Cognitive representation of multi-word sequences in English: Converging evidence

Project: Cognitive representation of multi-word sequences in English: Converging evidence, funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (MCIN/AEI/ 10.13039/501100011033; grant PID2020-118143GA-I00; PI: David Tizón-Couto).


Fragments: constructionalising non-canonical expressions in written English

Building on previous projects on the non-canonical syntax of English, this initiative develops a new research line on 'fragments', that is, on syntactically marked but communicatively effective structures of the type: Hi to Simon [& take care], Case over, Never mind, Sorry, Glad to meet you, etc. These structures have not received a homogeneous treatment or have been sufficiently described or classified in previous research; they have been relegated to categories comprising various types of non-canonical expressions grouped under labels such as fragmentary, elliptical, irregular, minor or sub-sentences. In this project, the term '(clausal/sentential) fragment' is adopted to encompass all units of discourse characteristically oral but also common in writing without a complete sentence/clause structure, with or without explicit linguistic antecedents, which express a propositional meaning equivalent to that of a complete sentence or clause, with different degrees of conventionalisation.
Fragments constitute a challenge for linguistic theories as far as the relationship between form and meaning is concerned since, despite their fragmentary syntax, these structures convey meanings equivalent to complete sentences or clauses in specific linguistic and/or contextual situations. Also, fragments perform a wide range of speech acts (ask/answer, show (dis)agreement). Due to their characteristics and functions, fragments are located at the intersection between the grammar and the pragmatic-discursive level, an aspect that they share with so-called 'thetical' constructions. Starting from the idea that thetical structures and fragments share properties such as (i) syntactic and/or prosodic independence, (ii) compliance with grammatical norms applicable to complete sentences (in 'Sentence Grammar') and, above all, (iii) a non-restrictive interpretation dependent on the discursive situation, the concept of fragment in this project gives room to constructions of Thetical Grammar, such as parentheticals and independent subordinate (insubordinate) clauses. Another weak point in the study of the fragments in English, which constitutes one of the most relevant contributions of this project, is the adoption of the theoretical framework of Construction Grammar, which conceives language as a network of constructions, that is, of semantic and/or discursive form/function pairings in which the form/function is not strictly predictable from the components of the expressions, and rejects the existence of a deep syntactic structure. The combination of formal analyses (syntactic, structural, prosodic and purely distributive characteristics based on frequency and productivity) based on written (and oral) corpora, and the functional study of fragments will determine the degree of matching ('pairing') that justifies treating these expressions as 'constructions'.


Variation in English Worldwide

This project's theoretical framework is the cognitive model Usage-Based Theory (USB, cf. Croft 2000; Langacker 2000; Bybee 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013), based on the belief that “usage events create linguistic structure” (Bybee 2013: 68). This dynamic view of the emergence of grammar provides a useful means of encompassing the very wide array of variables at work in morphosyntactic variation in World Englishes: grammatical, sociolinguistic and cognitive, the latter including variation and change derived from second (or third)-language acquisition processes and language contact situations. Our methodology is corpus-based and mainly uses corpora from the ICE (International Corpus of English) project. In 2014 we joined the ICE, a project initiated in 1988 by the late Professor Sidney Greenbaum, the then Director of the Survey of English Usage, University College London, now coordinated by Professor Marianne Hundt (an affiliated member of our team) at the University of Zurich, in collaboration with twenty-six research teams around the world. Our team is in charge of the compilation of the Gibraltar component of ICE (ICE-GBR).


Empirical analysis of linguistic strategies of micro-variation in English

This project aims to undertake a systematic study of bounded alternations in the English language from both synchronic and diachronic perspectives: semantic, functional, pragmatic and communicative consequences of the paradigmatic variation observed in phonetic, syntactic, thematic (in the sense of Systemic Grammar), discursive and textual (in the field of diachronic translation) alternations -- microvariation in stress patterns of compounds, in the order of constituents in the phrase and in the clause, in the explicit and implicit syntax of constituents in contexts of ellipsis and of subject deletion, in contexts of subject-verb agreement with collective nouns, in those choices of speech acts in controlled discourse and in solutions of diachronic translation. The methodology is empirical in all cases, since the study of individual cases of microvariation takes as the starting point actual examples retrieved from electronic collections of texts, both of historical and contemporary English, of native and learner language. ALTS has been funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (grant no. FFI2013-44065-P).


‘The art of writing English’: A corpus of schoolchildren’s writings

An ongoing debate within the field of Educational Linguistics in the UK is how to maintain and/or improve standards in writing performance in primary and secondary schoolchildren. The aim of this project is to contribute to the field in two ways: (i) by developing a large-scale diachronic corpus of schoolchildren’s writings — the APU Writing and Reading Corpus 1979-1988 —, with data retrieved from the Assessment of Performance Unit Language Surveys Archive (1979-1988), currently stored at the University of Liverpool; and (ii) by carrying out two case studies on children’s writing performance based on the above-mentioned APU corpus compilation (on the complexity of Noun Phrases, case-study 1) and the legacy of eighteenth-century ‘standards’ with regard to the morpho-syntax of English, case-study 2). This project has been funded by the Consellería de Cultura, Educación e Ordenación Universitaria, Xunta de Galicia, (Proxectos Emerxentes, Grant EM2014/028).


Variation in micro-diachrony

This proposal builds on previous initiatives by this team in projects funded by the national R+D plan, dealing with linguistic variation from a diachronic perspective, and aims to undertake a study of alternation in contemporary English in a short time space: the micro-diachrony 1960-2010. Alternations may lead to examples of microvariation, as evinced by the existence of options or “choices” of linguistic expressions. In particular, this project tackles the functional and communicative consequences of the paradigmatic variation observed in syntactic, thematic (in the sense of Systemic Functional Grammar) and processing (issues of complexity). The methodology is empirical in all cases because the study of individual cases of microvariation departs from real examples taken from two electronic collections of texts in English of the decade of the 60s (Brown corpus) and the early years of the 21st century (Crown corpus). This project will deal with, among others, examples of microvariation in the order of constituents within a phrase (complements and adjuncts) and a clause (topicalisation, dislocation, extraposition, inversion), with options of non-finite complementation in the verb phrase, with the characterisation of free adjuncts and absolute constructions, borrowing elements of linguistic complexity, as well as with the thematic organisation of texts and their functional potential depending on the text type.

This research will be based on results provided by the automatic, semi-automatic, manual categorial (part-of-speech), syntactic and functional annotation of two small comparable corpora (approximately one million words) of contemporary American English writing, through initially the software UAM Corpus Tool. The annotation of these corpora is an important byproduct which will be offered to the scientific community and will constitute the first important phase of the project, as well as the search interface to be published in open access. In the second phase, which will lead to the already-mentioned specific investigations, an empirical methodology and some theoretical assumptions from various models will be applied (from systemic-functional to syntactocentric options), with an eclectic treatment of results based on a broad concept of linguistic functionality.

The ambitious dissemination plan in this project implies the publication and presentation of those studies of microvariation resulting from the specific objectives in a number of relevant international prestigious conferences and publishers (monographs, collective volumes and journals). In the third year the team will organise a workshop on the consequences that word order and linguistic complexity have for the processing of Present-Day English. These objectives will be carried out by both a cohesive and consolidated research team and a work team consisting basically of predoc and postdoc researchers with investigations already underway.

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