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A little something goes a long way: The downtoner (a) little in the Old Bailey Corpus
University of Augsburg, Germany.
Mid Sweden University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Humanities. Uppsala Universitet.
Uppsala Universitet.
2017 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Various intensifier studies (e.g. Ito & Tagliamonte 2003, Tagliamonte 2008) have noted the dominance of very few forms. If one checks downtoners in the Old Bailey Corpus (OBC 2.0), comprising ca. 24 million words spoken in a courtroom context in the period 1720-1913, it turns out that little is by far the most frequent downtoner (with the exception of the multifunctional intensifier quite) with around 8,000 occurrences. Therefore this contribution will be entirely devoted to the structural and functional profile of (a) little in Late Modern English speech-related data (we will leave the other 104 downtoners for a later paper); this period and our source, OBC, have so far been largely neglected in intensifier and especially in downtoner studies. The two downtoners little and a little can function as minimizer and diminisher respectively, and also in negative litotic contexts (Quirk et al. 1985: 598, Bolinger 1972: 131, 234). Stoffel (1901: 131) further mentions the variant a leetle with emphasized long vowel to express “the very smallest degree”. Partly depending on the forms (+/- article), they can modify nouns, adjectives, and verbs, but with certain restrictions, such as little mostly with comparatives/past participles and mental verbs (Bolinger 1972: 50f). (A) little may have quantity/frequency/duration and diminutive meanings, which need to be distinguished from the degree meaning most relevant here; this partly goes together with different syntactic uses and positions (e.g. emphatic front position and inversion). Modern little seems to be more open than other types to being itself intensified. We therefore seek to answer the following questions: What are the targets that speakers in the courtroom modify by using (a) little (nouns, verbs, adjectives, potentially even adverbs)? Are the restrictions noted for modern usage already in evidence or emerging? How do the modification patterns correlate with the different meanings and (pragmatic) functions? In which syntactic contexts are degree meanings most prominent? What are the distributions of the degree forms across various types of speakers with regard to speakers’ social (e.g. gender and rank) and functional (e.g. judge, witness) roles? Which are the most innovative/conservative types of users in sociolinguistic respects? Comparisons will also be drawn to the results of our previous work on a bit (Claridge & Kytö 2014), whose uses partly overlap with a little but which is a younger form. It may be assumed that (a) little is, in comparison, more established in the degree function.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
National Category
General Language Studies and Linguistics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-30798OAI: oai:DiVA.org:miun-30798DiVA: diva2:1104434
Conference
ICAME 38, 24-28 May, 2017, Prague, Czechia
Available from: 2017-06-01 Created: 2017-06-01 Last updated: 2017-06-13Bibliographically approved

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Citation style
  • apa
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