Variation in English genitives across modality and genres

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24 Citations (Scopus)


The choice of genitive construction in English is conditioned by numerous semantic, syntactic and phonological factors. The present study explores the influence of these factors across different modalities (speech vs writing) and genres (e.g. press, fiction, etc.), and models the mediating effect of language-external variables on internal cognitive and linguistic factors within the context of a probabilistic grammar of genitive choice. The discussion revolves around debates concerning the driving force(s) behind recent changes in newspaper genitives, concluding that the trend reflects a push toward more economical modes of expression in reportage texts. Curiously, analysis finds few significant interactions with low-level processing-related factors, e.g. possessor frequency and lexical density – a surprising result in light of recent research. However, analysis further reveals significant inter-genre variability among several other crucial factors including possessor animacy and final sibilancy, which are significantly reduced in journalistic prose. These latter findings offer indirect evidence in favor of economization, and offer insight into the connections between external stylistic concerns, specific linguistic practices and internal probabilistic weights associated with specific grammatical constructions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-496
Number of pages26
JournalEnglish Language & Linguistics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2014


  • genitives
  • stylistic variation


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