The diffusion of English absolutes

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The present paper addresses the register diffusion of the English absolute, a non-finite construction functioning as an adverbial (an example from Present-day-English is: <i>One of the cheap cigars to which she was addicted burns ignored between her fingers, the skin of her face dragging down with indifference</i>. (BNC, Van Gogh: a life, 1990)). On the basis of diachronic corpus research including corpora such as the BNC, the Old Bailey corpus and the Penn parsed corpora of English it is argued that the distribution of absolutes in various historical registers of written English, as well as in spoken English, appears to have shifted from a system operating along the &#8216;formal vs. informal&#8217; cline and, to a lesser extent, the &#8216;narrative vs. non-narrative&#8217; cline in Early Modern English to registers operating along the &#8216;literary vs. non-literary&#8217; cline in Present-day English. Special attention is given to the role of <i>with</i>-augmentation which may have been an important facilitator for the absolute construction to fully establish itself in the spoken register, as the addition of an augmentor enhances ease of processing (Berent 1975, Kortmann 1995).


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