Corpora: Sum: Adjective usage: attr. vs. pred.

From: Stefan Th. Gries (
Date: Sat Apr 06 2002 - 15:01:58 MET DST

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    Dear subscribers

    6 weeks ago I posted the following query to the list: "Does anybody have
    some information on the relative frequencies of attributive and predicative
    adjective usage?" In what follows I'll summarise the (unfortunately very
    small number of) replies:

    David Lee ( has referred me to his (PhD
    dissertation) work on this issue for a subset of the BNC.

    Robert Englebretson ( directed me tot he following three
    - Chafe, Wallace L. 1982. Integration and involvement in speaking, writing,
    and oral literature. in Deborah Tannen, Ed. Spoken and written language:
    exploring orality and literacy. 35-54. Norwood NJ: Ablex Publishing Corp.
    - Thompson, Sandra A. 1988. A discourse approach to the category adjective.
    In John A. Hawkins, ed. Explaining language universals. 167-210. Oxford:
    - Englebretson, Robert. 1997. Genre and grammar: predicative and attributive
    adjectives in spoken English. BLS 23:411-421.
    Also, he provided the following brief, but helpful, summary/discussion,
    which I therefore quote in toto:
    "Chafe's and Thompson's findings appear to be contradictory (Chafe reports a
    nearly 2:1 ratio of attributive over predicative in a small corpus of
    conversational English, while Thompson reports a nearly 2:1 ratio of
    predicative over attributive in another conversational corpus). In my 1997
    paper I argue that these findings are not contradictory, but in fact reflect
    characteristics of the particular genre of conversational language each
    researcher is looking at. The distribution of predicative and attributive
    adjectives is closely tied to genre factors, and reflects the different
    discourse functions for which they are used. I found roughly even
    distribution in a larger corpus of conversational English (a subset of the
    Santa Barbara Corpus of Spoken American English), but when viewed in terms
    of individual speech events, I found the skewed distribution noted by both
    Chafe and Thompson. In a nutshell, the determinants of which is more
    frequent has to do with genre, but ultimately with the amount of "new"
    versus "shared" information among the speech participants in the

    Finally, Hans Lindquist ( pointed me to the
    following source:
    Lindquist, Hans, 2000. Livelier or more lively? Syntactic and contextual
    factors influencing the comparison of disyllabic adjectives. John M. Kirk
    (ed.) Corpora galore. Analyses and techniques in describing English.
    Amsterdam: Rodopi.

    I am grateful to the three who have already replied - if anybody else has
    further info, I would still be interested in it (and post it to the list in

    Stefan Th. Gries
    IFKI, Southern Denmark University

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