The Dative Alternation Revisited: Fresh Insights from Contemporary Spoken Data
A well-known feature of English grammar is the dative alternation, whereby a verb may be used in a V-NP-NP construction (Give me the money) or with a prepositional phrase in the pattern V-NP-PP, typically with the preposition to (Give the money to me). In this study, we use data from the Early-Access Subset (EAS) of the Spoken British National Corpus 2014 to investigate the behaviour of six high-frequency verbs whose argument structure preferences include the dative alternation. Given that speakers have both patterns available to them, our goal is to discover whether the choice of pattern is motivated rather than random — and if so, what factors influenced that choice. Although the dative alternation is a well-researched topic, most published work draws either on introspection or on data from written sources. Using contemporary unscripted spoken text from face-to-face conversations takes us into new territory, especially as the linguistic data in the EAS corpus are complemented by a wide range of sociolinguistic information on participating speakers. By “sociolinguistic information” we mean the social phenomena that co-occur with linguistic variables (Bayley 2002, 118). This represents a powerful new research resource, and in this chapter we show how it yields new insights into the use of the dative alternation.