Primary Faculty Mentor Name

Guillermo Rodríguez

Status

Undergraduate

Student College

College of Arts and Sciences

Program/Major

Linguistics

Primary Research Category

Social Sciences

Presentation Title

Americans who speak or Americans that speak? Formality and relative pronouns in spoken English

Time

3:00 PM

Location

Silver Maple Ballroom - Social Sciences

Abstract

In this paper we explore the use of the relative pronouns “who” and “that” with a human antecedent (e.g., the person who I saw vs. the person that I saw) in different genres of spoken English. Previous studies have found that when the antecedent is human, speakers are much more likely to use “who” or “which” than “that” (Guy & Bayley, 1995). The relative pronoun “who” is typically prescriptively confined to describing humans (Gilquin & Jacobs, 2006), while “that” is more often used with nonhuman referents (Dillon & Pang, 2017). Previous corpus studies have shown that “who” is nonetheless occasionally used in relative clauses referring to nonhuman animals, and that “that” is used for humans at times as well (Guy & Bayley, 1995; Gilquin & Jacobs, 2006; Dillon & Pang, 2017). Our analysis concerns the use of relative pronouns across registers, particularly with respect to variation in the uses of relative pronouns for human referents. We use the Santa Barbara Corpus of Spoken American English (SBCSAE), which contains approximately 249,000 words of colloquial, conversational American English, and the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE), which contains 1.85 million words of spoken academic English. Both corpora were developed in the early 2000s and contain language from that period. These corpora allow us to compare the use of relative pronouns for human antecedents across informal and formal speech. This research will contribute to our understanding of a point of variation between the two registers.

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Americans who speak or Americans that speak? Formality and relative pronouns in spoken English

In this paper we explore the use of the relative pronouns “who” and “that” with a human antecedent (e.g., the person who I saw vs. the person that I saw) in different genres of spoken English. Previous studies have found that when the antecedent is human, speakers are much more likely to use “who” or “which” than “that” (Guy & Bayley, 1995). The relative pronoun “who” is typically prescriptively confined to describing humans (Gilquin & Jacobs, 2006), while “that” is more often used with nonhuman referents (Dillon & Pang, 2017). Previous corpus studies have shown that “who” is nonetheless occasionally used in relative clauses referring to nonhuman animals, and that “that” is used for humans at times as well (Guy & Bayley, 1995; Gilquin & Jacobs, 2006; Dillon & Pang, 2017). Our analysis concerns the use of relative pronouns across registers, particularly with respect to variation in the uses of relative pronouns for human referents. We use the Santa Barbara Corpus of Spoken American English (SBCSAE), which contains approximately 249,000 words of colloquial, conversational American English, and the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE), which contains 1.85 million words of spoken academic English. Both corpora were developed in the early 2000s and contain language from that period. These corpora allow us to compare the use of relative pronouns for human antecedents across informal and formal speech. This research will contribute to our understanding of a point of variation between the two registers.