Hostname: page-component-7479d7b7d-qs9v7 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-14T18:20:11.918Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

So different and pretty cool! Recycling intensifiers in Toronto, Canada1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2008

Department of Linguistics, University of Toronto, 130 St George Street, Robarts Library, 6th floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 3H1,


This article presents a synchronic quantitative study of the intensifier system in Toronto, the largest urban centre in Canada. The data comprise nearly 10,000 adjectival heads, as in I was so hungry and I was getting really nauseous (TOR/2m). The distribution of intensifiers in apparent time provides startling evidence of change. Very is quickly moving out of favour and really has expanded dramatically. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that other intensifiers are on the rise – so and pretty. Testing a series of contextual factors known to operate in the development of intensifiers (e.g. adjective function and type) as well as their intersection with social factors (e.g. age and sex) reveals evidence of ongoing delexicalization, but not as part of a continual longitudinal process. Instead, the profile of change reveals recycling, suggesting that the mechanisms of intensifier renewal may be more complex than previously thought.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Adamson, Sylvia & González-Díaz, Victorina. 2004. Back to the very beginning: The development of intensifiers in Early Modern English. Presented at the Thirteenth International Conference on English Historical Linguistics, Vienna.Google Scholar
Bäcklund, Ulf. 1973. The collocations of adverbs of degree in English. Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell.Google Scholar
Bailey, Guy, Wikle, Tom, Tillery, Jan & Sand, Lory. 1991. The apparent time construction. Language Variation and Change 3, 241–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bauer, Laurie & Bauer, Winifred. 2002. Adjective boosters in the English of young New Zealanders. Journal of English Linguistics 30, 244–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Biber, Douglas, Johansson, Stig, Leech, Geoffrey, Conrad, Susan & Finegan, Edward. 1999. Longman grammar of spoken and written English. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Bolinger, Dwight L. 1972. Degree words. The Hague and Paris: Mouton.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Buchstaller, Isabelle & Traugott, Elizabeth Closs. 2006. The lady was al demonyak: Historical aspects of Adverb all. English Language and Linguistics 10 (2), 345–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bybee, Joan L., Perkins, Revere D. & Pagliuca, William. 1994. The evolution of grammar: Tense, aspect and modality in the languages of the world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Dixon, R. M. W. 1977. Where have all the adjectives gone? Studies in Language 1, 1980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fries, Charles Carpenter. 1940. American English grammar. New York: Appleton, Century, Crofts.Google Scholar
Hopper, Paul J. 1991. On some principles of grammaticization. In , Elizabeth Closs Traugott & Heine, Bernd (eds.), Approaches to grammaticalization, vol. 1, 1735. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ito, Rika & Tagliamonte, Sali A.. 2003. Well weird, right dodgy, very strange, really cool: Layering and recycling in English intensifiers. Language in Society 32, 257–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jespersen, Otto H. 1922. Language: Its nature, development and origin. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.Google Scholar
Key, Mary Richie. 1975. Male/female language. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press.Google Scholar
Kirk, John M. (ed.). 2000. Corpora galore: Analyses and techniques in describing English. Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Krug, Manfred. 2000. Emerging English modals: A corpus-based study of grammaticalization. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Labov, William. 1972. Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
Labov, William. 1985. Intensity. In Schiffrin, Deborah (ed.), Meaning, form and use in context: Linguistic applications, 4370. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
Labov, William. 2001. Principles of linguistic change, vol. 2: Social factors. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Lakoff, Robin. 1973. Language and woman's place. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Lehmann, Christian. 1995. Thoughts on grammaticalization. Munich and Newcastle: Lincom Europa.Google Scholar
Lindquist, Hans & Mair, Christian (eds.). 2004. Corpus approaches to grammaticalization in English. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lorenz, Gunter. 2002. Really worthwhile or not really significant? A corpus-based approach to the delexicalization and grammaticalization of intensifiers in Modern English. In Wischer, Ilse & Diewald, Gabriele (eds.), New reflections on grammaticalization, 143–61. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Macaulay, Ronald K. S. 2006. Pure grammaticalization: The development of a teenage intensifier. Language Variation and Change 18, 267–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mair, Christian. 2004. Corpus linguistics and grammaticalisation theory. Statistics, frequencies and beyond. In Lindquist & Mair, 121–50.Google Scholar
MED = Kurath, , Hans, et al. (eds.) 1952–2001. Middle English dictionary. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
Méndez-Naya, Belén. 2003. Intensifiers and grammaticalization: The case of swiþe. English Studies 84, 372–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mustanoja, Tauno F. 1960. A Middle English syntax. Helsinki: Société Néophilologique.Google Scholar
Nevalainen, Terttu. 1997. The processes of adverb derivation in Late Middle and Early Modern English. In Rissanen, Matti, Kytö, Merja & Heikkonen, Kirsi (eds.), Grammaticalization at work: Studies of long-term developments in English, 145–90. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nevalainen, Terttu. 2004. Three perspectives on grammaticalization: Lexico-grammar, corpora and historical sociolinguistics. In Lindqvist, & Mair, (eds.), 1–31.Google Scholar
Nevalainen, Terttu & Rissanen, Matti. 2002. Fairly pretty or pretty fair? On the development and grammaticalization of English downtoners. Language Sciences 24, 359–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
OED = Oxford English dictionary, 2nd edn. 1989. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Online version with revisions: www.oed.comGoogle Scholar
Paradis, Carita. 2000. It's well weird. Degree modifiers of adjectives revisited: The nineties. In Kirk, (ed.), 147–60.Google Scholar
Partington, Alan. 1993. Corpus evidence of language change: The case of intensifiers. In Baker, Mona, Francis, Gill & Tognini-Bonelli, Elena (eds.), Text and technology: In honour of John Sinclair, 177–92. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Peters, Hans. 1992. English boosters: Some synchronic and diachronic aspects. In Kellermann, Günter & Morrissey, Michael D. (eds.), Diachrony within synchrony: Language history and cognition, 529–45. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
Peters, Hans. 1994. Degree adverbs in Early Modern English. In Kastovsky, Dieter (ed.), Studies in Early Modern English, 269–88. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Poplack, Shana & Tagliamonte, Sali A.. 2001. African American English in the diaspora: Tense and aspect. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.Google Scholar
Quirk, Randolph, Greenbaum, Sidney, Leech, Geoffrey & Svartvik, Jan. 1985. A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Sinclair, John. 1992. Trust the text: The implications are daunting. In Davies, Martin & Ravelli, Louise (eds.), Advances in systemic linguistics, 519. London: Pinter.Google Scholar
Stenström, Anna-Brita. 1999. He was really gormlessShe's bloody crap: Girls, boys and intensifiers. In Hasselgård, Hilde & Okesfjell, Signe (eds.), Out of corpora: Studies in honour of Stig Johansson, 6978. Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stenström, Anna-Brita. 2000. It's enough funny, man: Intensifiers in teenage talk. In Kirk, (ed.), 177–90.Google Scholar
Stoffel, Cornelis. 1901. Intensives and downtoners. (Anglistische Forchungen 1). Heidelberg: Winter.Google Scholar
Tagliamonte, Sali A. 2003–6. Linguistic changes in Canada entering the 21st century. Research Grant. Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). #410-2003- 0005. Scholar
Tagliamonte, Sali A. 2006a. Analysing sociolinguistic variation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tagliamonte, Sali A. 2006b. ‘So cool, right?’: Canadian English entering the 21st century. Canadian English in a Global Context. Special issue of Canadian Journal of Linguistics 51 (2/3), 309–31.Google Scholar
Tagliamonte, Sali A. & D'Arcy, Alexandra. 2007a. Frequency and variation in the community grammar: Tracking a new change through the generations. Language Variation and Change 19, 119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tagliamonte, Sali A. & D'Arcy, Alexandra. 2007b. The modals of obligation/necessity in Canadian perspective. English World-Wide 28, 4787.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tagliamonte, Sali A. & D'Arcy, Alexandra. In preparation. Peaks beyond phonology: Adolescence, incrementation, and language change.Google Scholar
Tagliamonte, Sali A. & Roberts, Chris. 2005. So weird; so cool; so innovative: The use of intensifiers in the television series Friends. American Speech 80 (3), 280300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Traugott, Elizabeth Closs. 2006. The semantic development of scalar focus modifiers. In Kemenade, Ans van & Los, Bettelou (eds.), The handbook of the history of English, 335–59. Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zwicky, Arnold. 2006. Language Log. So in style at the NYT. 6 April 2006. Scholar