Semantic patterns of HAVE been to V: Corpus data and elicited data

in English Corpus Linguistics: Looking back, Moving forward
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HAVE been to V metaphorically represents the performance of a recent past event (‘having just V-ed’) as round-trip motion to/from a destination (e.g. she has been to look at the garden). Data from seven corpora reveals that the construction is used to denote deliberate, goal-oriented, short-duration activities (e.g. buy a dress, pick up a chap), that it often expresses the meanings of ‘visually perceiving/experiencing (entertaining) events’ (e.g. watch quite a few games) or ‘paying a visit’ (e.g. meet his bankers), and that it strongly correlates with the verb see. Questionnaire data collected from 11 native English speakers shows that the construction typically represents errands (e.g. look for him; get a hair cut) – possibly involving exchanges of information or goods/services (e.g. ask about that trip to Naples; book our seats) – and generally, but not systematically, prefers the encoding of deliberate telic events (e.g. say a prayer). The findings suggest that HAVE been to V expresses the general notion of ‘coming back from getting something done at a previous location’, since it is associated with contexts relevant to the representation of errands. Also, its frequent encoding of the specific notions of ‘visiting someone’ or ‘watching something (for fun)’ can be motivated with reference to the errand-like nature of these activities, whose performance requires – by default – a temporary change of location. Therefore, the elicited data hints at the wide semantic scope of the construction, while the corpus data highlights its prototypical meaning.

English Corpus Linguistics: Looking back, Moving forward

Papers from the 30th International Conference on English Language Research on Computerized Corpora (ICAME 30). Lancaster, UK, 27-31 May 2009


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