Vol. 37:3 (2016) ► pp.238–266
Canny good, or quite canny?
The semantic-syntactic distribution of canny in the North East of England
The word canny has long been associated with the dialects of the North East of England, most typically in its adjectival sense. However, it has four distinct functions (adjective, adverb, intensifier and modifier in quantifying expressions), which this paper tracks in a diachronic speech corpus. Although the intensifier (e.g. it’s canny good) is documented in the Survey of English Dialects (Upton, Parry and Widowson 1994), it appears in the corpus later than expected with the profile of an incoming form. Results from a judgement task corroborate the corpus trends and show that people’s intuitions about intensifier canny correlate with age as well as the semantics and position of the following adjective, in such a way that shows the intensifier is not fully delexicalised. The present research highlights the value of combining production and perception data in establishing how the origins of a linguistic item affect its distribution in its new function.