The Survey of English Usage
Quarterly Newsletter
December 2008

This newsletter is part of a series of quarterly newsletters from the Survey of English Usage, intended to keep the academic community and other interested parties informed about research in the Survey. The newsletter will be sent out in March, June, September and December. The March issue is the Survey’s Annual report.

ESRC: the Next Generation Tools project was rated ‘outstanding’

We are delighted to report that ESRC reviewers rated the now completed project Next generation tools for linguistic research in grammatical treebanks (R 000 23 1286) as ‘outstanding’. This means that the project “has fully met its objectives and has provided an exceptional research contribution well above average or very high in relation to the level of award”. The project’s website can be viewed here where the final report and reviewers’ comments can be read.

Alongside further software development, Sean Wallis reports that the ‘next generation tools’ research is leading to a number of new research directions, particularly in relation to investigating linguistic interaction in parsed corpora. He spoke about measuring linguistic interaction for sequences of decisions at an SEU seminar in the autumn term. He is currently working on a posteriori models of case interaction and incorporating such models in ICECUP IV.

The International Corpus of English

Sean Wallis recently returned from an International Corpus of English workshop organised by Survey alumnus Professor Gerald Nelson at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He met with ICE teams to discuss the process of POS-tagging ICE corpora. He demonstrated how the ICE tagger may be used to tag the corpus and ICECUP can be used for correcting the tags, and discussed the steps that were necessary to start the effective tagging of ICE corpora. More information, including software downloads, will be posted on our website shortly.

Fifty years of the Survey of English Usage
ICLCE 3 Conference
SEU’s fiftieth birthday celebrations

Preparations are underway to celebrate the fiftieth birthday of the Survey of English Usage on 14 July 2009. Bas Aarts, Jo Close and Geoffrey Leech are organising a workshop entitled ‘Current Change in the English Verb Phrase’. This workshop precedes the Third International Conference on the Linguistics of Contemporary English, which the Survey is organising at the Institute for English Studies, Senate House, with colleagues at Queen Mary, University of London. The conference website, including a call for papers, can be found here.


The following seminars will be held during the Spring term in Foster Court Room 233:

Wednesday 4 March 2009 4pm Jonathon Green

A drudge reports

Jonathon Green is a Lexicographer and author of the recently published Chambers Slang Dictionary.

Monday 27 April 2009 4pm Philip Durkin (rescheduled)

Lexemes and dictionary words: some issues from the new edition of the OED.

Philip Durkin is Principal Etymologist, Oxford English Dictionary and author of the soon-to be published Oxford Guide to Etymology.

All welcome!

AHRC grant progress report:
The changing verb phrase in present-day British English (AHRC AH/E006299/1)

This project has now been runnning for a year with Dr Jo Close as the RA. Here we describe the progress of the research.

The work schedule, as shown in the project proposal, is as follows:

1. Preparation (4 months)

  • Read the literature on current change and become familiar with the methods and techniques of diachronic linguistics.
  • Create a bibliography of references; write a literature overview.
  • Training in the use of ICE-GB/DCPSE.
  • Set up a project website.
  • Attend courses.

2. Data collection (4 months)

  • Construct Fuzzy Tree Fragments for the various patterns and constructions.
  • Conduct searches using ICECUP.
  • Create a systematic and 'cleaned-up' database of examples (with context) for each of the research areas listed above.
  • Conduct statistical tests on the perceived changes occurring in the relevant constructions between the two components of DCPSE.

The first two phases have now been successfully completed. These phases provided a necessary and useful preparation to start the third phase of the project which will consist of conducting separate studies which address the proposed research questions.

A project website has been created:

The following are now available online:

  • a summary of initial results
  • conference handouts for the first study
  • a bibliography of references.
  • a sample set of Fuzzy Tree Fragments with a sample database of examples.

Phase 3 has now begun. The first of the proposed studies, on English auxiliary verbs, has been completed, and the results were presented at the International Conference on English Historical Linguistics (ICEHL15) in Munich in August 2008. The PI and Professor Geoffrey Leech organised a workshop entitled ‘Watching English Grammar Change’ at the first conference of the newly established International Society for the Linguistics of English (ISLE) in Freiburg, Germany. We also presented our first results at that workshop.

The results from this case study indicate that changes in the verb phrase within in a 30 year period are clearly in progress. Specifically, we found that the decrease in must and the increase in have to are both statistically significant. The results highlight the usefulness and importance of corpus-based research because certain forms, which we might predict to be on the increase, are not as frequent as we might expect. For instance, epistemic have to and have got to are extremely rare, and even have got to with root meaning is in decline. The results have now been written up and will be submitted to the ICEHL proceedings.

The next study, on the English subjunctive, highlights the importance of using spoken data. Recent accounts on the English subjunctive have suggested that it is on the increase in British English. There is no evidence for this in the spoken DCPSE corpus, perhaps suggesting that the revival of the subjunctive is restricted to particular written genres. This study will be completed by the end of December 2008. The next study, on verb complementation, will then begin. Conference abstracts on these topics will be submitted to the 30th annual conference of the International Computer Archive for Modern and Medieval English (ICAME) in May 2009 in Lancaster and to the Third International Conference on the Linguistics of Contemporary English (ICLCE3) in London in July 2009.

As mentioned above, the PI and RA are organising a symposium with Geoffrey Leech preceding ICLCE3 entitled ‘Current Change in the English Verb Phrase’. We hope to attract a large number of scholars to this symposium which will enable us to exchange ideas on methodology, and present the results of our work to date. We intend to publish the papers presented at the workshop in an edited volume.

Bas Aarts

December 2008

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