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Change from <i>to</i>-infinitive to bare infinitive in specificational cleft sentences

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Abstract

We investigate variable usage in specificational cleft sentences of the types <i>All I did was help / to help / I helped him find a new job</i>. Previous research identified a drift away from the marked and towards the unmarked infinitive in British and American English in the twentieth century. Spoken data from ten ICE corpora are used to verify this development. L1 varieties are shown to be subject to a development practically indistinguishable from British/American English. British-input L2 varieties and a variety with an English-lexifier Creole substrate (Jamaica) show an internally heterogeneous picture, with the unifying factor being that they are all less advanced in the development than the L1 varieties. Philippine English, finally, is intermediate between British-input L2 varieties and most L1 varieties, probably reflecting its historical American source. Keywords: cleft-sentence construction; language change; Late Modern English; ESL; ENL

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