English Language and Linguistics

Research Article

In search of grammaticalization in synchronic dialect data: general extenders in northeast England1


a1 School of Humanities, Languages & Social Sciences, University of Salford, Maxwell Building, Salford M5 4WT, UK h.pichler@salford.ac.uk

a2 Department of Linguistics, University of Ottawa, 70 Laurier Avenue East, Ottawa K1N 6N5, Canada slevey@uottawa.ca


In this article, we draw on a socially stratified corpus of dialect data collected in northeast England to test recent proposals that grammaticalization processes are implicated in the synchronic variability of general extenders (GEs), i.e. phrase- or clause-final constructions such as and that and or something. Combining theoretical insights from the framework of grammaticalization with the empirical methods of variationist sociolinguistics, we operationalize key diagnostics of grammaticalization (syntagmatic length, decategorialization, semantic-pragmatic change) as independent factor groups in the quantitative analysis of GE variability. While multivariate analyses reveal rapid changes in apparent time to the social conditioning of some GE variants in our data, they do not reveal any evidence of systematic changes in the linguistic conditioning of variants in apparent time that would confirm an interpretation of ongoing grammaticalization. These results lead us to question Cheshire's (2007) recent hypothesis that GEs are grammaticalizing in contemporary varieties of British English. They additionally raise caveats with regard to the assumption that the linguistic conditioning of GE variability in contemporary data sets is the product of change.

(Received March 19 2010)

(Revised February 07 2011)

(Online publication October 04 2011)


1 The first author gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland which funded the fieldwork undertaken for this project. Earlier versions of this article were presented at i-mean (University of the West of England, April 2009), NWAV 38 (University of Ottawa, October 2009), the Langwidge Sandwidge seminar series (University of Manchester, September 2010) and the Language Variation & Linguistic Theory seminar series (University of Lancaster, December 2010). We would like to thank the audience members for their insightful comments and questions, in particular Ruth Carroll, Jenny Cheshire, Lynn Clark, Derek Denis, David Denison, Willem Hollmann, Paul Kerswill, Miriam Meyerhoff, Anna Siewierska and Elizabeth Traugott. We are also grateful for the detailed comments on previous written versions of the article made by Karin Aijmer, two anonymous reviewers and editor David Denison. Of course, any remaining errors are our own.