University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


This study considers the spread of discourse like in Quebec English. Although several previous studies have examined the pragmatic functions and rate of use of like as a discourse marker, few consider its interaction with the syntactic structure and most focus solely on English-dominant communities. Thus, while D’Arcy (2005) has shown that this discourse feature is spreading systematically throughout the syntactic structure in apparent time in Toronto, it is unknown whether its evolution is as advanced in communities such as Quebec, where English is a minority language, isolated from mainstream varieties.

We analyze the rate of use of discourse like in three distinct structural contexts (CP, DP, and vP) by 39 native English speakers from the Quebec English Corpus (Poplack, et al., 2006). Speakers from both Montreal and Quebec City were included in this study since the degree of isolation from mainstream English is arguably greater in the latter. Internal grammatical factors and external factors are also analyzed.

The results show that while both Quebec City and Montreal speakers exhibit substantially lower rates than Toronto speakers in their use of like in each of the structural contexts examined, the internal conditioning of like in Quebec English is practically identical to that in Toronto English. These findings only partially support the hypothesis that these speakers’ isolation from mainstream English causes them to lag behind in ongoing change and highlight the complexity involved in the exploration of such a widespread and multifaceted phenomenon.