A Collostructional Approach to English Non-finite Verbal Complementation


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date21 Jan 2020


This thesis is a corpus-based investigation into a grammatical phenomenon in the Englishlanguage — non-finite verbal complementation. This grammatical structure is composedof two parts: a main clause with a matrix verb, and a non-finite subordinate clause with averb taking the form of infinitive or -ing. Four types of non-finite verbal complementation,based on two dichotomies, are included in this thesis. The first dichotomy is based on thenumber of subject noun phrases (or subject-like noun phrases); the second concerns theform of their subordinate clause verb (i.e. infinitive versus -ing). The non-finite verbalconstructions in this study thus include single-NP infinitive (SN-INFIN), single-NP -ing(SN-ING), dual-NP infinitive (DN-INFIN) and dual-NP -ing (DN-ING).

The study is conducted within the framework of Construction Grammar (CxG), whichsees all linguistic expressions as constructions, and postulates that co-occurrences ofconstructions are results of semantic compatibility. An increasingly popular corpus-basedmethod, Collostructional Analysis (Stefanowitsch & Gries, 2003), serves as a backboneof the study. This approach in the past, was mainly applied in studying the associationsof lexical words and grammatical structures. However, since CxG views lexis andgrammar as the same phenomenon, the collostructional approach, which is rooted in CxG,can be extended to study the interactions of any linguistic expressions or values, includinggrammatical ones.

A corpus containing rich syntactic information, the British component of InternationalCorpus of English (ICE-GB), is used in the study. ICE-GB is heavily annotated withforms, functions and features of clauses, phrases and words. This abundancy of syntacticinformation facilitates both efficient extractions and analyses of the constructions. A totalof 4,107 instances of the four constructions are selected and analyzed. Lexical itemsoccurring in the matrix verb slot and the subordinate verb slot are respectively comparedacross constructions. As to the syntactic aspect, verb forms of the matrix verbs and verb IIfunctions of the subordinate verbs are examined. Apart from syntactic and lexicalinformation provided by the corpus, I have also classified the matrix verbs occurring inthese instances based on a scheme proposed by Egan (2008). The semantic classes aremostly directly mapped according to the scheme, with a small portion annotated byhuman workers.

Compared with the other constructions, the matrix verb slot of SN-INFIN is founddominated by a smaller set of lexical items, such as try, want and like, in both spoken andwritten texts. For the other three construction types, the rakings of top lexical itemsslightly vary across registers, although the members are generally the same. When theseinstances are classified based on the matrix verb semantics, SN-INFIN is found associatedwith Effort and Attitude; SN-ING demonstrates preferences for Mental Process, Attitudeand Applied Attitude; DN-INFIN is mainly linked to Causation and Enablement senses;DN-ING is significantly represented by Causation and Perception senses.

The transitivity types in the subordinate clause are also contrasted. Results show that thefour types of constructions demonstrate different preferences of transitivity types. Despitea few exceptions, a continuum of transitivity is observed in the chain: SN-INFIN > SNING > DN-INFIN > DN-ING. Meanwhile, the preference of passive voice subordinateclause in the subordinate clause follows just the opposite order. With reference to Protorole Theory (Dowty, 1991) and Semantic Transitivity frameworks (Hopper & Thompson,1980), the thesis argues that dual-NP constructions are likely to encode events with highertransitivity than single-NP ones; infinitive forms than -ing forms.

This thesis has two major contributions. First, it has for the first time combinedquantitative lexical, grammatical and semantic information of four types of non-finiteverbal complementation constructions into one framework. It has added new dimensions— their corresponding grammatical choices and semantic classes — to the lexis-orienteddiscussions of non-finite verbal complementation, which were usually based on verbs orverb pairs. Data yielded by this study will be useful as a reference for future investigations IIIof related constructions. Second, in the light of CxG’s basic assumption that all linguisticexpressions are constructions, it has innovatively extended the Collostructional Analysis(Stefanowitsch & Gries, 2003) to include interactions of grammatical constructions withgrammatical ones. The results, in turn, have shown that a constructional view of linguisticanalysis, than traditional ones, may reveal more interesting facts of language.