“It’s Not That Big (Of) a Deal”: The Sociolinguistic Conditioning of Inverted Degree Phrases in Washington, DC

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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics
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This paper examines the significance of participant assigned acceptability ratings for the post-adjectival degree construction ADJ (of/0) NP. The majority of studies in sociolinguistic variation have investigated phonological variables, such as alveolarization of (ing) and reduction or deletion of (t/d). Studies on syntactic variation often examine multiple realizations of a variable or the distribution of several variables. However, we base our study on Rickford et al.’s (1995) finding that syntactic variables can also be successfully isolated. In the present study, we describe a current change in progress involving a previously unstudied syntactic variable: post-adjectival (of) in degree constructions such as “It’s not that big (of) a deal.” We analyzed 3,600 tokens collected from 150 participants in the Washington, DC, area, and found significance in participant age, participant ethnicity, and the linguistic conditioning of the phrase, all affecting the acceptability rating given to the construction. Most notably, we found that acceptability of (of) is negatively correlated with age. The younger participants showed a strong preference for constructions with (of), whereas older informants overall preferred (0) constructions. Our findings suggest that this feature is part of an ongoing change in progress in Washington, DC.

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