What can corpus-based approaches tell about New Englishes?

ICE Corpora

Seminar Paper 2010 10 Pages

Didactics - English - Applied Geography


1 Abstract

In the late 1980s Sidney Greenbaum, a British scholar of the English language and of linguistics, had a vision:

As the parallel corpora become available, new possibilities open up for rigorous comparative and contrastive studies. I envisage the search for typologies of national varieties of English: first-language versus second-language English, British-type versus American-type English, African versus Asian English, East African versus West African English. Researchers might explore what is common to English in all countries where it is used for internal communication, demonstrating how far it is legitimate to speak of a common core for English or of an international written standard.“ (Greenbaum in Sand, 2004: 281).

As a result of that breadth of view and building on his early experimental techniques investigating English grammar and usage, Greenbaum founded the International Corpus of English (ICE). The ICE is a major research project based at the Survey of English Usage to establish identically constructed corpora in different countries of the English- speaking world and provides linguists with a suitable database for their investigations regarding language usage and development, respectively.

This term paper attempts to demonstrate what corpus-based approaches can tell about New Englishes and Asian Varieties, respectively. At first I am going to demonstrate how lexical items (the definite article and the particle verb) are used for synchronic and diachronic analyses. I will then proceed to cultural and sociolinguistic aspects and eventually conclude with some desiderata pushing the subject beyond the boundaries of the prompt.

2 Synchronic Analysis

2.1 The Definite Article

Linguists use numerous grammatical features to depict variability in any given Asian English variety and thus corroborate the theory that at least some of the distinctive features of a variety may not lie in Standard[1] English or the substrate language (or even in the overlap between the two), but in linguistic universals activated by the language contact process itself (cf. Kallen in Sand, 2004: 282).

Prof. Dr. Andrea Sand from the University of Trier chose the definite article to demonstrate how varieties share morpho-syntactic features[2]. This approach seems to be notably promising. Several aspects direct me to that assumption.

First of all, as Sand opines:

The use of the definite […] article is a grammatical feature which displays great variability even in standard British and American English. We can therefore expect possibly even greater differences in usage in all contact varieties (Sand, 2004: 283).

New Englishes and especially the Asian varieties seem to have a proclivity to interpret this variability in different ways.

Second, the definite article owns very semantic and pragmatic requirements of use in certain linguistic entities like, e.g., the zero article (e.g. in he is learning Chinese) or the generic meaning (e.g. in the computer has changed modern life); and last but not least, it carries very little communicative load and thus is more or less prone to be used and varied in a rather creative way (infants demonstrate that creativity all the time).

It is important to mention at this point that there are, in theory, links between the usage within the variety and the fact that most Asian substrate languages (like Chinese, Hindi or Malay) do not have surface articles or at least no functional equivalents of the English article system.


[1] On the term Standard English see my comment in arguendo in paragraph 5.

[2] In fact, Sand’s research is on both, the definite and the indefinite article. Regarding the context of my term paper, though, her results on the definite article appeared much more promising to me.


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Justus-Liebig-University Giessen – Anglistik
What Englishes Corpora



Title: What can corpus-based approaches tell about New Englishes?