Are low-frequency complex prepositions grammaticalized?
Using extensive corpus data, this paper investigates whether low-frequency complex prepositions (e.g. <i>by dint of</i>, <i>in conformity with</i>) can be interpreted as units of language structure even though they cannot have undergone the processes typical of more frequent grammaticalizing constructions. I critically evaluate previous treatments of frequency and discuss alternative modes of interpreting corpus data, e.g. by drawing a distinction between conceptual and absolute frequency as reflections of the cognitive representation of linguistic items. I also suggest that formal properties of grammaticalizing constructions may play an important role and that “grammaticalization by analogy” may account for the establishment of low-frequency units of language. Finally, the paper offers a detailed discussion of the methodological issues involved in using corpus data to study low-frequency phenomena.