with $y$ -adjectives may also be related to the lexical spread of more in disyllabic adjectives that are not $y$ -ones. The findings suggest moreover that predictions of comparative forms based on the syntactic positioning of $y$ -adjectives and the [±voiced] nature of their penultimate segments may make sense only with respect to the lexical spread of more in other English adjectives. To understand why $y$ -adjectives seem divided between -er regularisation and adherence to the trend in English comparisons of a more bias, this paper proposes a need to supplement accounts of comparative alternation focused on the characteristics of $y$ -adjectives with considerations related to the lexical spread of comparative constructions.

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Author’s address: National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, 1 Nanyang Walk, NIE2-02-11, Singapore 637616, Singapore;
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I would like to thank Laurie Bauer, Paul Warren and three anonymous referees of Journal of Linguistics for their comments on earlier versions of this paper.

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Journal of Linguistics
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