Riassunto esame di Linguistica Inglese, prof. Maggioni, testo consigliato: Readings in English Lexicogrammar
At its simplest, the principle of idiom can be seen in the apparently simultaneous choice of two words, for
example, of course. This phrase operates effectively as a single word, and the word space may
disappear in time, as we see in maybe, anyway, and another. The of in of course is not the preposition of
that is found in grammar books, which, in an open-choice model, could be followed by any nominal
group. Similarly, course is not the countable noun that dictionaries mention.
It would be reasonable to add phrases like of course to the list of compounds, like cupboard, whose
elements have lost their semantic identity. The same treatment could be given to hundreds of similar
phrases -proverbs, clichés, jargon expressions, idioms, etc.
The principle of idiom is far more pervasive and elusive.
a) many phrases have an indeterminate extent (ex set eyes on seems to attract a pronoun subject, and
either never or a temporal conjunction like the first time, and the word has as an auxiliary to set.
How much of this is integral to the phrase, and how much is in the nature of collocational
b) many phrases allow internal lexical variation (ex the choice between in some cases and in some
c) many phrases allow internal lexical syntactic variation (ex In the phrase It is not in his nature to... the
word it is part of the phrase, so is the verb is (/was), in and nature are also fixed. But not can be
replaced by any 'broad' negative (hardly, scarcely) and his can be replaced by any possessive
d) many phrases allow some variation in word order (ex it is not in his nature to recriminate and to
recriminate is not in his nature);
e) many uses of words and phrases attract other words in strong collocation (ex hard work, hard luck,
f) many uses of words and phrases show a tendency to co-occur with certain grammatical choices (ex
to set about is closely associated with a following verb in the -ing form. Set about leaving);
g) many uses of words and phrases show a tendency to occur in a certain semantic environment (ex
the verb happen is likely to be associated with unpleasant things).
In the current lexical analysis of long texts, a number of problems have arisen:
1. the 'meanings' of the very frequent grammatical words (words that have little lexical
meaning/ambiguous meaning, but instead sere to express grammatical relationships with other
words in a sentence);
2. some 'meanings' of frequent words seems to have very little meaning at all (ex take in take a look at
this, or make in make up your mind);
3. the commonest meanings of the commonest words are not the meanings supplied by introspection
(ex the meaning of back as the 'posterior part of the human body, extending from the neck to pelvis'
(CED, 1 sense) is not a very common meaning. The more common 'in, to or towards the original
starting point, place or condition', is only sense 47, the second adverbials sense);
4. the commonest meanings of many less common words are not those supplied by introspection (ex
sense 1 offered in the CED for pursue is 'to follow (a fugitive, etc.), yet by far the commonest
meaning is sense 5, 'to apply oneself to (one's studies, hobbies, interests, etc.) .
From these evidence, we can put forward some tentative generalizations:
1. There is a broad general tendency for frequent words to have less of a clear meaning than less
frequent words. With the very frequent words we are reduced to talking about uses rather than
meanings. The tendency can be seen as a progressive delexicalization (reduction of the distinctive
contribution made by that words to the meaning).
2. This dependency of meaning correlates with the operation of the idiom principle.
3. The 'core' meaning of a word – the one that first comes to mind for most people – will normally be a
4. Most normal text is made up of the occurrence of frequent words, and the frequent senses of less
frequent words. Hence, normal text is largely delexicalized, and appears to be formed by exercise of
the idiom principle, with occasional switching to the open-choice principle.
5. It is unhelpful to attempt to analyse grammatically any portion of text which appears to be
constructed on the idiom principle (like in the case of of course).
It should be recognized that the two models of language that are in use are incompatible with each other.
The switch from one model to the other will be sharp. The models are diametrically opposed.
This is one reason why language text is often indeterminate in its interpretation, and hence very flexible.
Also, two listeners, or readers, will not interpret an utterance in precisely the same meaning.
For normal texts, we can put forward the proposal that the first mode to be applied is the idiom principle,
since most of the text will be interpretable by this principle. Whenever there is good reason, the
interpretive process switches to the open-choice principle, and quickly back again. Lexical choices which
are unexpected in their environment will presumably occasion a switch; choices which, if grammatically
interpreted, would be unusual are an affirmation of the operation of the idiom principle.
The view of how the two principles are deployed in interpretation can be used to make predictions about
the way people behave, about the transitional probabilities of words, and also about the behaviour of
subjects trying to guess the next word in a mystery text.
Collocation illustrates the idiom principle. When two words of different frequencies collocate significantly,
the collocation has a different value in the description of each of the two words. If word a is twice as
frequent as word b, then each time they occur together is twice as important for b than it is for a.
By entering the same set of events twice, once as the collocation of a with b and again the collocation of
b with a, the possibility of double entry allows us to highlight two different aspects of collocation; using
the term node for the word that is being studied, and the term collocate for any word that occurs in the
specified environment of a node. Each successive word in a text is thus both node and collocate, though
never at the same time. 11
When a is node and b is collocate, we speak of downward collocation – collocation of a with a less
frequent word b. When b is node and a is collocate, we call this upward collocation. The whole of a given
word list may be treated in this way.
Upward collocation is the weaker pattern in statistical terms, and where the words tend to be elements of
grammatical frame. Downward collocation by contrast gives us a semantic analysis of a word.
2.2.1 Collocation of back:
Let us illustrate collocational patterns with the word back. In distinguishing upward and downward
collocation we have made a buffer are of (plus or minus) 15 per cent of the frequency of the node word.
For example, let's take a word occurring 1000 times; when it is examined as a node, collocates are
a) upward collocates – those whose own occurrence is over 115 per cent of the node frequency (that is
b) neutral collocates – between 85 and 115 per cent of the node frequency (that is 850 and 1150);
c) downward collocates – less than 80 percent (that is 850).
2.2.2 Analysis of collocational patterns of back:
Upward collocates: back
Prepositions/adverbs/conjunctions: at, from, into, now, on, then, to, up, when
Pronouns: her, him, me, she, them, we
Possessive pronouns: her, his, my
Verb: get, got
The meaning of back as 'return' attracts expressions of time and place; after and where are also
prominent. Possessive pronouns suggest the anatomical sense of back. Two verbs get and go are
superordinates of a large number of verbs of motion.
Downward collocates: back
Verbs: arrive, come, leaned, looking, flew, stepped, steps, turned, drove, etc.
Prepositions: along, behind, onto, past, toward, towards
Adverbs: again, forth, further, slowly, straight
Nouns: camp, garden, room, road, yard, bed, couch, window, hand, head, neck, car, seat, etc.
Verbs are given in their most frequent form. Note the preponderance of past tense verbs, reflecting the
temporal meaning of back. The prepositions and adverbs suggest some typical phrases with back, and
the nouns are largely those of direction, physical space and human anatomy.
All the evidence points to an underlying rigidity of phraseology, despite a rich superficial variation. Hardly
any collocates occur most than once in more than two word patterns. The phraseology is frequently
discriminatory in terms of sense.
Early predictions of lexical structure were suitably cautious; there was no reason to believe that the
patterns of lexis shold map on to semantic structures.
The early results given here are characteristic of present evidence; there is a great deal of overlap with
semantics, and very little reason to posit an independent semantics for the purpose of text description.
Standardisation is a consisting of the process of language determination, codification and stabilisation.
Determination refers to decisions which have to be taken concerning the selection of particular
languages or varieties of language for particular purposes in the society or nation in question.
Codification is the process whereby a language variety acquires a publicly recognized and fixed form.
Stabilisation is a process whereby a formerly diffuse variety undergoes focussing and takes on a more
fixed and stable form.
3.1 Standard English is not a language
Standard English is less than a language, since it is only one variety of English among many. It is the
variety of English normally used in writing; it is the variety normally associated with the education
system, and it therefore the variety spoken by those who are often referred to as 'educated people'; and
It is the variety taught to non-native learners. But most native-speakers of English in the world are native
speakers of some non-standard variety of the language, and English can be described as consisting of
an autonomous standardised variety together.
3.2 Standard English is not an accent
There is in Britain a high status and widely described accent known as Received Pronunciation (RP), a
purely social accent associated with speakers in all parts of the country, from upper-class and upper-
middle class backgrounds. While all RP speakers also speak standard English, the reverse is not the
RP is in a sense a standardised accent of English and not Standard English itself. This point becomes
even clearer from an international perspective. Standard English speakers can be found in all English
speaking countries ad they speak this variety with different non-RP accents depending on whether they
come from Scotland or the USA or New Zealand, or wherever.
3.3 Standard English is not a style
We characterise styles as varieties of language viewed from the point of view of formality, ranging from
very formal to very informal. Speakers are able to influence and change the degree of formality if a social
situation by manipulation of stylistic choice. The repertoire of styles available to individual speakers will
be a reflection of their social experiences and, in many cases, also their education. In many areas of the
world, switching from informal to formal situations also involves switching from one language to another.
English as it is employed in area where it is the major native language of the community, such as the
British Isles, North America and Australasia, is a language which has the fullest possible range of styles
running from the most to the least formal.
Stylistic differences in English are most obvious at the level of lexis. But also grammatical constructions
vary as between informal and formal English (the passive voice, for instance, is more frequent in formal
than in informal styles), and phonology is also highly sensitive to style.
Standard English is no different from any other (non-standard) variety of the language. Speakers of
Standard English have a full range of styles open to them, just as speakers of other varieties do.
• The old man was bloody knackered after his long trip
is a Standard English sentence, couched in a very informal style, while
• Father were very tired after his lengthy journey
is a sentence in a non-standard English (north of England, for instance) variety of English as
attested by the non-standard verb form were, couched in a rather formal style.
It is true that, in most English-speaking societies, there is a tendency for Standard English to dominate in
relatively formal social situations, but there is no necessary connection.
There are many parts of the world where speakers employ the local dialect for nearly all purposes, such
as Luxembourg or Norway. In such situations, discussing important political matters with the mayor will
not elicit a switch to Standard Norwegian, but it will produce styles of greater formality than those to be
found on a Friday night in a pub with friends. Stylistic switching occurs within dialects and not between
3.4 Standard English is not a register
We use the term register in the sense of a variety of language determined by topic, subject matter or
activity (ex the register of mathematics, the register of medicine, etc.) In English this is almost exclusively
a matter of lexis, although some registers (notably the register of law) are known to have special
syntactic characteristics, too.
It is of course true that it is most usual in English-speaking societies to employ Standard English when
using scientific registers; but one can certainly acquire and use technical registers without using
standard English, just as one can employ non-technical registers while speaking or writing Standard
There was two eskers what we saw in them U-shaped valleys
is a non-standard English sentence couched in the technical register of physical geography.
The type of combination of technical register with a non-standard variety is much more common in some
language communities than others. In German-speaking countries, like Switzerland, most speakers use
their local non-standard dialect in nearly all social situations and for all purposes.
3.5 So what is it then?
Standard English is a sub-variety of English. Sub-varieties of languages are usually referred to as
dialects, and language are often described as consisting of dialects.
Standard English is an unusual dialect. It is by far the most important dialect in the English-speaking
world from a social, intellectual and cultural point of view; and it does not have an associated accent.
It is also of interest that dialects are generally simultaneously both geographical and social dialects
which combine to form both geographical and social dialect continua. It is thus legitimate and usual to
talk about Yorkshire dialect, or South Yorkshire dialect, or Sheffield dialect, or middle-class Sheffield
dialect, depending on what out particular objectives are. Unlike other dialects, Standard English, is a
purely social dialect. It is no longer a geographical one, even if we can tell that its origins were originally
in the southeast England. It is true that, in the English-speaking world as a whole, it comes in a number
of different forms, so that we can talk of Scottish Standard English, or American Standard English or
English Standard English. But the most salient sociolinguistic characteristic of Standard English is that it
is a social dialect.
Historically, we can say that Standard English was selected as the variety to become the standard
variety precisely because it was the variety associated with the social group with the highest degree of
power, wealth and prestige. Subsequent developments have reinforced its social character: the fact that
is has been employed as the dialect of an education to which pupils, especially in the earlier centuries,
have had differential access depending on their social background.
Standard English is a social dialect which is distinguished from other dialects of language by its
grammatical forms. There grammatical forms are not necessarily identical with those which prescriptive
grammarians have concerned themselves with over the last few centuries.
3.6 Standard English is not a set of prescriptive rules
These grammatical forms are not necessarily identical with those which prescriptive grammarians have
concerned themselves with over the last few centuries.
3.7 Grammatical Idiosyncrasies of Standard English
1. Standard English fails to distinguish between the forms of the auxiliary verb do and its main verb
form. This is true both of present tense, where many other dialects distinguish between auxiliary I
do, he do and main verb I does, he does or similar, and the past tense, where most dialects
distinguish between auxiliary did and main verb done, as in You done it, did you?
2. Standard English has an unusual and irregular present tense verb morphology in that only the third-
person singular receives morphological marking. Many other dialects use either zero for all persons
or -s for all persons.
3. Standard English lacks multiple negation, so that no choice is available between I don't want none
and I don't want any. Most non-standard dialects of English around the world permit multiple
4. Standard English has an irregular formation of reflexive pronouns with some forms based on the
possessive pronouns. ex myself, and others on objective pronouns, ex himself. Most non-standard
English dialects have a regular system of employing possessive forms throughout, i.e. hisself,
5. Standard English fails to distinguish between second-person singular and second-person plural
pronouns, having you in both cases. Many non-standard dialects maintain the older English
distinction between thou and you, or have developed newer distinctions such as you versus youse.
6. Standard English has irregular forms of the verb to be both in the present tense (am, is, are) and in
the past (was, were). Many non-standard dialects have the same forms for all persons, such as I be,
you be, he be, etc. and I were, you were, he were, etc.
7. Standard English redundantly distinguishes, in the case of many irregular verbs, between preterite
and perfect form both by the use of the auxiliary have and by the use of distinct preterite and past
participle forms: I have seen versus I saw. Many dialects have I have seen versus I seen.
8. Standard English has only a two-way contrast in its demonstrative system, with this (near to the
speaker) opposed to that (away from the speaker). Many other dialects have a three-way system
involving a further distinction between, for example, that (near to the listener) and yon (away from
both speaker and listener).
3.8 Linguistic change
Given that it is possible for non-standard features to become standard (and vice versa), it follows that
there will be a period of time when a form's status will be uncertain or ambiguous. For example, most
Standard English speakers are happy to accept the new status of than as a preposition rather than a
conjunction in constructions such as:
He is bigger than me.
but less happy, for the time being, to do so in:
He is bigger than what I am.
Similarly, American Standard English currently admits a new verb to got in:
You haven't got any money, do you?
but not (or not yet) in:
You don't got any money, do you?
3.9 Non standard lexis
There s no such thing as Standard English Vocabulary, but there is such a thing as non-standard
For instance, in the non-standard dialect of Norwich, England, there is a verb to blar which means to cry.
Not only is this verb regionally restricted, but also socially – the small proportion of the population of
Norwich who are native speakers of Standard English do not normally use this word although they are
perfectly aware of what it means. Cry is a standard English word, whereas blar is not. However, cry is by
no means only a Standard English word, since there are very many other non-standard dialects
elsewhere in which it is the only word available with this meaning.
Because Standard English is not geographically restricted to any particular region, its vocabulary is
available to all.
From an educational point of view, the position of Standard English as the dialect of English used in
writing is unassailable.
The teaching of Standard English to speakers of other dialects may be commendable.
On 1 January 1900 there were approximately 140 million native speakers of English in the world. A
century later that figure has almost tripled to nearly 400 million. Add to them about 100 million who speak
English a second language. Given that huge increase in the number of English-speakers since 1900,
and the myriad new ideas, inventions, and discoveries that have proliferated in that period, it would be
astonishing if the vocabulary of English had not grown substantially. And so it has. We shall never know
how many words were coined during the 20 century, some of them got lost before being taken into
account, but officially in dictionaries about 90000 new words, and new meanings of old words, are
recorded into the English language; a 25 per cent increase in the total vocabulary of the language.
Words are a mirror of their times. By looking at the areas in which the vocabulary of a language is
expanding fastest in a given period, we can form an impression of the chief preoccupations of society at
that time and the points at which boundaries of human endeavour are being advanced.
Table 1 – Lexical growth-areas by decade
1900s - Cars, Aviation, Radio, Film, Psychology
1910s - War, Aviation, Film, Psychology
1920s - Clothes/dance/youth, Transport, Radio, Film
1930s - War/build-up to war, Transport, Film/entertainment
1940s - War, Post-war society/international affairs, Nuclear power, Computers, Space
1950s - Media, Nuclear power, Space, Computers, Youth culture
1960s - Computers, Space, Youth culture/music, Media, Drugs
1970s - Computers, Media, Business, Environment, Political correctness
1980s - Media, Computers, Finance/money, Environment, Political correctness, Youth
1990s - Politics, Media, Internet
The new technology dominated lexical innovation on the 1900s (dashboard (cruscotto), aerodrome,
wireless, cinema), along with the vocabulary of psychology (psychoanalysis, libido). In the decade of
World War I they were overshadowed by the broad spectrum of military vocabulary (gas mask, tank),
and in the 1920s the lexicon of national post-war relief and the Jazz Age, dominated the scene
(Charleston, Oxford bags), followed in the 1930s by the approach of a new war (Blitzkrieg, black-out). In
the first half of the 1940s, World War II was providing the majority of new usages (gas chamber,
kamikaze), but the return of peace in the second half brought national and international reconstruction
(National Health, superpower) and the nuclear threat (nuclear bomb) to the fore. The 1950s saw the first
significantly burgeonings of youth culture (beatnik, teen), which has continued to be a prolific contributor
to the English language throughout the rest of the century. It was also the decade of a new vocabulary of
the media (hi-fi, transistor radio, videotape) that would dominate the next fifty years. Both had particular
offshoots in the sixties in language of music (the twist, Merseybeat) and the language of drugs (acid,
speed). In the 1970s, concerns about the destruction of the environment became a long-term source of
new vocabulary (global warming), and the language of political correctness began to get into its stride
(chairperson (presidente), herstory). The 1980s were the decade of money, typified both by financial
jargon (dawn raid, white knight) and by the lifestyle terminology of those who made and enjoyed it
(yuppie, dinky). The major new player on the 1990s lexical scene was the Internet (cyberspace, web
It is not at all uncommon for a new term to potter along for decades in obscurity, before being suddenly
taken into account by linguists and lexicographers: greenhouse effect, for example, was coined in the
1920s, but few non-climatologists had heard of it until the 1980s.
Our changing modes of social interaction have a lexical fingerprint, too. Take, for example, the 20th
century's rehabilitation of the notorious 'four-letter words', formerly doubtlessly widely used in casual
speech, but heavily tabooed in the print throughout the century. It appears to have been the great
melting pot of World War I, bringing together people of all classes and backgrounds, that encouraged the
spread of such words. But the most significant step was the publication in Penguin English Dictionary:
the first mainstream general English dictionary to include fuck and cunt. By the end of the century these
words are included as a matter of course in any unabridged English dictionary. This state of affairs would
have been unthinkable in the 1950s.
Up to the 1960s the notion of Standard English was based exclusively on written English; at the end of
the century that is no longer so, and colloquial usages are widely accepted in situations where they once
would have been considered inappropriate. Behind this may perceived a more general breaking of social
barriers, and a profound shift away from former (moral) role models.
On the other hand, there are a good many usages which once went unremarked, but which we now dare
not allow to pass our lips. In the 19 century, for instance, it was socially acceptable to be fat and there
was nothing bad associated to the word itself. At the end of the century thinness has become
fashionable, and fat is an insult, and we have evolved a range of euphemisms to avoid the direct
accusation. It sometimes seems as if the 20 century were the century of euphemism: there are many
areas which English-speakers have become embarrassed to talk about in the last hundred years. The
one with the highest-profile is probably racial (and sexual) discrimination. But if underlying tensions
remain, a change of name will not stick. th
Terms such as black and nigger fell under a taboo in the middle part of the 20 century. They tended to
be replaced by negro, but this went out of favour in the 1960s. Back stepped black, revived by blacks
themselves as a term of pride, and joined in the US by Afro-American and in the UK by Afro-Caribbean.
The politically correct lobby revived the 18th-century person of colour; then in the 1980s US blacks
subverted the whole process by reclaiming nigger, in the assertive new spelling of nigga.
The term racism dates from the 1930s, but the broader concept of -ism, in the sense of a censured
discrimination on unacceptable grounds, is a creature of the 1960s. Sexism led the way. The era of non-
discriminatory, 'politically correct' vocabulary was arriving.
There are fundamental five ways in which neologisms are created:
1. Putting existing words to new uses: the most effort-free way of expanding language. This generally
implies modifying the meaning of the word. The percentage of such modifications among the total
neologisms are between 10 and 15. Much rarer is the process known as conversion: this is when
the word-class of a word changes, so that, for instance, a noun is used as a verb (ex to garage the
car). 20 century linguists purists see in it a threat to the coherence of the language.
2. Combining existing words or word-parts: by far the commonest in English: it accounts for ¾ of the
new vocabulary coming into the language. It can be divided into two main categories:
• two or more words can be combined in such a way together, they mean something different
from what they would mean separately (dirty dancing, dreadnought (corazzata))
• an existing word can have a prefix or a suffix added to it (unbundle, beatnik)
But there is one particular compound that is highly characteristic of the 29 century: the blend. You
take two words and put them together, so that the end of the first word merges with the beginning of
the second one (ex motor + hotel = motel). It is a pattern that seems to have had its beginnings in
Victorian word-play, its most celebrated early exponent was Lewis Carroll. The pattern was
established itself at the end of the 19 century, and the 20 century has taken to it with great
enthusiasm. The 1980s and 1990s in particular have been addicted to the blend's cool snappiness
(vivacità) – hence all the cross-genre terms such as infotainment and docusoap).
3. Shortening existing words or word-parts: the most straightforward way is to knock off the end (porn
for pornography), but there is a particular subset of these shortened words (nearly all verbs) that are
created by deleting a suffix, thereby usually altering the word-class (destruct from destruction,
elevate from elevator). They are known as back-formations, and they have proliferated in the 20 -
century English, particularly in US military and scientific jargon.
4. An extreme form of shortening a word is to leave only its first letter. This is called initialism (LP, PC).
When the resulting string of letters is pronounced as if it were an ordinary word, it is termed an
acronym (Aids, NATO). Acronyms have been the 20 century's great new contribution to English
word-formation. The main reasons for this are non-linguistic: the proliferation of organizations and
other entities with multi-word names (especially during and after World War II) and an increasingly
rushed world which prefers not to waste time on saying or writing such long names.
5. Borrowing words from other languages: foreign borrowing has provided approximatively 5 per cent
of new words in the 20 century. The Anglo-Saxon's attitude to foreign food, for instance, has
undergone a sea change in the past fifty years, introducing new culinary vocabulary: doner kebab,
pizza, quiche, tandoori, etc. Scientific and technological developments in a particular country ca lead
to a sudden inrush of foreign terminology (ex the prominence of France in early aircraft technology,
introducing in English terms like aerodrome and hangar). And an interaction at a political level often
contributes neologisms to English (führer, perestroika).
6. Coining words out of nothing: these account for less than one per cent of English neologisms. The
great majority of them are proprietary names or commercial names (Teflon, nylon, kleenex), but
some technical terms are devised in this way, either directly (googol) or by a piece of judicious
borrowing from a literary source (quark).
ENGLISH: A LIVING LANGUAGE
5.1 English: a living language
English is a constantly changing, living language, adapting to an ever-changing world which requires
new means of communication. Linguistic pessimists (prescriptive approach) see change as phenomenon
running parallel to the breakdown of society. They are concerned about the supposedly decreasing
standards of literacy marked by poor spelling and grammar, the use of informal spoken language in
written contexts, and the inaccurate pronunciation. Others (descriptive approach) see a flexibility and
vitality in the adaptability of the English language, watching at current linguistic developments as a
possibility to broaden our world view and understanding.
Language changes can be considered from a historical perspective, analysing the ways in which English
has evolved from its early, old form to its current, late modern one, as a continuum (diachronic
approach); others consider changes as 'snapshots' of a particular moment in time, and they define the
language characteristics of the English language at that time (synchronic approach).
5.2 What changes language?
Because language patterns remain constant, we can assume that change is not random or arbitrary.
Because the basic function of language is to communicate, its users subconsciously protect its
expressive capabilities. Language can therefore be seen as systematic:
• Cultural transmission
• Social factors
• Geographical location: characterised by dialect and accent
• The use of different registers
• The development of English as a world language
5.3 The changing faces of English
As a living language, English is constantly changing to meet the needs of its users.
Social changes: gender and language
Gender describes a cultural system by which society constructs different identities for men and women.
Sexist language reinforces stereotypical attitudes and expectations – it often implies male superiority.
Often words associated with men have positive connotations (virile, sporty); women, on the other hand,
are associated with weakness and emotional and erratic behaviour. In an age of political correctness this
kind of divisive language is often seen as unacceptable. Equal opportunities and anti-sexist alternatives
are now offered as substitutes: the chairman becomes a chairperson, man-hours become work-hours,
etc. Some people argue that language change must be actively promoted id the status quo is to be
altered; others believe that language will change automatically to reflect the new roles women have in
Linguistic research suggests that the very roles men and women take in informal conversation are
On a level of discourse:
• men: more likely to interrupt
• men: often reject topics introduced by women/ women: talk about topics raised by men
• women: initiate conversations, but succeed less often because males are less willing to co-
• men: use familiar terms of address even on occasions when a more formal tone is appropriate
The grammatical structures:
• women: frequent tag questions
• women: modal verbs, modal adverbs (maybe, probably), tentative verbs (think, suppose)
• men: use commands/ women: use commands framed as interrogatives (Would you mind...?) or
as hypothetical statements (I wonder if you could...)
• women: evaluative adjectives (wonderful, brilliant)
• women: adverbs of degree (so, very)
• women: adjectives describing approximate amounts (about, around)
• women: reduplicated forms, like itsy-bitsy, also linked to baby talk
• men: frequent swearing and use of slang
• women: frequent politeness markers (please, sorry, thank you)
• women: adjust their accents to match other participants in a formal speech encounter
• women: less likely to drop consonants and to speak with a broad accent if they want to make a
Terms of address: In many cases there is no longer need to distinguish the gender of workers: firefighter
replaces fireman, officer replaces policeman; such changes in lexis reflect social changes – women are
now part of the workforce at all levels and language needs to reflect it.
Many words belittle women, making them seem no more than sexual objects. The words master and
mistress, for instance, were originally equivalents, mistress is now associated with a negative, often
The generic man: In Old English, mann meant person. This term was then accompanied by other distinct
forms which marked differences in gender: wer (adult man); wif (adult female). By 1850 an Act of
Parliament had ruled that 'words importing the masculine gender shall be deemed and taken to include
females'. Many collocations use the generic man (ex no man is an island), but even though these are all
meant to be inclusive it is difficult to believe that speakers clearly visualise both men and women. The
order of words in compound phrases also suggests a male-dominated view of the world (husband and
wife, brother and sister).
The use of the third person singular pronoun he also causes a lot of controversy. Sixteenth century
grammar books established its use – at that time grammar books were addressed to school boys in a
male-dominated society. It reflected a reality that is no more today's case, since girls have equal access
to free education. Because English does not have an indefinite pronoun which could replace the
supposedly inclusive he, many new pronominal forms have been suggested. Some propose to use the
third person plural they (which some linguists claim to be inaccurate to use after a single noun reference:
every person must now collect their ticket); others suggest to use both the feminine and the masculine
singular pronouns (s/he, he/she); others again, come forward with new pronoun forms (hesh for he/she,
hirm for him/her).
5.4 Cultural changes – Black English 21
Black American English (BAE) is the language used by mostly lower-class Blacks in urban communities.
80% of Black Americans can speak this variety, but as Blacks have become more integrated and as
Black middle class as developed, the language form used by the other 20% moved closer to Standard
American English. Black English Vernacular (BEV) is a cultural or social variant from the standard form.
It is a political 'non-standard' form, because as a distinct and separate variety of spoken English, it is in
direct conflict with Standard American English (SAE). th th
The history of Black English in America can be linked to the slave trade in the 17 - 19 centuries. So
that English-speaking whites could communicate with Africans a contact or pidgin language was
developed. Pidgins are marginal languages created by people who need to communicate but have no
common language. They are marked by a simplified grammar and a small vocabulary (700-2000 words),
and they have a smaller range of functions. They can be distinguished from dialects because they are
clearly made up from two different source languages; most pidgins are based on European languages
reflecting Europe's history of colonisation. Often when the original need for communication is no longer
important, pidgin languages die. Some, however, develop a more formal role, gaining official status and
expanding to meet the needs of users. This phenomenon is called expanding pidgin or lingua franca.
When later generations learn it as a first language it is called a creole. For a pidgin to become a creole,
certain criteria must be met: the vocabulary has to expand, grammatical structures have to be able to
communicate more complex meanings, and style has to be adapted.
There are two kinds of creole Englishes: Atlantic and Pacific creoles. English creoles are marked by the
number of Portuguese words (also mixed with African terms) they still contain, survived from the former
portuguese trading and colonisation of the 15 century.
Grammatical structures of creole languages:
• absence of plural forms (in Atlantic varieties, dem is often places immediately after
• third person singular pronouns are not marked for gender
• nouns can be marked for gender by adding man (man) or meri (woman)
• verbs are not marked for person or tense (different timescales are indicated by the
addition of the auxiliary verbs, like did or been; or by creole words, like baimbai (by and by) for future
time, and pinish (finish) for past time
• multiple negations are common
• some varieties distinguish between two kinds of we: yumi (you and me), and mipela
(me and other people, not including you)
• reduplication of words is used to
- extend a limited vocabulary: ile (hilly) → ileile (choppy sea)
- distinguish between two words that sound similar: sun and sand are both articulated as san, so
sand is realised as sansan
- intensify meanings: smal (small) → smalsmal (very small)
+1 anno fa
Riassunto per l'esame di Linguistica Inglese della prof.ssa Maggioni, basato su appunti personali del publisher e studio autonomo del libro consigliato dal docente: Readings in English Lexicogrammar, di M. Ulrych.
Gli argomenti trattati sono i seguenti: lexis and lexicography, collocation, standard English, twentieth-century words, English: a living language, language variation: regional and social.
I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher ilaria.possenti di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Linguistica inglese e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore - Milano Unicatt o del prof Maggioni Maria Luisa.
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