21th-Century Trends in BrE Mandative Constructions: A Statistical Multivariate Analysis

Juho K Ruohonen

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Though many scholars agree that an unexpected revival of the mandative subjunctive (MS) brought this once-obsolescent English mood back into productive use in the 20th century (Weekley 1952: 36-37; Barber 1964: 133; Visser 1966: 825; Leech et al 2009: 52), no standardized methodology exists for its quantitative analysis. British English has been identified as the variety most resistant to the resurgence of the MS, with a periphrastic should-construction reportedly high in frequency (Quirk et al 1985: 1013f). Another option, the indicative, has also been termed characteristically British (Algeo 2006: 263). Owing to methodological diversity, however, no agreement exists either on the present distribution of the three main variants in BrE or on the direction of the diachronic development. Conflicting reports have been provided on the situation between the MS and the should-variant by Övergaard (1995: 52), Crawford (2009: 262), Serpollet (2001: 541), and Waller (2017: 209), respectively, and many studies omit the indicative altogether. Secondly, very little work has been done to investigate which syntactic or semantic variables are statistically significant predictors of the choice of variant. Such analyses have mostly been limited to the lexical item governing the mandative clause. This corpus study addresses these two issues through a rigorous variationist approach and statistical multivariate methodology. The corpus consists of two 9.5-million-word subcorpora of identical design, representing British news from around 1990 (supplied by the BNC) and post-2015 (collected by the author). The analysis begins by empirically identifying the pool of over 50 most frequent subjunctive-triggering expressions that collectively account for >90% of all MS’s. Then all inflectional forms of each trigger are retrieved from the corpus. Each mandative that-clause found under a trigger is coded for the observed variant and explanatory variable values. Thus collected, the dataset comprises 3,800 observations. Bivariate cross-tabulation of diachrony and the dependent variable shows a rise in indicatives from 30% to 40% and a decline of should from 29% to 16%, with the rates of other periphrases and the MS essentially unchanged. This overall diachronic change is highly statistically significant. Multivariate analysis using baseline-category logit (Agresti 2015: 203-207) indicates that trigger type is the most significant predictor of variant choice. As mandative triggers, extraposed adjectives very strongly favor the indicative. Predicative adjectives favor modal periphrases, and monosemous verbs favor the MS. Nouns and polysemous verbs are the reference group, showing the most even distribution. Other significant predictors include matrix tense, sub-clause polarity, voice of subclause, independent sub-clause modality, and that-omission, which appears to favor the subjunctive (MPs demanded something be done). This last finding lends some credence to earlier hypotheses that the MS has been reanalyzed as an omitted-auxiliary construction rather than an inflectional form (Kjellmer 2009: 253). Surprisingly, syntactic contexts where the indicative-subjunctive distinction is neutralized do not seem to favor periphrases.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages61
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2018
MoE publication typeNot Eligible
EventConference of the International Society for the Linguistics of English - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 17 Jul 201820 Jul 2018
Conference number: 5


ConferenceConference of the International Society for the Linguistics of English
Abbreviated titleISLE
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

Fields of Science

  • 6121 Languages
  • mood
  • modality
  • subjunctive
  • multivariate analysis
  • english

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