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A Corpus-based Cognitive-Functional Study of the Meaning and Use of 'Always' and 'Never', and Related Phenomena, in American English

  • Author(s): Lindley, Jori
  • Advisor(s): Tao, Hongyin
  • et al.

This is a multi-faceted corpus study of the adverbs of frequency always and never, in which their meanings (exaggerated or literal), tense-aspect preferences, and functions (specifically, the function of always or never followed by the progressive) across genres are all investigated. I also briefly investigate the maximizers utterly, completely, totally, and fully. Using four corpora and quantitative and qualitative methods, I show that always and never are not as straightforward as they appear. On the contrary, their distribution, meaning, and use are highly dependent on context, both in a larger sense (i.e., genre, pragmatic concerns) and a more specific, local sense (i.e., the immediate linguistic environment, including the verbs, tense-aspect, etc.). For example, I argue that concerns about accountability explain the observed rates of exaggeration across different types of news articles and across academic journals in different fields, and that social concerns involving politeness explain the finding that the grammatical subject in complaints is more often third person than second person. Throughout, it is shown that a cognitive-functional approach is the most useful for understanding how these very common words are used.

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