Idioma: Español
Fecha: Subida: 2021-04-17T00:00:00+02:00
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Competing epistemic adverbs: On the variation between probably, perhaps, and maybe (...)

María José López-Couso y Belén Méndez-Naya (Universidad de Santiago de Compostela)


The present paper sets out to explore the complex patterns of variation between the three most common epistemic adverbs of doubt, namely probably, perhaps, and maybe (Biber et al. 1999: 869; Wierzbicka 2006: chapter 8) in the recent history of the English language. The study thus represents a further step in our ongoing research project on the origin, development, and present-day use of epistemic adverbs and adverbial expressions in English (among them, looks like and maybe Authors 2014, 2016).

Probably, perhaps, and maybe have been in the language from the Late Middle and Early Modern English periods onwards, but they have only reached a significant threshold of frequency in the present day. Although these three epistemic adverbs are closely synonymous, sharing the meaning of possibility/probability and expressing some degree of doubt towards the truth of the speaker's proposition, evidence suggests that they show marked differences as regards their distribution both across text-types (with probably and especially perhaps being more frequently used in academic prose than maybe), as well as in the two major international reference varieties of English: British and American English, maybe being far more common in the latter variety (see Biber et al. 1999: 562, 869).

Given that the competition between probably, perhaps, and maybe seems to be mostly a twentieth-century phenomenon, our analysis is based on data retrieved from various British and American English corpora belonging to the Brown family (B-Brown, B-LOB, Brown, LOB, Frown, FLOB, AE06, and BE06), which cover the time span from 1931 to the 2000s. This material allows us to explore not only the factors influencing the competition between the three adverbs, but also to identify possible diachronic and/or cross-varietal tendencies of change. In this line, research over the last decade has shed light on the intricacy of the relation between British and American English, which sometimes converge over time, sometimes diverge, while on other occasions follow parallel pathways (see, e.g., Leech et al. 2009: 253 and the contributions in Röhdenburg & Schlüter 2009).

In this context, our analysis pays attention to potential converging and/or differential patterns of change between the two reference varieties, while considering the following issues: (i) does the variation between probably, perhaps, and maybe provide evidence of diachronic trends such as colloquialization and/or Americanization, which have been identified for other areas of grammar (e.g. the spread of the mandative subjunctive to British English, cf. Leech et al. 2009: 11)?; (ii) do the three adverbs pattern in the same way in the two varieties along the formal-informal continuum or, on the contrary, are they distributed differently across text-types showing various degrees of formality?; (iii) does geographical variation play a role in the syntactic behaviour of the three epistemic adverbs as regards, for instance, the function they realize in the clause or the position they occupy in the sequence?


Congreso Cilc 2021


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Serie: CILC2021: Corpus y variación lingüística / Linguistic variation and change through corpora (+información)