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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