Cited by Lee Sonogan
Even though intensifiers have received a good deal of attention over the past few decades, downtoners, comprising diminishers and minimizers, have remained by and large a neglected category (but cf. Brinton, this issue). Among downtoners, the adverb little or a little stands out as the most frequent item. It is multifunctional and serves as a diminishing and minimizing intensifier and also in non-degree uses as a quantifier, frequentative, and durative. Therefore, the present paper is devoted to the structural and functional profile of (a) little in Late Modern English speech-related data. The data source is the socio-pragmatically annotated Old Bailey Corpus (OBC, version 2.0), which allows, among other things, the investigation of the usage of the item among different speaker groups. Our research charts the semantic and formal uses of adverbial little. Downtoner uses outnumber non-degree uses in the data, and diminishing uses are more common than minimizing uses. The formal realization is predominantly a little, with very rare determinerless or modified instances, such as very little. Little modifies a wide range of “targets,” but most frequently adjectives and prepositional phrases, focusing on human states and circumstantial detail. With regard to variation and change, adverbial little declines in use over the 200 years and is used more commonly by speakers from the lower social ranks and by the lay, non-professional participants in the courtroom.
Publication: Journal of English Linguistics (Peer-Reviewed Journal)
Pub Date: Jan 15, 2021 Doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0075424220982063