Expressing past habit in English and Swedish

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English has no single verb expressing habitual aspect. Instead, habitual behaviour is indicated in various ways, e.g. by <i>will</i> (predictable or timeless habit), by <i>used to</i> and <i>would</i> (habit in the past), or simply by means of the simple present or past tense, often combined with a temporal adverb (<i>usually, normally</i>, etc). The choice of construction is partly determined by tense and aktionsart (state vs activity), but otherwise the ways of expressing habit in English are not well investigated. By contrast, Swedish makes use of a single auxiliary, <i>bruka</i>, to express both past and present habit. This cross-linguistic difference is a fruitful starting point for a corpus-based contrastive investigation. In the present study the means of expressing past habit in the two languages are explored on the basis of the English-Swedish Parallel Corpus, a bidirectional corpus of English and Swedish texts and their translations into the other language. Starting from constructions with <i>brukade </i>in Swedish original texts and translations the corresponding expressions in English translations and source texts are examined. The perspective is then reversed: using the English habitual marker <i>used</i> <i>to</i> as a point of departure the Swedish equivalents are investigated to determine if other forms than <i>brukade</i> are used in Swedish. The study reveals a complex cross-linguistic picture where aktionsart, generic subject, temporal specification and other contextual features are shown to be important factors determining the choice of habitual expression in the two languages.


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