A corpus-based stylistic study of newspaper English
This study is based on a corpus of 2400 clauses taken from British national newspapers in 1986 and stored in a computer database with each clause coded for a number of grammatical (and some semantic) features. These features relate to the verb phrase (e.g. finiteness), the clause (e.g. subordination) and the subject (e.g. form). In the first stage of the investigation the database is described in terms of the features coded therein. The scope of the description is on three levels. First, the data are described in total and are considered to constitute a representative sample of newspaper English. Secondly, the database is split into three pre-determined sub-databases according to their text-type. These are: news articles, editorials and readers' letters. A pattern is discovered of 'letters-as-norm' with the other texttypes on different sides of the average. Thirdly, the database is split on a different dimension according to the eight different newspapers included in the sampling. A pattern of three groups of newspapers; 'quality', 'central' and 'popular', is found for some features. The second section exploits the database primarily as an example of written English, rather than emphasising its newspaper origins. Here some problems of description, which have implications for the debate about the division between syntax and semantics, are explored. The first such 'problem' arises out of a study of the environment of copula 'BE' and concerns the borderline between the grammatical functions of subject and subject complement. Some well-known differences are confirmed and some new ones discovered. A small area of overlap, however, remains. The second problem is the familiar difficulty of deciding when an -en form is an adjective and when it remains a participle. It is argued that the contexts of -en forms are often influential in their interpretation as adjectival or verbal forms. The third problem concerns the sequential verbs (sometimes called 'catenative' verbs) which govern a following nonfinite verb phrase. These verbs, which defy attempts to classify them syntactically, are shown to be amenable to semantic classification. The question of restrictions on sequences of more than two verb phrases (i.e. two sequential verbs + one 'normal' verb) is explored and some tentative conclusions are reached.