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Corpora in grammatical studies. Corpus Linguistics Richard Xiao Aims of this session. Lecture Corpus-based grammar: Scope and principles The state of the art of using corpora in grammatical studies

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corpora in grammatical studies

Corpora in grammatical studies

Corpus Linguistics

Richard Xiao

aims of this session
Aims of this session
  • Lecture
    • Corpus-based grammar: Scope and principles
    • The state of the art of using corpora in grammatical studies
    • Using corpora to improve grammatical descriptions: Infinitival complementation of help
  • Lab session
    • Position of if-clauses in ICE-GB
corpus revolution
Corpus revolution
  • Like lexicographic and lexical studies, grammar is another area which has frequently exploited corpus data
    • A balanced representative corpus provides a reliable basis for quantifying grammatical categories and syntactic features
    • It is also useful in testing hypotheses derived from grammatical theory
  • There has been increasing consensus that non-corpus-based grammars can contain biases while corpora can help to improve grammatical descriptions (McEnery & Xiao 2005)
  • Corpora have had a strong influence on recently published reference grammar books (at least for English)
    • ‘even people who have never heard of a corpus are using the product of corpus-based investigation’ (Hunston 2002: 96)
principles of corpus grammar leech 2000
Principles of corpus grammar (Leech 2000)
  • Data-oriented grammar
    • allowing the combination of a quantitative and a qualitative description of the data
    • a grammar accountable to observed data of attested language use
  • Functional Grammar
    • establishing a relation between phenomena that are external to the language system and system-internal phenomena (form vs. meaning)
    • their explanation of grammar in terms of the wider context of human psychology and behaviour
  • Variety Grammar
    • allowing the description of the full range of varieties (e.g. conversation, fiction writing, news writing, academic writing)
  • Integrative Grammar
    • allowing an integrated description of syntactic, lexical, and discourse features
    • close to communicative grammar as opposed to ‘autonomous syntax’ view of grammar
a new milestone in english grammar
A new milestone in English grammar
  • Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English (i.e. LGSWE, Biber et al 1999)
    • A new milestone following Quirk et al (1985) Comprehensive Grammar
    • Based entirely on the 40-million-word Longman Spoken and Written English Corpus
    • Giving “a thorough description of English grammar, which is illustrated throughout with real corpus examples, and which gives equal attention to the ways speakers and writers actually use these linguistic resources” (Biber et al 1999: 45)
features of corpus based grammars
Features of corpus-based grammars
  • Paying attention to the differences in speech and writing
  • Taking account of register/genre variations
  • Providing frequency information
  • Treating lexis as an integral part of grammatical description
  • Giving authentic examples
some examples of corpus grammars
Some examples of corpus grammars
  • Corpus-based English grammars focusing on speech
    • Carter, R. and McCarthy, M. (1997) Exploring Spoken English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • McCarthy, M. (1998) Spoken Language and Applied Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
some examples of corpus grammars1
Some examples of corpus grammars
  • Corpus-based grammars with a focus on lexis
    • Francis, G., Hunston, S. and Manning, E. (1996) Collins COBUILD Grammar Patterns 1: Verbs. London: HarperCollins.
    • Francis, G., Hunston, S. and Manning, E. (1998) Collins COBUILD Grammar Patterns 2: Nouns and Adjectives. London: HarperCollins.
    • Hunston, S. and Francis, G. 2002. Pattern Grammar. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
some examples of corpus grammars2
Some examples of corpus grammars
  • Corpus-based grammar exploring taking account of register variation
    • Biber, D., Johansson S., Leech G., Conrad S. and Finegan, E. (1999) Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. London: Longman.
a case study
A case study
  • Using corpora to improve grammatical descriptions
    • Infinitival complementation of HELP
a commonly used word
A commonly used word
  • In the 100-million-word BNC
    • 245th most frequent word
      • 529 instances per million words
    • 72nd most frequent verb as a lemma
a verb with a distinctive syntax
A verb with a distinctive syntax
  • English has two main-clause verbs that can control either a full or a bare infinitive: dare and help (Biber et al 1999: 735)
    • The choice between a full and bare infinitive is only available when dare is used as a lexical verb (as a modal verb, always followed by a bare infinitive)
  • HELP is the only English verb that can control either a full or bare infinitive AND occur either with or without an intervening NP
    • HELP to V
      • Perhaps the book helped to prevent things from getting even worse.
    • HELP NP to V
      • I thought I could help him to forget.
    • HELP V
      • Savings can help finance other Community projects.
    • HELP NP V
      • We helped him get to his feet and into the chair.
  • Dare can occur with or without an intervening NP, but it cannot control a bare infinitive when such an intervening NP is present
    • Ernest <…> dared Archie to punch him in the stomach.
a unique verb of great interest
A unique verb of great interest
  • A verb that has often been given prominence in textbooks, grammars and dictionaries
    • E.g. Chalker (1984); Murphy (1985); Quirk et al (1972, 1985); Eastwood (1992); Biber et al (1999)
  • A verb that has aroused much interest and debate
    • Language variety
    • Language change
    • Register variation
    • Semantic distinction
    • Syntactic conditions
language variety ame vs bre
Language variety: AmE vs. BrE
  • Bare infinitives are much more common in AmE (cf. Biber et al 1999)
    • 80% (AmE) vs. 52% (BrE)
    • LL=23 (1 df), p<0.001
  • British preference for full infinitives
    • You’re going to help memaketo make a birthday cake for Jim remember. (BNC)
  • A construction of American provenance, which has penetrated rapidly into BrE
    • Zandvoort (1966): ‘except in American English, however, to help usually takes an infinitive with to’
      • No longer valid
language change 1961 1991
Language change:1961-1991
  • Changing labels for bare infinitives
    • (OED,1933) “vulgar” -> (Vallins 1951) “not seriously questioned now…” -> (Mair 1995) “lost the informal ring”
  • An increase in the proportions of bare infinitives over the three decades in both AmE and BrE
    • AmE: 68% -> 82% (+14%)
      • LL=10.6 (1 df), p=0.001
    • BrE: 22% -> 60% (+38%)
      • LL=47.5 (1 df), p<0.001
  • A greater shift towards the use of bare infinitives in BrE because AmE was already more “tolerant” of bare infinitives in the 1960s
spoken vs written
Spoken vs. written
  • Bare infinitives are slightly more frequent in speech than in writing, in both AmE and BrE
  • The differences are not statistically significant
    • AmE: LL=2.71 (1 df), p=0.10
    • BrE: LL=2.16 (1 df), p=0.142
  • No predictable distribution pattern for bare infinitives in 15 written genres
    • Common in some formal genres (e.g. official documents) but infrequent in other formal genres (e.g. academic writing)
semantic distinction
Semantic distinction
  • The debate has a long history
  • Some “pre-corpus” arguments
    • Wood (1962: 107-8): to ‘can be omitted only when the helper does some of the work, or shares in the activity jointly with the person that is helped’ – Wood’s “unacceptable” examples
      • These tablets will help you sleep.
        • But tablets do not sleep
      • Writing out a poem will help you learn it.
        • But writing does no learning
    • According to Quirk et al (1972: 841), the choice ‘is conditioned by the subject’s involvement’
      • With a bare infinitive, ‘external help is called in’
      • With a full infinitive, ‘assistance is outside the action proper’
semantic distinction1
Semantic distinction
  • Dixon (1991)
    • John helped Mary eat the pudding
      • John ate part of the pudding as Mary did
    • John helped Mary to eat the pudding
      • John fed the pudding to Mary
  • Duffley (1992)
    • A bare infinitive evokes helping as ‘direct or active involvement’
    • … help to V evokes help as a condition which enables the person being helped to realize the event
  • Lu (1996: 813)
    • When the subject of ‘help’ does not take part in the helping activity, the infinitive must take to
      • The book helped me to see the truth.
  • What do your intuitions tell you?
semantic distinction2
Semantic distinction
  • Not reported in more recent corpus-based works (e.g. Longman 1993/1996; Collins 1995; Biber et al 1999)
    • Quirk et al (1985) dropped the argument for semantic distinction
    • Collins CoBuild Dictionary
      • “If you help someone, you make it easier for them to do something, for example by doing part of the work for them or by giving them advice or money.”
  • It is not always easy or even possible to make a distinction between whether or not the helper actually takes part in the helping activity
  • Counter examples are abundant in corpora
    • I help people stop smoking. (FLOB)
    • oh it says if you have a dose last thing at night it helps you sleep. (BNC)
syntactic condition intervening np
Syntactic condition: Intervening NP
  • The previous claim (Lind 1983; Kjellmer 1985; Biber et al1999) that an intervening NP increases the proportion of bare infinitives is only partly supported by our corpora
    • Only valid in AmE, both written and spoken
    • Unpredictable results, no statistical significance in BrE
syntactic condition intervening adverbial
Syntactic condition: Intervening adverbial
  • Lind (1983) claims that ‘an intervening adverbial will preclude omission of to’
    • The whisky helped me not to stagger under this blow.
  • This claim is ungrounded, esp. in AmE (CPSA)
  • Some counter examples
    • So, to help people not jump all over it as soon as they see it <…> (CPSA)
    • <…> that would even help perhaps focus some of those responses. (CPSA)
    • Mr. Clinton <…> also helped, to a much lesser degree, organize a huge march in Washington <…> (Frown)

...helping dramatically reduce poverty. (Time Magazine 2005/12/05)

Now my helping digitally restore the Disney films her grandfather worked on. (Time Magazine 2006/04/10)

syntactic condition to preceding help
Syntactic condition: to preceding help
  • To preceding help is a decisive syntactic condition that encourages the omission of to (cf. Lind 1983; Kjellmer 1985; Biber et al 1999)
    • HELP (lemma): 60%
    • help (finiteverb): 65%
    • to help (infinitive): 88% (+23%)
  • Consecutive repetition of totends to be avoided on the grounds of euphony (cf. Lind 1983)
    • They took on an estate manager and wine-maker to help run the business. (FLOB)
  • A statistical norm, not categorical distinction

In the BNC, to help V (2,161) is 17 times as frequent as to help to V (127)

syntactic condition passive voice
Syntactic condition: Passive voice
  • Palmer (1965: 169) observes that ‘passive occurs <…> only with to: They were helped to do it.’
  • All of the 9 instances of passivized HELP in our corpora take a full infinitive with no exception
  • No instance of BE helped V is found in the whole BNC or the 100-million-word Time corpus of AmE
  • Explanation (?): An analogy can be drawn between HELP and verbs such as MAKE, LET, SEE and HEAR: oC = bare infinitive
    • The infinitive shifts from oC to sC in passive transformation
      • So they should be made to bring their prices down. (BNC)
        • So the authorities should make them (*to) bring their prices down.
      • Pupils should be helped to investigate topics on their own. (BNC)
        • Teachers should help pupils (to) investigate topics on their own.
case study a summary
Case study: A summary
  • The choice of a full or bare infinitive following HELP is conditioned by a wide range of factors including, for example, language variety, language change, as well as various syntactic conditions
  • Non-corpus-based grammars are likely to contain biased descriptions that do not accord with attested language use
exploring if clauses in ice gb
Exploring if-clauses in ICE-GB
  • ICE-GB
    • One million words
    • 500 samples (300 spoken + 200 written)
    • Parsed corpus
  • Position of if-clauses
    • Clause initial position
      • If it’s a really nice day we could walk.
    • Clause-final position
      • We could walk if it’s a really nice day.
  • Reference
    • Nelson, G., Wallis, S. and Aarts, B. (2002) Exploring Natural Language: Working with the British Component of ICE. Amsterdam: John Benjamins

+ Expand to see text categories

fuzzy tree fragment ftf
Fuzzy Tree Fragment (FTF)

Press "Inset after" twice

complete nodes with specified word
Complete nodes with specified word

Adverbial clause introduced by the subordinator “if”

clause (main)

specifying position initial
Specifying position (initial)

Finally press "Start"

Click on "First: Yes" for initial position; white linking line disappears

frequencies of initial final positions
Frequencies of initial / final positions
  • Initial position appears to be the “unmarked” position for if-clauses
    • Initial position (886, 61.4%)
    • Final position (556, 38.6%)
written registers
Written registers

Greenbaum and Nelson's (1995) observation of conditional clause (64.8% for initial and 35.32% final) only applies to written registers

spoken registers
Spoken registers

In the spoken data as a whole, the final position is preferred, though there is considerable internal variation.

The more "formal" spoken registers (parliamentary debates, legal presentations and non-broadcast (scripted) speeches show a marked preference for the initial position.