Sociolinguistic Studies, Vol 1, No 2 (2007)

A Corpus-Based Sociolinguistic Study of Amplifiers in British English

Richard Zhonghua Xiao, Hongyin Tao
Issued Date: 31 Oct 2007

Abstract


Amplifiers such as "very", "so", "absolutely" and "totally" are a common type of intensifiers in the English language. While earlier studies have explored the meaning and grammar of amplifiers, as well as their connection with social variables, notably genre categories, few have explored extralinguistic parameters on the basis of substantive corpus data. In this article we use the British National Corpus (BNC), the largest balanced corpus of British English available today, to explore variations in the use of amplifiers in terms of a wide range of sociolinguistic variables. Specifically, we examine 33 amplifiers across the following dimensions: discourse mode and register, gender, age, education level, audience gender and age, as well as publication date. Our results paint a complex picture. Some tendencies are clear, for example, amplifiers are more common in speech than in writing, higher levels of education correlate positively with higher frequencies of use, and there is an overall decrease in the use of amplifiers over an intervening thirty year period). However, other areas merely defy simple generalizations. For example, gender differences between men and women vary from speaking to writing, so do the differences among individual amplifiers and among age groups. Our results raise interesting issues pertaining to both traditional sociolinguistic concerns and the emerging field of corpus linguistics.

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DOI: 10.1558/sols.v1i2.241

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