English from 1500-2000
Edited By Christiane Dalton-Puffer, Dieter Kastovsky and Nikolaus Ritt
THOMAS EGAN: Pronominal and Full Nominal Subjects in Expanding Constructions 91
THOMAS EGAN HEDMARK UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Pronominal and Full Nominal Subjects in Expanding Constructions 1. Introduction This article deals with the question of whether or not the expansion of a construction in a language, in this case late twentieth-century British and American English (hereafter BE and AE), is likely to be accompanied by a change in the relative incidence of full nominal and pronominal subjects. It is well known that types of subject vary synchronically across genres, with spoken corpora containing more pronominal subjects of various types than written corpora (see, for example, Hindle 1981; Givón 1995: 51; Francis, Gregory and Michaelis 1999). Moreover, within written corpora, some genres contain more pronominal subjects than others. Ellegård (1978: 62), for instance, points out that there are “interesting stylistic differences” in the incidence of pronouns in four genres in the Brown Corpus. Ellegård does not give figures for pronouns as subjects, but it is reasonable to assume that a text with a relatively large number of pronouns will also contain a proportionately large number of these in subject position. From a diachronic perspective, interest in pronominal versus full nominal subjects in English has, for the most part, been restricted to contexts of major changes in constituent order, such as the spread of SVO and do-periphrasis (cf. Denison 1992: 54, 462). A topic to which less attention has been devoted is variation between individual constructions and construction types with respect to types of subject. However, we know that the incidence of...
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