Chapter in:English Noun Phrases from a Functional-Cognitive Perspective: Current issues
Edited by Lotte Sommerer and Evelien Keizer
[Studies in Language Companion Series 221] 2022
Constructional variation and change in N-is focaliser constructions
This paper revisits the emergence of N-is focaliser constructions. It is the first to systematically use qualitative evidence from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and Early English Books Online (EEBO) to establish the chronology of developments from a full clause to a parenthetical. In a second step, diachronic evidence from the Late Modern English Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) is used for a quantitative, variationist study of constructional change in the Late Modern period. The relevant stages for this are determined in a bottom-up fashion, using Variability-based Neighbour Clustering (VNC). Multivariate statistical modelling is then applied to model the relative importance of predictor variables for the degree of syntactic integration. The chronological data from the OED and EEBO provide evidence of lexical diffusion from truth is and various other shell nouns to problem is. COHA data further show N-is focalisers to be spreading in discourse frequency. The variationist evidence shows that punctuation is not the most important predictor variable throughout and that it interacts in interesting ways with other predictors. Finally, relatively minor (i.e. numerically infrequent) but conceptually salient changes (such as article omission) are taken to contribute to further constructionalisation.