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Mikko Hoglund (University of Tampere)

Tough-Construction in British English Non-Fiction Texts 1550-1950. A case study of difficult


This paper examines constructions called tough, a term coined by Postal in his 1971 book Cross-Over Phenomena. In this study, a historical corpus of non-fiction British English texts is used to examine the use of tough-constructions (formerly tough-movement). A typical example of tough-construction is a sentence like

(a) John is tough to please.

In tough-constructions the grammatical subject is the logical object of the verb appearing in the infinitive clause. The derivation of tough-constructions has been a matter of debate for decades, but in this study the only assumption is that there is a certain group of adjectives that enter this construction and the derivation per se is out of the scope of this paper.
The adjective difficult is a typical and frequent tough-construction adjective and it is chosen for this case study to demonstrate tough-construction through centuries. The corpus utilised is compiled by PhD Mark Kaunisto and it covers 318 non-fiction texts written between 1550 and 1950. The overall word count is around 8.5 million words. The corpus is divided into eight periods of 50 years each and each period is examined one at a time using the search string “difficult to”. The string gives desired tough-constructions but also extraposed constructions (It is difficult to…), which bear a close relation to tough-constructions and this interrelationship is one of the focal points in the analysis. The output of the searches is analysed quantitatively and also qualitatively and the results presented. In addition, since the 50-year periods in the corpus are not comparable in size and number of authors, the methodology of comparing corpora of different compositions will also be discussed briefly.

Postal, Paul M. 1971. Cross-Over Phenomena. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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