Stability and fluidity in syntactic variation world-wide: The genitive alternation across varieties of English

Benedikt Heller, Benedikt Szmrecsanyi, Jason Grafmiller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
257 Downloads (Pure)


What are the scope and limits of syntactic variation within and across varieties of English? To address this question, we investigate well-known syntactic variation between the s-genitive (Mr Barnsley’s management) and the of-genitive (the management of Mr Barnsley) in nine varieties of English. We specifically gauge the stability of constraints on this variation by analyzing a richly annotated dataset spanning 10,558 interchangeable genitives from nine components of the International Corpus of English. Regression modeling indicates that constraints such as possessor animacy, constituent length, final sibilancy of the possessor, as well as the effect of medium (spoken vs. written) as a language-external factor differ in strength across varieties. The language-internal constraints, however, never change effect direction. We conclude that the probabilistic grammar fueling genitive variation is surprisingly stable overall, but does exhibit some fluidity along the lines of a distinction between English as a native language (ENL) and English as a second language (ESL) varieties: those constraints that tend to favor s-genitive usage tend to be weakened in ESL varieties.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-27
JournalJournal of English Linguistics
Issue number1
Early online date18 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • variation
  • corpus
  • syntax
  • probability
  • mixed-effect model
  • genitive alternation
  • World Englishes


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