If-conditionals as modal colligations: A corpus-based investigation

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    This paper examines the case for treating if-conditionals as strong attractors of modality. A stronger claim to be examined is that if-conditionals, and if-constructions in general, can be seen as modal colligations. The main research questions are: • Do if-conditionals contain a statistically significant higher frequency of modal expressions than average? • Do if-conditionals show a statistically significant higher frequency of modal expressions compared to non-conditional if-constructions? This examination is theoretically informed by three compatible notions: grammatical construction, colligation, and semantic preference. A grammatical construction is a “syntactic pattern which is assigned one or more conventional functions” (Fillmore, 1988: 36). Colligation was initially defined as the co-occurrence of grammatical categories (Firth, 1968: 181), and has recently been adapted to refer to the co-occurrence of lexis and grammatical categories (e.g. Hoey, 1997: 8). Semantic preference is the “relation between a lemma or word-form and a set of semantically related words.” (Stubbs, 2002: 65). These notions can combine and expand into the notion of semantic colligation: the mutual attraction holding between a grammatical construction (in this case, if-conditionals - see Fillmore, 1986) and a semantic category (in this case, modality - hence modal colligation). The claim is tested through keyword comparisons of un-annotated corpora: a sample of 1,000 if-constructions from the written BNC, the written BNC Sampler, FLOB, all the if-sentences from the written BNC, and the non-conditional if-sentences from the sample. Further tests involve frequency comparisons of specific modal words between the manually annotated sample and the annotated versions of BNC, BNC Sampler and FLOB, as well as a collocational analysis of if in the written BNC. The paper will also comment on methodological issues arising from the keyword analysis, as well as issues pertaining to corpus annotation, quantitative analysis, the nature of if-conditionals, and the role of if.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages12
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2007
    Event4th Corpus Linguistics Conference - University of Birmingham, United Kingdom
    Duration: 28 Jul 200730 Jul 2007


    Conference4th Corpus Linguistics Conference
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


    • conditionals
    • modality
    • modals
    • colligation
    • collocation
    • semantic preference
    • corpora
    • corpus research


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