Syntactic categories informing variationist analysis: The case of English copy-raising

Marisa Alana Brook


This paper re-examines variation between the comparative complementizers (AS IF, AS THOUGH, LIKE, THAT, and AS) that follow verbs denoting ostensibility (SEEM, APPEAR, LOOK, SOUND, and FEEL) in the large city of Toronto, Canada. Given that younger speakers appear to be using more of these structures in the first place, I evaluate the hypothesis that there is a trade-off in apparent time between these finite structures and the non-finite construction of Subject-to-Subject raising. Focusing on the verb SEEM, I find that the non-finite structures are losing ground in apparent time to the finite ones. I subsequently address the issue of how best to divide up the finite tokens as co-variants opposite the finite constructions, and find that a split according to syntactic properties – whether or not the copy-raising transformation is permitted – tidily accounts for the patterning and reveals a straightforward change in progress. The results reaffirm the value of using variationist methodology to test competing claims, and also establish that variation can behave in a classic way even among whole syntactic categories.

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