A late contribution to the discussion sparked by Sebastian Hoffmann:
I recently asked a few colleagues who are not corpus linguists to make
a couple of natural sentences using the word "total" as verb. The
typically fall into two classes:
1. [[Driver]] total [[Vehicle]]
e.g. Carina totaled the car.
2. [[Person]] total [[Number]]
e.g. John totaled the column of figures.
In the British and American corpora that we are currently using (in
BNC, Reuters, and 4 years of AP), sense 1 accounts for less than 1% of
of the verb and sense 2 is even rarer - perfectly plausible, but next to
Over 98% of corpus uses of this verb fall into the following pattern:
3. [[Entity (often plural)]] total [[Number | Amount]]
e.g. Sales totaled 6 million.
Why did this *very* common pattern of use not spring immediately to the
minds of ordinary native speakers of british or American English?
a) Introspection as a technique favors human subject roles.
b) 3 is really a copula, "not a real verb".
c) There is an inverse relationship between cognitive salience
Re 3, see (Hanks 1990), where I argued that people register the odd or
and fail to register what we do regularly or continuously. (Think of
putting his/her hand on your arm. Now think of someone having had
on your arm all afternoon.)
Whatever the reason, the phenomenon is a familiar one in lexical
first noticed by Cobuilders working on the Cobuild 7.3 million word
in about 1983. Of course, 'total' is a fairly dramatic example, but
dramatic cases abound, e.g. the "delexical verbs" (known in America as
verbs). Ask people to make up examples for common uses of "take" and
few of them will think of [[Duration]]:
4. How long will it take?
5. It only took a few minutes.
Interestingly, the phenomenon is occasionally denied by some theoretical
linguists and other intelligent people, corpus evidence to the contrary
notwithstanding. The opening shot is usually "Your corpus is not
representative" (?!). Why do they do this? Surely it cannot be as
as wishing to preserve introspection as a research technique?
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