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Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory

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The English gerund revisited

Exploring semantic differences through collocational analysis

Charlotte Maekelberghe
Published Online: 2017-01-27 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cllt-2016-0054


This paper re-examines the semantics of Present-day English gerunds by analyzing their collocational preferences. While traditional approaches suggest that a semantic opposition between ‘actions’ and ‘facts’ determines the meaning as well as the distributional preferences of nominal (the signing of the contract) and verbal (signing the contract) gerunds, these claims have not been supported by quantitative evidence. At the same time, more recent studies which quantitatively and qualitatively analyze the meaning of gerunds from a referential perspective lack a distributional dimension. This study presents a semantic typology of the nouns and verbs that are attracted to nominal and verbal gerunds in noun and verb complementation structures by means of a distinctive collexeme analysis which has been applied to contextual collexemes. The analysis shows that, while nominal and verbal gerunds occur in clearly distinctive contexts, this distinction does not appear to be based on an action-fact dichotomy, but is rather determined by the more abstract features of conceptual (in)dependence and temporal flexibility. Finally, it is shown how these abstract semantic profiles can be filled in more concretely by specific contextual slots, thus arriving at a more fine-grained and dynamic perspective on the semantics of English gerunds.

Keywords: distinctive collexeme analysis; gerunds; complementation; collocations; nominalization


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-01-27

This research was made possible by a doctoral grant from the KU Leuven research council (Grant/Award Number: ‘13/045’) and a travel bursary of the Flemish Research Foundation (FWO) (Grant/Award Number: ‘V449215N’).

Citation Information: Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory, ISSN (Online) 1613-7035, ISSN (Print) 1613-7027, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cllt-2016-0054.

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