Life after HUGE? Absolutely!


Many thanks to all the speakers for their wonderful presentations as well as to the participants for the discussions afterwards. Read more on Twitter: #afterhuge!

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What kind/sort/type of word are these? Number concord across the species noun phrase in International Academic English

I’m Adrian Stenton, and I’m a PhD candidate at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics, where I’m investigating number concord across the species noun phrase, as part of the project Bridging the Unbridgeable: a project on English usage guides, which is supervised by Professor Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade.

Usage guidance on what Biber et al. (1999) call “species nouns” in English (kind/sort/type + of) has a long history, and has tended to concentrate on number concord between a determiner and kind/sort/type. Thus we have:

“I ought therefore to say this Sort of Goods sells, and not these Sorts of Goods sell.” (Baker, 1770, p. 115)

“I mean the expression ‘these’ or ‘those kind of things.’ Of course we all see that this is incorrect and indefensible. We ought to say ‘this kind of things,’ ‘that kind of things.’” (Alford, 1864, pp. 69–70)

Those kind. ‘Those kind of apples are best’: read, ‘That kind of apples is best.’ It is truly remarkable that many persons who can justly lay claim to the possession of considerable culture use this barbarous combination.” (Ayres, 1911, p. 297)

kind. ‘Those are the kind of numbers that easily solve the mystery …’ (New York Daily News). Kind and kinds and their antecedents should always enjoy what grammarians call concord. Just as we say ‘this hat’ but ‘those hats’, so the writer above should have said, ‘Those are the kinds of numbers’ or ‘This is the kind of number’. Shakespeare, for what it is worth, didn’t always observe the distinction.” (Bryson, 2002, p. 111)

More recently, Keizer (2007, Chapter 7) has taken a more nuanced approach to what she calls “SKT-constructions” (p. 152):

“… these constructions can … be regarded as containing two nominals: a first nominal, N1, which is always one of three lexical items (sort, kind or type), and a second nominal which belongs to an open class. The two are separated by the element of. … Both N1 and N2 can occur in the singular and the plural; number agreement between the elements is not required.” (p. 152)

One of the purposes of my project is to investigate whether modern usage guides, many of which claim to make use of corpus data, reflect or refine older usage guidance, as exemplified above. For example, we find:

*these kind of; *these type of; *these sort of. These illogical forms were not uncommon in the 17th and early 18th centuries, but by the mid-18th they had been stigmatized. Today they brand the speaker or writer as slovenly.” (Garner, 2016, p. 906)

these/those sort of. From the 16c. onwards, sort has been used collectively, preceded (illogically) by these or those … Not unexpectedly, the plural form these/those sorts of is also used. … The type these/those sort of should now be used only in informal contexts.” (Butterfield, 2015, p. 763)

sort of … When the phrase is partly or fully pluralized, as in these sort of or these sorts of, it’s less clear whether the following noun should be singular or plural. Both constructions are equally well represented in written material from the BNC …” (Peters, 2004, pp. 507–508)

My project aims to analyse my corpus of International Academic English to see what it is that determines number marking in these species noun or SKT-constructions.

In addition to analysing what these authors have actually written, I propose to ask them what they think they write, by means of one or more surveys, and this is where, I hope, many of you will become involved.

To recap, I am proposing to carry out a multi-method approach to the analysis of number concord in the species noun phrase in a corpus of International Academic English. By using a statistical analysis of the corpus together with a survey of the authors I hope to show: (i) what the usage of the authors is; (ii) if that usage matches their attitudes to such usage; and (iii) if their usage follows established guidance.

For now, though, I am inviting you to take part in a trial survey, which I have posted on Qualtrics. You will find the survey HERE. It’s a short survey, starting with an example from Mittins et al.’s (1970) Attitudes to English Usage, just to set a bench-mark. This is followed by twelve examples, all taken from my corpus, and differing from Mittins et al. in that they are all presented in context, typically including the sentence before and the sentence following. Apart from teasing out your attitudes to number concord, the survey also gives you the opportunity to comment at length. I am hoping to use your responses to refine the survey for the authors of my corpus.


Thank you for taking part!

Alford, Henry (1864) The Queen’s English: stray notes on speaking and spelling. London: Strahan & Co. / Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, & Co.
Ayres, Alfred (1911) The verbalist: a manual devoted to brief discussions of the right and the wrong use of words and to some other matters of interest to those who would speak and write with propriety. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
Baker, Robert (MDCCLXX [1770]) Remarks on the English language, in the nature of Vaugelas’s remarks on the French; being a detection of many improper expressions used in conversation, and of many others to be found in authors. To which is prefixed a discourse addressed to His Majesty. London.
Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S. and Finegan, E. (1999) Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Bryson, Bill (2002) Troublesome Words. London: Penguin Books.
Butterfield, J. (ed.) (2015) Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage [4th ed.]. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Garner, B. A. (2016) Garner’s Modern English Usage [4th ed.]. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Keizer, E. (2007) The English Noun Phrase: the nature of linguistic categorization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mittins, W. H., Salu, M., Edminson, M. and Coyne, S. (1970) Attitudes to English Usage. London: Oxford University Press.
Peters, P. (2004) The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

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Fresh from the press: last interactive feature in English Today

In the last two years, we have encouraged readers of English Today to contribute to our research project in our interactive features which can also be found here. The input we have received so far has been invaluable and we are very grateful for your help. Our latest and also last call for contributions has just been published in the latest issue of English Today. In this piece entitled Prescriptivism in English Literature?, Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade discusses prescriptivism in literature by providing examples of metalinguistic comments about usage problems such as ain’t, High Rise Terminals and  like  in novels and other literary works such as Ian McEwan’s short story ‘Mother Tongue’. In order to increase her pool of examples, Ingrid would be happy to hear about any examples of metalinguistic comments you have come across while reading. Have a look at the feature and contribute to her research by filling in the contact form.


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Just out: Prescription and Tradition in Language

All those interested in the topic of the book may want to make use of the substantial discount offer made by the publisher: 50% no less if your order the book before the end of January!



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A/an homage?

“A homage to P.G. Wodehouse” is the subtitle of Sebastian Faulks‘s novel Jeeves and the Wedding Bells (2013). I picked up the book in our local library because, inspired by my colleague’s earlier query about a peculiarity in Wodehouse’s language, I went for a Wodehouse novel, but found that none were present. The book proved no disappointment, far from it.

But I was struck by the use of a before homage in the subtitle. Surely it should be an homage? No, says the OED: it is an homage in British English while usage is variable in American English.

Does that qualify (h)omage as a potential usage problem in American English? I checked our HUGE database of course, and found that a/an is indeed dealt with by many usage guides, from 1829 onwards, but that homage is not discussed as an example.

What I did like about the novel, Lisa, is that Faulks kept in the linguistic mannerism you identified, and that Bertie even used it in his disguise as a gentleman’s gentleman (e.g. on p. 76). Very subtly (“There was a silence.”), we are made to conclude that this is one of the things that was to give him away. So here is another answer to your question.

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500 Mistakes and Live and Learn

I’ve always been wondering about the relationship between Five Hundred Mistakes of Daily Occurrence (1856) and Live and Learn: A Guide for All, who Wish to Speak and Write Correctly (1856?). Both are usage guides, and they seem to share the date of publication as well as a lot of contents. Both are included in the HUGE database. Paul Nance has just added a very interesting piece to the puzzle.

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P.G. Wodehouse, what?

One of my colleagues here at Leiden is reading P.G. Wodehouse. She told me about this because she had noticed what seeemed to her a peculiar construction, as in “It does make it awkward, what?” and “Better take a look round, what?”. Is this oldfashioned British English, or dialect, she asked me. For me it is ages since I read any Wodehouse novels, not since my teenage years anyway, so I wouldn’t know, except that the construction suggests upper-class usage to me. But I promised to consult the readers of this blog. Does anyone have an idea?

Checking his wikipedia entry just now, I was struck by how similar Wodehouse’s life and career was to Raymond Chandler’s, whose biography I’m reading at the momen. There is not much of an age difference between them, they went to the same school (Dulwich College), both lived in England and the US during periods of their lives, both became writers after unsatisfactory early careers, and both worked for Hollywood.

So I really must reread some of Wodehouse’s novels, as well as the biography I have of him, but have never read.

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