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Specification in the English nominal group with reference to student writing
Botha, Yolande Vanessa
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In this thesis the structure of the nominal group in Black South African English (BSAfE) is investigated by means of a comparison of data from the Tswana Learner English Corpus (TLEC) and the Louvain Corpus of Native English Essays (LOCNESS). Both corpora consist of student essays and are sub-corpora of the International Corpus of Learner English (ICLE). The TLEC represents a non-native variety of English, namely BSAfE, while LOCNESS represents native English from the United States and the United Kingdom. In the existing literature there are observations about and examples of (non-standard) characterizing features of BSAfE pertaining to nouns, determiners and quantifiers (e.g. Gough 1996), but until now, no in-depth study of the grammar of the nominal group in BSAfE has been undertaken. This study is an attempt to fill that gap. I present a description of the grammatical features of BSAfE observed in the corpus data in terms of linguistic functions and without assuming that they are errors or evidence of deficiencies. Though the approach is comparative (in the sense that a control corpus is used), it is primarily descriptive and non-normative, and as such, function-based. This study is conducted within the theoretical framework of functional linguistics, drawing on systemic functional linguistics as well as other functional and cognitive approaches to language. The specifying functions that the nominal group and its elements may fulfill form the basis of the descriptive framework. These functions are (1) the type-specifying function of the noun, (2) the referent-)specifying function of the determiner, (3) quantification and (4) quality specification by modifiers and complements. The type-specifying function of the noun is particularly relevant in Chapter 4, which deals with the grammatical patterns of the noun people, although it also informs analyses in Chapters 5 and 6 which deal with determiners and quantification respectively. Quality specification is especially relevant in the description of the grammatical patterns of the noun people. The noun people is the most frequent noun in each of the corpora, but is at the same time a positive keyword in the TLEC, which means that it occurs much more frequently in the TLEC than in LOCNESS. Analysis of the full corpus concordances of this noun provides much evidence of anti-deletion in BSAfE (as first postulated by Mesthrie, 2006) and also sheds some light on left dislocation patterns involving the noun people (cf. Mesthrie, 1997). This analysis also reveals unique uses of the definite article and certain quantifying constructions in the TLEC data, which are investigated in the next two analysis chapters. A comparison of concordance samples of the articles indicates that the definite/indefinite distinction is made in both corpora and that there is not enough corpus evidence to postulate that there is a different system underlying the choice of article in BSAfE, such as a system based principally on the specific/non-specific distinction, as postulated by Platt, Weber and Ho (1984) for New Englishes in general. Analysis of the concordances of demonstrative and possessive determiners indicate that these determiners are used proportionally more frequently in the TLEC than in LOCNESS. Concordances of the words that are normally classified as quantifiers indicate that there are many more partitive-of quantifying constructions in the TLEC than in LOCNESS. The words some and most are positive keywords in the TLEC. After analyses of their concordances, it is concluded that their relative frequency can be attributed to the fact that some is often used merely as an indefinite marker and that most is often used as a synonym for many. The study shows that BSAfE largely shares its general grammar of the nominal group with other (including native) varieties of English, but at a finer level of analysis, some characteristic constructions and uses are detected. The corpus data indicate that the unique constructions in the TLEC data are mostly functionally motivated. These constructions represent conventionalized innovations in the sense used by Van Rooy (2010), rather than mere language learning errors.
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