Adjective Intensification in South-Asian Varieties of English

Master's Thesis, 2020

72 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theory
2.1 Sri Lankan English
2.2 Indian English
2.3 British English
2.4 Schneider Dynamic Model
2.5 Kachru Three Circle Model
2.6 Intensifiers

3. Methodology, Data
3.1 Research questions
3.2 Hypotheses

4. Results, Discussion of Results
4.1 Answering the research questions
4.2 Revisiting the hypotheses
4.3 Future outlook

5. Conclusion

Works Cited


1. Introduction

Language is fascinating. Words, their meaning often arbitrarily agreed upon by the speakers of a community, make up our whole existence. It is difficult, impossible even, not to communicate: Body language, a mere smile or frown or even a weak handshake, speak volumes about a person. Language also creates identity. It can be used to become someone: The distinguished lawyer, the sympathetic doctor, the quirky student. One tool to create this identity is the use - or the non-use - of intensifiers. Intensifiers, while rather small words with seemingly no meaning to themselves, occur in our daily lives wherever we are. The exam was quite difficult - an essay was handed in too late - a lecturer seemed really strict.

Intensifiers have been used ever since language has been documented, and yet, with the amount of research done on the subject, are hardly taken seriously as an insight into language. Why is that? Do intensifiers really mean little, change little? Are they actually worth investigating, or are they just filler words, just meant to underline the importance of other words? Why research something that holds no meaning of its own? And, lastly, the most important question of all: What are intensifiers, and why do we use them?

“Grammatically speaking, intensifiers are adverbs that maximise or boost meaning.” (Hu 2013:246). Concerning their use, Marlieke van Zutphen explains, “by using intensifiers, a message becomes more powerful, and thus, stands out more.” (2017:3) . According to Yuheng Hu, the usage of intensifiers arises out of “a speaker or writer's desire to be “original”, to demonstrate verbal skills, and to capture the attention of an audience” (2013:246). Daniel B. Wright disagrees strongly with this notion: For him, “the most interesting finding about intensifiers is that they do not seem to affect listeners in the way intended by speakers.” (1995:174). When investigating advertisements, Wright found that intensifications did not attract more customers, and actually devalued the product in the consumers' eyes.

Brona Murphy, on the other hand, stated that “the most rapid and the most interesting semantic developments in linguistic change are said to occur with intensifiers” (2010:111).

These statements underline the polarising nature of research on intensifiers. Researchers cannot agree on the importance of intensification, and disagree on what to name the categories of intensification. However, intensifiers remain a highly relevant lexical item that needs to be studied further in order to decode its linguistic relevance in all areas of language. For this reason, this master's thesis will analyse the usage of intensification in three varieties of English, namely British English, Indian English and Sri Lankan English. These varieties were chosen due to their shared colonial past. It will be exciting to see similarities and differences between them, and to ascertain if their colonial past has left a linguistic imprint on them.

After this introduction, the theory section will explain the most important topics concerning this thesis, namely Sri Lankan English, Indian English and British English and, naturally, intensifiers. The Schneider Dynamic Model and Kachru's Three Circle Model will also be explained briefly, since both are vital for research connected to colonialism. The methodology and data section will explain the process of data extraction and the methods used for data analysis along with research questions and hypotheses. The results will be explained in the results section. After that, the discussion of results will talk about the results and their meaning more thoroughly, and research questions as well as hypotheses will be revisited. A future outlook into worthy research avenues will be given next, and, lastly, the conclusion will sum up the most important findings.

All references are found in the works cited section, and the appendix contains any data which could not be used for the thesis itself.

2. Theory

This section will explain the theoretical background for this thesis. First, Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan English will be explored. This will be followed by an excursion into India, Indian English and Great Britain as well as British English. Schneider's Dynamic Model and Kachru's Three Circle Model will also be considered briefly. After that, intensifiers will be looked at in more detail and lastly, previous research concerning intensification will be presented.

2.1 Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan English

Sri Lanka is a small island state to the south of India. This island's rich history officially started in 543 BC with the arrival of Prince Vijaya of Vanga Kingdom, which is known as Bengal today (The Mahavamsa, Web). However, cemeteries can be traced back to 600 BC and earlier, and the area of Sri Lanka also seems to have played an important role in prehistoric times.

Since its inception, Sri Lanka has had many names. It was known as Tambapanni when Prince Vijaya arrived on the island, which translates to “red soil” or “red-soiled hands”. According to legend, this was due to the fact that the prince was astounded at his followers' hands, which turned a deep copper colour due to the earth of the surrounding area. In Hindu mythology, the area is simply known as Lanka, “island”. When the Portuguese arrived in 1505, they called the island Ceilao, which was adapted to Ceylon by the British in 1796. Today, Sri Lanka has two names: Sri Lamka in the Sinhala language, Ilankai in Tamil language. The name Sri Lanka is Sanskrit, and means “honoured island” (The Mahavamsa, Web).

Over the course of its history, Sri Lanka was colonised a number of times. First, the Portuguese colonised it from 1505 to 1658, which was followed by the Dutch from 1658 to 1796. For a number of months in 1796, the French controlled Trincomalee Harbour. When the French left, the British Empire controlled Sri Lanka from 1796 until 1948, when Sri Lanka, then still known as Ceylon, gained its independence from the Crown (Central Intelligence Agency, Web). Finally, in 1972, Sri Lanka became a republic, and was ravaged by civil war from 1983 until 2009. Today, terrorist attacks are not unheard of, and the situation still has a lot of potential to improve. Simply put, Sri Lanka has not had a chance to truly evolve into its own from 1505, with the arrival of the Portuguese, until 1948, when it became independent from the Crown - it may even be said that 1972, when Sri Lanka chose its own name and became a republic, is the year when the people of Sri Lanka had the chance to reestablish their cultural heritage.

Today, 22.5 million people live in Sri Lanka. The official languages spoken are Sinhala, which is spoken by 87% of the population and Tamil, which is spoken by 28.5% of the population (Central Intelligence Agency, Web). English is regarded as a lingua franca, meaning that while it is not legally considered an official language, its status is still invaluable in areas such as the education sector. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, 23.8% of the population spoke English in 2012 (Central Intelligence Agency, Web), and numbers have grown since and can be expected to grow further in the future, due to Sri Lanka further opening up to tourism.

The variety of English spoken by Sri Lankans, which is called Sri Lankan English or SLE for short, has been regarded in a number of different contexts, for instance pronunciation, which was looked at by Manique Gunesekera in 2005 and lexis, which was looked at by Michael Meyler in 2007. The area of semantics was regarded by Janina Werner and Joybrato Mukherjee in 2012. Sri Lankan syntax was analysed by Tobias Bernaisch in 2015. Research opportunities abound and many researchers have contributed to the study of Sri Lankan English, as well as the study of intensifiers. However, what has not been done yet is a comparison between Sri Lankan English, Indian English and British English in regards to their use of intensification. This thesis strives to change that and close that particular research gap.

2.2 India, Indian English

India is a South-Asian country in close geographical proximity to Sri Lanka. Its history is just as rich as Sri Lanka's, dating back to 55,000 years ago, when the first humans arrived there, coming from Africa (Dyson 2018:1). During 2500-1900 BC, the first urban settlings came into fruition in what is today's Pakistan and West-India. 2000-500 BC marks the period during which the caste system, which is still prevalent in India today, was first implemented (2018:16). While Hinduism is the prevalent religion in India since as early as 1200 BCE (Dyson 2018:14-15), with 79.8% of the population following the religion today, Buddhism has been a part of India since 400 BCE (Fisher 2018:59). Today, 0.7% of the population are Buddhists. In medieval times, Christianity, Judaism and Islam became part of India (Ludden 2013:54). With 14.2% of the population following Islam, it is the second largest religion of the country. Christianity takes a third place with 2.3% of the population believing in it. To this day, India remains a place of great cultural and religious diversity.

Today, 1,4 billion people call India their home, making it one of the most populous countries of the world, often vying for the position of most populous place on earth with China. Geographically speaking, India is the seventh-largest country by area alone. Its capital is New Delhi, and the largest city of India is Mumbai. The official language of India is Hindi. English is considered a second official language according to the Constitution of India. However, in other sectors of the country, while not considered an official language per se, English still holds an important position, for instance in the sectors of education and business.

At first glance, India shares quite a few similarities with Sri Lanka: Most prevalently, both were colonised by the British Empire. In India's case, however, this began in 1858 and ended in 1947. The peaceful protest and nonviolent resistance which led to India's freedom was led most prominently by Mahatma Gandhi (Marshall 2001:179). While this time-frame seems short, it should be noted that the presence of English in India dates back to December 31, 1600 (Kachru 1983:19), when Elizabeth I founded the British East India Company for trading purposes.

Indian English, like Sri Lankan English, has been explored extensively by previous researchers. Braj Kachru, in 1965, asked how ‘Indian' Indian English still was; in 1966, he also contextualised the variety into broader language research. This early date suggests just how relevant Indian English has been for many years. The syntax of Indian English was investigated in 1973 by Shivendra K. Verma. In 1979, Paroo Nihalani, R.K. Tongue and Riya Hosali looked at British English in conjunction with Indian English. Generally speaking, the two varieties are often looked at in comparison due to their mutual history. In more recent times, this history is used in interesting ways - in 2015, Sujata S. Kathpalia investigated the use of ‘Hinglish', a mixture of Hindi and English, in advertisements.

The main argument that can be made as to why Indian English and Sri Lankan English should be studied together is that they are both connected on a cultural level and through colonial history. This could mean that they are similar in their approach to the study of the English language, i.e. it could mean that the learners of English would gravitate mostly to British English. Moreover, both use English as a lingua franca and are thus connected through second-language acquisition.

However, if that is the case, the acquisition of linguistic phenomena, such as intensifiers, should be the same or similar for both Indian and Sri Lankan learners of English - after all, both have been influenced the longest by the British colonial rule.

It will be interesting to see if both states have embraced or repulsed this linguistic influence - or even if it does exist at all.

2.3 Great Britain, British English

In 2011, 61 million people lived in Great Britain. The region was first mentioned by Aristotle in the period from 350 to 200 BC. The philosopher called it Albion, from the Latin word for white, Albus. Although the exact reason for the name is unknown, he apparently named it thus after the white cliffs of Dover (Snyder 2003:12). The term Great Britain was first used in 1474 during an exchange between James III of Scotland and Edward IV of England.

Great Britain has been a political powerhouse for many centuries. Its rich history of royalty and thirst for power still fascinates millions today. More recently, the Brexit incident caused more negative publicity for the island. The system of royalty seems outdated to many people around the world, as well. However, today's events differ greatly from the once so-powerful state. The British Empire, which was established by Henry VII of England around 1496, held power over many colonies and greatly influenced these states for many years. Two of the examples are Sri Lanka, which was colonised from 1796 to 1948 and India, which was colonised from 1858 to 1947. Other former British colonies include states in the Caribbean such as Barbados, which was colonised from 1627, and Jamaica, which was annexed from Spanish reign in 1655.

By 1913, the British Empire had established itself as the biggest empire to ever have existed. It covered twenty-five percent of the land surface of the world and held control over many more territories through trade (The National Archives, Web).

While experts disagree on the exact reason for the fall of the empire, the BBC states that World War II and the financial expenses undertaken throughout colonialism took its toll on the empire. When India broke free from the crown, a domino effect took most other colonial countries with it. Today, only a few domains, such as Bermuda and the Falkland Islands, remain under British control. Other states, such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, accept Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state (BBC, Web).

It can be argued that the Commonwealth, which unites Great Britain with some of its former colonies, retains some of the British influence on once colonised states - although in an arguably much more benevolent manner. While it is certain that colonialism harmed the countries that were colonised, a few good things were established, as well. Most importantly, economic developments on the one hand, and a mutual connection through language and cultural aspects on the other. The influence of colonialism holds true for both sides, and Indian cuisine for instance is a fixture of British culture today. Naturally, positive developments do not overshadow the harm done to the colonised, but this mutual influence may be able to create a world of better understanding and a more diverse, more globalised world than it is even today.

In today's globalised world, English is a language of many facets. There is no ‘one' English, and while the Englishes are often categorised according to their relevance in global terms, no variety is inherently ‘better' than another. It can be argued, however, that British English is one of the more prestigious varieties: When asking people which dialect of English they like, British English is certainly one of the first that comes to mind.

The British English that is spoken today derives from Old English, which was brought to the island by Anglo-Saxon settlers from the mid fifth century on. Scots and Welsh, as well as Scottish Gaelic, are also spoken by many people on the island. Today, British English is one of the most well-known varieties of English, alongside American English. This variety of the British Isle in general, and more specifically of England, has influenced the world greatly and will certainly continue to do so in the future.

2.4 Schneider Dynamic Model

Edgar Schneider's Dynamic Model describes five phases, or stages, of a language developing from the first contact between coloniser and colonised to a variety of English independent of, but highly influenced by, the former colonising state. The five stages that a variety has to go through in order to become an independent variety are the following: Foundation, exonormative stabilisation, nativization, endonormative stabilisation, and differentiation.

“In the foundation phase, English speakers settle in a previously non-English- speaking territory” (Mukherjee 2007:161). In this first stage, language overlap is minimal, expect for the names of places, which are often adapted into the colonising language due to practical necessity. The mutual linguistic contact increases in the second stage, exonormative stabilisation, which also leads to the colonised learning the language of the coloniser. This contact leads to “a new identity”, as the two languages “become more and more intertwined” (2007:161). This stage is also identified by a dichotomy among the native English speakers: Some adapt indigenous words and phrases into their vocabulary, while others struggle against this perceived ‘impurity' of language.

Interestingly, it is not possible to transition from this third stage of nativization to stage four, endonormative stabilisation, without “some exceptional, quasi- catastrophic political event” (Schneider 2003:250) or, at the very least, political independence from the colonising party. In the case of the event, which Schneider calls “Event X”, phase four is reached later than it would be through independence alone. Once the phase has been reached, new grammars, dictionaries and literature emerge. “In phase 4, the homogeneity of the local norms, serving as positively evaluated carriers of a local identity, tends to be emphasised, which is usually mirrored in nation-based labels for the new variety (“X English”—e.g., Indian English)” (Mukherjee 2007:163).

Naturally, in the case of Sri Lankan English, the label indicates that this variety of English has reached phase four, as well. Both states reached independence from the British crown at a similar date: Sri Lanka in 1947, India in 1948. However, the British reign over India was much shorter than the reign over Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka was influenced by a much more diverse number of states. In both cases, no “Event X”, no catastrophic event, was needed for the independence of the states. Gandhi's peaceful protest was used in order to help India, and by extension Indian English come into its own. While Sri Lanka is still ravaged by civil war today, its independence was reached by peaceful means.

The Schneider Dynamic model is especially interesting for studies involving former colonised - or colonising - states because it regards cultural change from an objective standpoint. The model appreciates that occurrences such as a civil war and colonialism do not pass a culture by without leaving a linguistic mark. Rather than looking at colonisation from a purely critical viewpoint, Edgar Schneider appreciates that good things can come from it: Namely, a linguistic identity that is influenced by a diverse number of sources.

Intensifiers, while only a small part of a language, nevertheless help establish a variety's identity. Thus, the Schneider Dynamic Model as well as Braj Kachru's Three Circle Model and the ideas behind them are highly relevant for the topics investigated over the course of this thesis.

2.5 Kachru's Three Circle Model

This section discusses the Three Circle Model by Braj Kachru. The model is often named alongside Edgar Schneider's Dynamic Model when investigating varieties of English.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Image source: Kachru, B.B. (1992). “Teaching World Englishes” in B.B. Kachru (ed.). 356.

When studying English varieties influenced by colonial history, the Kachru Three Circle Model is named alongside Edgar Schneider's Dynamic Model. While the Schneider Dynamic Model considers the effects of colonialism on both colonisers and colonised, the Three Circle Model, which was created in 1988 by Braj Kachru, distinguishes between three realms, or circles, of varieties of English - hence the name - which he considered to be either “norm-providing” or “norm-developing”.

For this thesis, it is especially interesting to consider the UK, norm-providing member of the Inner Circle, in contrast to the norm-developing Outer Circle states Sri Lanka and India. The Expanding Circle, which Kachru considered to adapt to the norm provided by the other two circles, will be set aside; while just as important in its own right, no country of this circle was analysed via the data at hand.

Kachru's model classified the Outer Circle countries as such due to their colonial history. The countries in this circle are also said to challenge the norms provided to them by the norm-providing countries: This relates to Schneider's model; after breaking free from colonisation in phase three, the countries develop their own variety of English (“X English”) in phase four. They no longer speak British English, but Indian English, Sri Lankan English or Nigerian English, to name just a few.

The most important similarity between the two models is their focus on the colonial history of countries. Places where this colonisation did not take place are part of the Expanding Circle, which Kachru considered to only rarely speak English and thus to provide no new norms for the language. However, the Three Circle Model is not without its faults. While British English exists, so do dialects and sub-categories of this variety; otherwise, every single person on the British Isle would speak the exact same language variety, which is not the case. Of course, this can be said for the other Inner Circle countries as well: Speakers differ in their language, no matter if from the UK, US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. Proficiency is also vastly ignored for this model: Being a native speaker does not make a person automatically perfect in their language, while being a non-native speaker does not mean that a speaker cannot learn a language flawlessly.

When considering the countries under investigation for this thesis, the idea that norms are challenged by Indian English and Sri Lankan English can be adapted to the concept of intensification quite easily. If this idea holds true, intensification between the three varieties should differ extensively.

2.6 Intensifiers

In this section, intensifiers will be defined linguistically, researchers' opinions on their usage and function will be presented and, lastly, previous research will be looked at in-depth.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines an intensifier as “a word, especially an adverb or adjective, that has little meaning itself but is used to add force to another adjective, verb, or adverb” (Cambridge English Dictionary, Web). What is interesting about intensifiers is that while they have been studied extensively, researchers seem to disagree both on what exactly to call them, and on how to categorise them.

Examples of intensifiers are ‘really', ‘very', ‘totally' and ‘so', ‘bloody' and ‘completely'. ‘Pretty', on the other hand, can be used as both an amplifier and a downtoner. The Oxford English Dictionary, however, defines it as “qualifying an adjective or adverb: to a considerable extent; fairly, moderately; rather, quite. In later use also: very” (Romero 2012:8), which is why it will be considered an intensifier for the scope of this study.

Examples of intensifier usage include:

(1) “I was very happy when you called me.”
(2) “That movie was really good.”
(3) “I love you so much.”

For Rika Ito and Sali Tagliamonte as well as Brona Murphy, two main features constitute the nature of intensifiers, namely “versatility and colour” and “constant change” (Ito and Tagliamonte 2003: 258; Murphy 2010: 112). This “versatility and colour” implies that intensifiers' and downtoners' own lack of meaning enables them to adopt nuances in meaning depending on the context in which they are used. Intensifiers such as damn and bloody, for example, still retain their lexical meaning of ‘cursed' and ‘bloodied', both of which hold a negative connotation. However, this does not mean that the two intensifiers are used exclusively in a negative context - in fact, many examples such as “bloody amazing” and “damn good” come to mind, which express a positive opinion.

According to Hermien Wittouck, “the case of the intensifier terribly is a good example to illustrate that intensifiers regularly lack a single fixed meaning, and are characterised by flexibility” (2010:22). Furthermore, the ever-changing nature of intensifiers is due to the fact that “the old ones are felt to be inadequate to the expression of the idea of completeness of a quality, or of a quality to the very highest degree of which it is capable under the circumstances” (Stoffel 1901:2). Terribly or awfully, bloody or fucking, for instance, still retain a stronger connotation than very, which makes them fit to use when meaning needs to be expressed especially strongly. “While intensifiers such as really, very, pretty, and fairly are all intensifiers conveying a relatively neutral meaning of intensification, damn, bloody and fucking still have to go through different stages of delexicalisation before they can become truly neutral” (Wittouck 2010:38).

The second feature of intensifiers next to versatility and colour, is the tendency towards constant change and recycling of different forms in new contexts (Ito and Tagliamonte 2003:258; Murphy 2010:112; Tagliamonte 2007:362). This rapid change is caused by the weakening of the meaning of intensifiers over time. Intensifiers lose their lexical meaning with more frequent usage. This process is called delexicalisation. Delexicalisation is defined as “the reduction of the independent lexical content of a word, or group of words, so that it comes to fulfil a particular function” (Partington 1993:183).

The most well-known intensifier, very, “derived from Latin verus through Old French verrai and Middle English verra, all with a modal meaning of ‘tru(ly), truthful(ly)'” (Lorenz 2002:145-146). Pretty, on the other hand, “originally meant ‘cunning' or ‘crafty', and in a later stage it evolved towards a more positive meaning of ‘clever' and ‘skillful'” (Rissanen 2008:345; Fries 1940:201). Lastly, d amn “is a taboo intensifier originally meaning “accursed” or “condemned”” (Fries 1940:203). Today, very more so than any other intensifier has become what Cornelis Stoffel calls an “empty word” or “colourless intensive” (1901: 33).

Charles C. Fries (1940:204-5) divided intensifiers used in American English into “standard” as opposed to “vulgar” forms, with very attributed to “standard” English and others, such as pretty, real and so, to “vulgar” English. Today, it can be assumed that all of these varieties would be considered “standard” English, while the taboo intensifiers (bloody, fucking) may still be considered part of “vulgar” English.

In 1901, Cornelis Stoffel coined the terms ‘intensives' and ‘downtoners', making him the first person to distinguish between the two - thereby establishing scientifically that ‘quite good' and ‘really good' do not, in fact, have the same connotation and meaning. Dwight Bolinger, in 1972, named intensifiers ‘degree adverbs'. He also categorised these degree adverbs into four categories: ‘Boosters', such as e.g. completely, ‘compromisers' such as ‘rather' and ‘quite' and ‘diminishers', such as ‘partially'. He also included ‘minimizers', such as ‘barely' (1972:17).

After him, Axel Huebler, in 1983, used the terms ‘intensifiers' for words such as ‘very' and ‘really' and ‘detensifiers' for words like ‘quite' (1983:68). Quirk et al. agree with Stoffel's categorisation, but use the term ‘amplifier' instead of ‘intensive' (Quirk et al. 1985: 445). They also, like Cornelis Stoffel, make a distinction between “amplifiers” and “downtoners” (1985: 445). “Amplifiers” can replace “maximizers” when they indicate “an endpoint on a scale,” as pointed out by Biber et al. (2007: 210). This category of intensifiers includes the varieties of “totally, absolutely, completely, and quite (in the sense of ‘completely')” (Biber et al. 2007: 210).

The second subtype of “amplifiers” are called “boosters”. They do not express an absolute degree; instead, they enhance the quality of a modified adjective (Quirk et al. 1985: 143). However, “boosters” in the sense used by Quirk et al. (1985: 590) are more generally defined as intensifiers which scale a degree upwards, but not to the highest degree, as defined by Bolinger (1972: 17). The third category distinguished by Quirk et al. is that of “downtoners,” which can take up the role of “approximators (almost), compromisers (more or less), diminishers (partly) and minimizers (hardly)” (Quirk et al. 1985: 590). The final three subcategories are identical to Bolinger's subclasses of compromisers, diminishers and minimizers. Douglas Biber et al., in 2007, went in a slightly different direction. Their established categories encompass 'intensives', ‘amplifiers' and ‘intensifiers' (2007:209).

It should be noted that in this study, only the terms “intensifiers” and “downtoners” will be used. This is strictly due to personal preference, and not meant to imply any sort of hierarchy for the terms used.

Words such as ‘quite' and ‘rather', often also ‘pretty', do not hold the same meaning as, for instance, ‘very' and ‘extremely'. They are what is often referred to as ‘downtoners', and are “employed to take off the edge of what might otherwise produce an unpleasant impression on the hearer, or to tone down the harshness of a statement” (Stoffel 1901: 129). As an example, a “rather stupid idea" is less harsh to the hearer than an “extremely stupid idea” - a “quite ugly woman” is less hurt (it can be assumed) than a “bloody ugly woman”. Of course, downtoners can be used in an intensified context - a ‘quite beautiful house' may, in fact, be ‘very beautiful' to the speaker, who just tries to not be overly excited - and thus, uses downtoners rather than intensifiers.

While the definition given by the Cambridge English Dictionary is rather simplistic, it is true that intensifiers have little meaning of their own. In fact, as established by the process of delexicalisation, the more frequently an intensifier is used, the less meaning of its own it holds. Nowadays, the intensifier very, for instance, is used in many genres and across all generations of speakers, although it is usually associated with older speakers due to its neutral nature. According to Charles C. Fries (1940:201) for contemporary American English, and Ulf Bäcklund (1973:290) for both contemporary British and American English, very is "the most frequently used function word of degree" (Fries 1940:201). Very has been used as an intensifier in English since the 15th century (Mustanoja 1960:327) and while many other intensifiers were created since then, it has yet to lose its position as the most popular intensifier.

In comparison, intensifiers such as “bloody”, “fucking” or to a lesser extent “damn” still hold a strong meaning of their own, which is why these more ‘taboo' forms are often associated with younger speakers. This observation also makes sense to Dwight Bolinger - he states that “in their nature [intensifiers] are unsettled”, which is why “degree words afford a picture of fevered invention and competition that would be hard to come by elsewhere” (Bolinger 1972:18). Bolinger also states that intensifiers “are the chief means of emphasis for speakers for whom all means of emphasis quickly grow stale and need to be replaced.” (1972:18).


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Adjective Intensification in South-Asian Varieties of English
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
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adjective, english, intensification, south-asian, varieties
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Michelle Blum (Author), 2020, Adjective Intensification in South-Asian Varieties of English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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