Literal versus exaggerated always and never
A cross-genre corpus study
In this cross-genre study of the literal versus exaggerated meanings of the frequency adverbs always and never, I analyze three data sets: written and spoken language (academic speech, unscripted TV/radio dialog, and casual speech); local, national, and international news articles; and humanities, science-technology, and medical articles. For each genre, I calculate what I call the ‘Exaggeration Quotient’ (instances of always and never divided by instances of often or frequently and rarely or infrequently, respectively) and the rate of negation of always. Large Exaggeration Quotients and low negation rates were associated with informality, a pattern explicable in terms of specific aspects of informal language that motivate exaggeration, including perceived accountability for accuracy. In other words, formality is a proxy for certain features, goals, and expectations which are associated with certain genres and which affect how we use and understand always and never. This analysis supports a cognitive-functional, encyclopedic view of meaning.
Keywords: cognitive, accountability, hyperbole, adverbs, frequency
Published online: 08 September 2016
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