Formulaic tendencies of demonstrative clefts in spoken English

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Despite having been noted as a frequent construction in spoken language, little has been said about the demonstrative cleft. Clefts such as <i>that's what I am talking about, or that's what I mean</i>, are not entirely fixed in their structure; however, they do exhibit recurring patterns and &#8220;preferred formulations&#8221; (Wray 2006: 591). An investigation of demonstrative clefts in excerpts of spontaneous conversations from the Wellington Corpus of Spoken New Zealand English shows that, aside from being the most frequent cleft type in conversational English, the cleft is characterized by structural fixedness, fluency, and non-salient reference. As claimed by Ford, Fox and Thompson, grammar is (in general) &#8220;a collection of crystalizations of routines&#8221; (2002: 120); and nowhere is the emergent (Hopper 1987, 2001) nature of grammar more clear than in spoken language. The demonstrative cleft is an example of such a routine, and thus worth investigating further.


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