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Attitudes to usage vs. actual language use: The case of literally in American English: American English speakers know how and why they use literally

  • Viktorija Kostadinova

Extract

From a descriptive point of view, literally is seen as ‘a case of semantic change in progress’ (Israel, 2002: 424), exemplified through the shift from uses such as This word literally means ‘water’ to This book literally blew my mind. This process of change has been noticed and commented on by language commentators and usage guide writers. In other words, apart from being a case of change in progress, literally is also a usage problem. Usage problems are ‘features of divided usage’, or ‘instances of usage that have attracted sociolinguistic controversy’ (Tieken–Boon van Ostade, 2015: 57; cf. Kostadinova, 2018). The case of the word literally, then, lends itself to an investigation of the relationship between prescriptive approaches to language use typically found in usage guides, and processes of language variation and change, as I will do in this paper. As a crucial aspect to this discussion, I will also address some of the attitudes speakers hold towards the newer uses of literally, as attitudes of speakers can help us better understand why prescriptivism may or may not influence language variation and change. In what follows, I will first discuss the variant uses of literally found in present-day English, and then consider findings on three perspectives on the variation in the use of literally, viz. the ‘usage guide’ perspective, the ‘actual use’ perspective and the ‘speakers’ attitudes’ perspective.

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Attitudes to usage vs. actual language use: The case of literally in American English: American English speakers know how and why they use literally

  • Viktorija Kostadinova

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