Survey Seminar Series Spring 2013

The Survey of English Usage organises a number of seminars each year for staff and students from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and beyond. They are generously sponsored by the English Department.

The following research seminars will take place during the Autumn term at 4.15pm.

Wed 27

Foster Court 233

  Sylvia Adamson (Sheffield)
From ‘your very very Rosalind’ to 'my very very sweet queen': a case-study in the socio-stylistics of grammaticalisation

This paper is part of an ongoing study of the evolution of intensifiers undertaken in collaboration with Victorina González-Díaz (University of Liverpool). We have paid special attention to very because it is the prototypical intensifier (and arguably the only fully grammaticalised item in the set) and because it has been taken as a 'classic case' of the grammaticalisation process in action.

In an earlier paper, González-Díaz (2004a) examined a number of syntactic and semantic concomitants of the category shift of very from adjective to intensifying adverb in the period from LME to EModE, concluding that:

  • ·the initial steps of the adj. > adv. shift can accounted for in terms of a cline of gradability. Very initially combines with adjectives that only occur in complementary construals (c1400), later expanding to adjectives with antonymic readings,
  • contra the claims of previous studies (e.g. Mustanoja 1960, Ito & Tagliamonte 2003), there does not seem an obvious interconnection between the bleaching of the original meaning of very and the widening of its syntactic scope in terms of the positions (attributive/predicative) that it can occupy; however
  • by the end of the 16th century, there is a noticeable change in the collocates of very, which seems to be moving towards becoming exclusively an adverb intensifier.

In this paper I focus on the EModE period, which appears to be crucial for several developments in the evolution of PDE very. It is the period in which it overtakes the most popular ME intensifiers full/right/well; it is also the period in which it develops its role as identifying adjective (or determinative) as in 'the very man I was looking for'. I shall be particularly concerned with the interpersonal aspects of these changes. I will show how the chronological layering (adjective > adjective intensifier > adverb intensifier) of very has important synchronic correlates in terms of its socio-stylistic distribution in this period. This will lead me to examine the role of hyperbole (a) as a rhetorical figure in EModE and (b) as a pragmatic strategy and a mechanism of language-change.

The study will be corpus-based and my main population of speakers will be taken from Shakespeare's plays. One by-product of the investigation will be to test the intuition-based hypotheses of earlier literary scholars about Shakespeare's 'enregisterment' of grammatical features as class-markers.


Adamson, S. M. (2000) “A lovely little example: word options and category shift in the premodifying string”, Fischer, O., A. Rosenbach and D. Stein (eds.) Pathways of change. Grammaticalisation in English, Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 39-66.
Gillett, P.J. (1974) “Me, U and Non-U: class-connotations of two Shakespearean idioms.” Shakespeare Quarterly 25.3:297-309
Gonzalez-Diaz, V. (2004a) “Back to the very beginning: the development of intensifiers in EModE”, paper presented at 13th ICEHL, Vienna.
González-Díaz, V. (2004b) “Adjectival double periphrastic comparatives in EModE: a socio-stylistic analysis”, Folia Linguistica Historica 25.
Ito, R. & Tagliamonte, S. (2003) “Well weird, very strange, really cool: layering and recycling in English intensifiers” in Language and Society 32, pp. 257-279.
Mendez-Naya, B. (ed) (2008) Special issue on English Intensifiers, English Language & Linguistics, 12.2.
Mustanoja, T. F. (1960) A Middle English Syntax, Helsinki: Societé Néophilologique.


Wed 13

Foster Court 220

Tania Kuteva (UCL) [based on work with Bernard Comrie]
Evolution of grammar, complexity, and creoles: a study of relative clauses

Our starting point in this paper is the assumption that creole languages present an opportunity – in the case of some of these languages at least – for testing hypotheses on language evolution. One way of thinking about the evolution of grammar is that language in prehistoric time had simple, functionally motivated grammatical structures, i. e. language structures were simple before they became complex (Comrie 1992, Heine & Kuteva 2002, 2007). Here we are interested in one particular kind of complexity, which we refer to as elaborateness of grammatical marking (cf. also Comrie & Kuteva 2005, and Kuteva & Comrie 2005, Kuteva and Comrie 2012). Our object of investigation is the marking of the relative clause construction, more specifically relativization on subjects. Our goal is to test the prediction that Comrie’s 1992 and Heine & Kuteva’s (2002, 2007) as well as McWhorter’s 2001 approach to language evolution makes regarding the development of creole grammars from simple to complex. We show that the above prediction with regard to elaborateness in marking of the relative clause construction is met: creole languages more often than not have simply marked relative clause constructions, encoded by no more than one relativization marker. This typological result stands out as particularly significant if we view it against the background of non-creole languages, for which we have been able to identify cases with up to five relativization markers (Comrie and Kuteva 2005, Kuteva and Comrie 2005, Kuteva and Comrie 2012). We propose a functional explanation of the present finding about the lack of elaborateness of marking for the subject relative construction in creoles.


Comrie, Bernard 1992. Before complexity. In: Hawkins & Gell-Mann (eds.) 1992. The Evolution of Human Languages. Santa Fe: Westview Press. pp 193-211.
Comrie, Bernard and Tania Kuteva 2005. The evolution of grammatical structures and “functional need” explanations. In: Tallerman, Maggie (ed.) 2005. Language origins: perspectives on evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Heine, Bernd and Tania Kuteva 2002. On the evolution of grammatical forms. In: Wray, Alison (ed) 2002. The transition to language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 376-398.
Heine, Bernd and Tania Kuteva 2007. The genesis of grammar: A reconstruction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kuteva, Tania and Bernard Comrie 2005. The typology of relative clause formation in African languages. In: Voeltz, Erhard (ed.) 2005, African Studies. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Kuteva, Tania and Bernard Comrie 2012. The evolution of language and elaborateness of grammar: the case of relative clauses in Creole languages. In: Comrie, Bernard and Zarina Estrada Fernández (eds.) 2012. A typological overview of relative clauses in languages of the Americas. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

All welcome! Drinks afterwards.

Past events

This page last modified 1 December, 2016 by Survey Web Administrator.