A Constructional Reanalysis of Semantic Prosody
Stempel, Philipp B
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation is a re-examination of semantic prosody within the framework of construction grammar. The basic idea of semantic prosody is that ostensibly neutral words can have a probabilistic tendency to co-occur with words that express either positive or negative evaluations. Sinclair (1987), for example, notes that the phrasal verb 'set in' tends to occur with nouns like 'decay' or 'despair'; Stubbs (1995) finds that the verb 'cause' often collocates with words like 'problem' or 'damage'. Even though semantic prosody is an important and much-discussed topic within corpus linguistics, it remains an elusive and contentious subject. There are numerous areas of disagreement in the research literature, e.g. what its function is, at what level it is located, or how it relates to other distributional phenomena such as collocation or semantic preference. This dissertation proposes a novel account of semantic prosody to solve these issues by examining them through a different quantitative methodology and by contextualizing them within a different theoretical framework. A major limitation of previous studies has been their focus on word-level co-occurrences. Corpus evidence reveals that much of a word's meaning is not invariant but instead differs across constructional contexts. Once this context-dependent nature of meaning is considered, a much clearer image of co-selection between linguistic items emerges. Evidence from collostructional analysis (Stefanowitsch & Gries 2003), a type of quantitative corpus methodology, demonstrates that constructional patterns are often associated with specific lexical fields, which allow for a detailed description of their semantics. Not only does this reveal that the evaluative meaning of semantic prosody reaches far beyond the simple positive/negative polarity posited in prior research; it also shows that semantic prosody surfaces in language use as an epiphenomenon of more complex evaluative semantics. With the help of the methodology of quantitative corpus linguistics and the theoretical frameworks of construction grammar and usage-based linguistics, semantic prosody is readily explained as an ordinary part of meaning and does not pose a challenge to linguistic theory.
Corpus Linguistics; Usage-based linguistics; Construction Grammar; Semantic Prosody