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Support Verb Constructions as Patterns of Use

9 March 2010

Support Verb Constructions as Patterns of Use. A Corpus-based analysis of British and American English.

Giulia Beltrami, University of Pavia

The talk will be held April 13 at 5:10 pm in room 5.26 in the Humanities Building at Cardiff University

Although there have been many attempts (Wierzbicka 1982, Dixon 1991/2005, Fawcett 2008) to define and describe Support Verb Constructions (SVCs), there does not seem to be an easy solution. The present work analyses a kind of SVCs which is highly frequent in the English language. This is based on the association of a ‘light’ verb (have/take) followed by an indefinite (optionally modified) eventive noun. The nominal element in these cases is not a simple deverbal noun; it is rather the uninflected form of the verb from which it derives, e.g. take a run, have a think. As for the verb, it is defined as ‘light’ in the sense that it loses part of its meaning and becomes ‘empty’. The meaning of the resultant process is therefore completed by the extension represented by the nominal element (Fawcett 2008).

This work aims at the description of regular patterns of use for SVCs. In order to do so, an approach is suggested that combines Firth’s (1957) contextual theory of meaning with Sinclair’s theory of phraseology. The regularity of use is observed in the British National Corpus and in the Corpus of Contemporary American English to study registerial and geographical variation. Results show that a fuller description of the use and variation of SVCs can be achieved through the notion of Meaning Shift Unit (Tognini Bonelli 2010), which can help to stretch the boundaries of form and meaning of SVCs showing the interrelatedness of lexico-grammar and context.