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Approaching Language Variation through Corpora

A Festschrift in Honour of Toshio Saito


Edited By Shunji Yamazaki and Robert Sigley

This book is a collection of papers using samples of real language data (corpora) to explore variation in the use of English. This collection celebrates the achievements of Toshio Saito, a pioneer in corpus linguistics within Japan and founder of the Japan Association for English Corpus Studies (JAECS).
The main aims throughout the collection are to present practical solutions for methodological and interpretational problems common in such research, and to make the research methods and issues as accessible as possible, to educate and inspire future researchers. Together, the papers represent many different dimensions of variation, including: differences in (frequency of) use under different linguistic conditions; differences between styles or registers of use; change over time; differences between regional varieties; differences between social groups; and differences in use by one individual on different occasions. The papers are grouped into four sections: studies considering methodological problems in the use of real language samples; studies describing features of language usage in different linguistic environments in modern English; studies following change over time; and case studies illustrating variation in usage for different purposes, or by different groups or individuals, in society.


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SEBASTIAN HOFFMANN / ROBERT SIGLEY Approaching a Linguistic Variable: That-Omission in Mandative Sentences - 115


SEBASTIAN HOFFMANN / ROBERT SIGLEY Approaching a Linguistic Variable: That-Omission in Mandative Sentences 1. A framework for analysing linguistic variables The present chapter aims to introduce some important issues in de- scription and explanation of linguistically-conditioned variation, using as a case study an investigation of the variable presence vs. absence of the complementiser that introducing mandative subjunctive clauses. To begin with, however, we need to step back a little and consider what is involved in any scientific study of language. Science progresses by systematically testing a set of starting hypotheses to establish whether there are conditions under which certain hypotheses are observed to fail (see e.g. Kitcher’s (1995) extension of Popper’s falsificationalist framework to cases where hypotheses are tested in sets or “bundles”). This process strictly allows only qualified conclusions regarding the conditions under which each hypothesis might be valid. Within lin- guistics, the procedure of variable-rule analysis is a powerful means of conducting such a scientific research programme. However, it is also true that research following this process is by definition always a work in progress: our state of knowledge is incomplete and conditional, and there are always further hypotheses remaining to be tested. As such, all research reports (including the research reported here) are necessarily incomplete. Where we choose to pause and publish our results depends on choosing some appropriate practical balance point regarding which assumptions are to be accepted conditionally, and which to be explicitly tested, for our specific objectives. We should not necessarily expect research to...

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