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Uses of the genitive in an English corpus

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  • Jim Henry
    ... Behold! I did a quick and dirty corpus analysis of the Project Gutenberg etexts from 1990 to 2001. I searched for apostrophe-ess (using Emacs grep-find
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 8, 2013
      On Tue, Jan 8, 2013 at 12:29 PM, Jim Henry <jimhenry1973@...> wrote:
      > I shouldn't be surprised if a corpus analysis showed the ownership
      > sense to be less common than some of the others, or at least less
      > common than all the others put together.

      Behold! I did a quick and dirty corpus analysis of the Project
      Gutenberg etexts from 1990 to 2001. I searched for apostrophe-ess
      (using Emacs' grep-find feature) and then randomly scrolled down a few
      thousand lines at a time through the results, mostly though not always
      getting no more than one instance from a given book. Shakespeare, who
      is overrepresented in the corpus, appears more than once, but I don't
      think other authors do (in a lot of cases I didn't bother to check the
      author of the book). The texts included a mix of novels, plays,
      poetry, and nonfiction ranging from the sixteenth to the early
      twentieth centuries. Some search results were were borderline and
      hard to classify, even after going to look at the context.

      contraction of "is" 24
      contraction of "has" 3
      ownership 13
      agentive genitive 13
      kinship (etc) 15
      authorship/source 9
      part-whole 17
      association 12
      property/quality 10

      Some of the uses I classified as "kinship (etc.)" refer to relation by
      marriage, or to other personal relationships, as between empoyer and
      employee, leader and follower, or vice versa. Some of the "ownership"
      uses could have referred to rental, borrowing or other temporary
      possession; I would have had to read a lot more context to be sure
      about them.

      Ownership is not only somewhat less common in this sample than some of
      the other genitive senses, like part-whole and kinship, but far less
      common than the other genitive senses put together. The former effect
      is small enough that it might disappear or reverse in a different
      sample of a different corpus, but the latter effect is big enough I
      suspect it will hold with other English corpora.

      Ideally one would check for genitive pronouns as well, but I'm not
      sure how to combine those samples with the apostophe-ess sample to get
      a balanced sample.

      --
      Jim Henry
      http://www.pobox.com/~jimhenry/
      http://www.jimhenrymedicaltrust.org
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