Brutal Brits and persuasive Americans

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“England and America are two nations divided by a common language.”(George Bernard Shaw)Adopting a construction-based view of language (Goldberg 1995), we demonstrate that it is possible to uncover differences between British and American English at the lexicosyntactic level, showing that the collexemes, i.e. the words significantly associated with a construction, are variety-dependent. To this end, we compare more than 5,000 verb pair types as they occur in the two varieties in the so-called <i>into-</i>causative construction (as in <i>He tricked me into employing him</i>) and submit them to the scrutiny of a statistical test called distinctive collexeme analysis, which identifies those verbs that distinguish best between the two varieties. Interesting contrasts emerge, such as the predominance of verbal persuasion verbs in the cause predicate slot of the American English data as opposed to the predominance of physical force verbs in the cause predicate slot of the British English data. We discuss how these and other results create a picture of subtle, yet systematic, differences in meaning construction, and we offer an explanation of these differences as reflecting differently entrenched semantic frames.


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