Analytic Comparatives in Canada. More American or Britisher?

A Comparison between the Comparative Formation in American, British, and Canadian English

by Jana Bentz (Author)

Term Paper 2013 19 Pages

American Studies - Linguistics


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Analytic and Synthetic Comparative Formation as Analyzed by B. Mondorf

3. Data Basis

4. Comparative Formation in British and American English
4.1 Comparative Formation in British English
4.2 Comparative Formation in American English

5. Canadian Comparatives Compared to the American and British Formation of Comparisons

6. Conclusion

7. References


List of Figures

Figure 1: Number of Spoken Comparatives in the British, American, and Canadian Text Corpora

Figure 2: Number of Spoken Adjectives Building Comparative Forms in the British, American, and Canadian Text Corpora

Figure 3: Filtered Results for Spoken Adjectives in the Strathy Corpus

Figure 4: Analytic versus Synthetic Comparatives and Their Amount in the American, British, and Canadian Text Corpora


In her studies on comparative formation Britta Mondorf shows that Americans most often use analytic comparatives whereas the British prefer the synthetic form of comparison. Because of her results, studying the comparative formation in Canada – an American nation which was part of the British colonial system – is of great linguistic interest. The following analysis examines the comparative formation in American, British, and Canadian English for that reason. The study expects Canadian native speakers to use analytic comparatives more often than British natives, but fewer than Americans. Filtered data from BNC, COCA, the Strathy Corpus of Canadian English and Google searches corroborate this hypothesis.

1. Introduction

The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada – English is used as the de facto language in these three of the world’s most influential countries and many other present and former commonwealth nations. Known as the most important lingua franca, English is learned in school by a great quantity of pupils all over the world. To facilitate the learning process one standardized grammar is taught often regarded to apply to every context. At times this may lead to mistakes when the daily use differs from the standard set of rules. As it is common for spelling and pronunciation, even grammar varies from one English speaking country to another where the arguments of Construction Grammar advocates come in: Language acquisition is more than learning rules determined as always right. Learning a language correctly always requires experience gained by its constant use.

American English (AmE) and British English (BE) are the two most prominent varieties of English which differ in spelling (cf. Svartvik & Leech 2006: 97) and in grammar (cf. Mondorf 2009b: 89 ff.). Yet other varieties of English – like Canadian English – may behave differently and are worth a thorough analysis. The nation is located in the North of the American mainland but was part of the British colonial system from the second half of the 18 th century to 1982:

Throughout its history, [Canadian English (CanE)] has been influenced by two powerful external norms, those of British English and American English […]. Nonetheless, Canadian English can be seen as pursuing its own course, with the development of distinctive linguistic features and dialectal forms (Brinton 2001, 422).

When Americans listen to Canadians they often mistake their English for British whereas British people perceive Canadian English as American in return. This already shows that there are apparently similarities between CanE and BE as well as CanE and AmE. Thus Canadian English is often seen as a mixture of both mentioned English varieties and even their grammars could show a resemblance to each other. Presumably, Canadian English takes an intermediate role between British and American English with regard to their grammar. This paper analyzes this hypothesis focusing on the use of comparatives in reference to the corresponding studies of Britta Mondorf (see 2009b: 86). The results of her studies strongly suggest that Americans most frequently prefer analytic comparatives (more + adjective) whereas the British tend to make use of synthetic comparatives (adjective + suffix <-er>). The following analysis presumes thus that Canadians use more often analytic comparatives than the British, but fewer than the Americans.

The first chapter strengthens this hypothesis shortly summarizing Britta Mondorf’s studies. After that, an outline of the empirical data basis fundamental for this analysis follows. The adjectives chosen in this chapter are analyzed with special regard to their comparative formation in BE and AmE. After comparing the results of this study to Mondorf’s results on the same topic, the next chapter deals with constructions in Canadian English. Finally the relation between the three varieties is outlined before a conclusion finishes this paper.

2. Analytic and Synthetic Comparative Formation as Analyzed by B. Mondorf

As already mentioned in the introduction, Britta Mondorf points out that British native speakers favor the use of synthetic comparatives whereas Americans tend towards using the analytic comparative. Additionally, she proves that choosing the analytic form in AmE is not contingent on the adjective’s “predicative [or] postnominal” (Mondorf 2009b: 90) sentence position. In spite of these preferences, Mondorf emphasizes that Americans do not use comparatives as often as the British do in all (cf. 105).

According to her studies, the analytic comparative formation is especially used in more complex situations when lots of different data has to be processed in mind. To describe this phenomenon, Mondorf introduces the term “More -Support” (2009a: 6) as complex environments support the usage of the analytic form consisting of the degree marker ‘more’ and the adjective. She considers an environment to be complex if the used syntax, semantics, phonology, morphology, pragmatics and lexicon are remarkably challenging for a person’s mindset (cf. 2009b: 88). A phonological environment can be seen as sophisticated for instance if the adjective contains distinct “consonant clusters” (Mondorf 2003: 296). This analysis of American, British, and Canadian Englishes takes these findings into consideration when evaluating the data basis.

3. Data Basis

The following research is based on spoken language data. The British National Corpus (BNC) is used to acquire data for comparative building in BE because it contains about 10 million spoken words and therefore represents a large and diverse basis of spoken English (cf. Meyer 2004: 143). The data consists of transcripts from the 1980s to 1993.

To establish an American data basis, the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) is most resourceful because it is the largest freely-available corpus of English (cf. COCA). The speech data derived from COCA may only contain dialogs from TV series and shows from the 1990s to 2012; yet the fact that TV talk tries to emulate everyday language and the sheer size of the corpus justify its use as a comparable database.

The Strathy Corpus of Canadian English – the most famous corpus of this English variety – provides data for the English language used in Canada. It contains about 50 million words aggregated from the 1970s to the 2000s (cf. Strathy Corpus). The words in the three corpora are grouped together into different sets of time periods. This may falsify the results. To counter this risk the analysis utilizes Google search results restricted to the respective countries to double-check for possible errors and to guarantee the up-to-dateness of the data.

The data is restricted to spoken comparatives and to words which can be found in AmE as well as in BE and CanE. In order to search for fitting adjectives the tags “[jjr*]” (synthetic comparative) and “more [jj*]” (analytic comparatives) are used. Figure 1 shows the amount of spoken comparative forms found during the corpora’s scanning processes. The following figure (Figure 2, points out the number of adjectives which build the two comparative forms mentioned before. Both figures still include unfiltered data.



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analytic comparatives canada more american britisher comparison comparative formation british canadian english


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    Jana Bentz (Author)

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Title: Analytic Comparatives in Canada. More American or Britisher?