ALEXANDRA D’ARCY, Christchurch
Canadian English as a Window To the Rise of Like In Discourse
1. Introduction
Both the uses and the users of like in discourse have received a growing amount of
attention over the past two and half decades. This attention has not been restricted to
linguistics, but has appeared in an array of contexts, from mainstream media sources
such as internet, television, and radio, to usage guides. What many of these discussions have in common is a finger pointed steadfastedly on younger speakers and an
insistence that like is used fairly haphazardly (e.g. Chapman 1986; Wilson 1987; Diamond 2000; Fought 2006; see also citations in Levey 2003). The question that must be
asked is whether it makes sense, linguistically-speaking, to assume that today's "unpliant young" (Wilson 1987, 92) should bear sole responsibility for this putatively random feature of the spoken vernacular? Presumably those who do use like did not invent it ex nihilo. The issue is all the more interesting when we consider that the discourse functions of like are ubiquitous across varieties of English. But why focus on
like in Canadian English when the lens is generally aimed at its neighbour to the
south? The answer is quite simple. The vernacular forms of like are shared by both
varieties and comparison of past research reveals regular trends across American and
Canadian Englishes (e.g. Schourup 1983; Underhill 1988; Blyth, Recktenwald, and
Wang 1990; Meehan 1991; Romaine and Lange 1991; Dailey-O'Cain 2000; Buchstaller 2001; Cukor-Avila 2002; Tagliamonte and D'Arcy 2004, 2007; D'Arcy 2005,
2006). Furthermore, the Toronto English Archive, housed in the Sociolinguistics
Laboratory at the University of Toronto, allows for apparent-time analysis of like
across the full age spectrum. This enables detailed examination of the rise of like
within a well-defined community, one which is representative of contemporary, urban
Canadian English. What we find is that like has been developing systematically in the
vernacular for as long as can be ascertained using apparent-time data, giving us a view
of how it has come to its current state of use. In other words, Canadian English provides a window to the rise of like in discourse, one that we can use to extrapolate to
other varieties and locales.
2. The Forest For the Trees
A central tenet of the variationist paradigm is that heterogeneity is an inherent aspect
of the linguistic system, and, like other aspects of the grammar, this variability is structured (Weinreich, Labov, and Herzog 1968). This notwithstanding, when used in the
ways demonstrated in (1), like has eluded traditional linguistic description, appearing
more ad hoc than systematic.
(1) a. Like if you're doing your undergrad, no big deal. Like it's not that bad, but like I'm in a
professional school. (N/f/26)1
All examples are drawn from the Toronto English Archive, housed in the Sociolinguistics Laboratory
at the University of Toronto. The parenthetical information following each example marks the subcorpus from which the datum was extracted, followed by the speaker's sex and age.
ALEXANDRA D’ARCY, Christchurch
b. Like the first hour I was like totally fine, like I wasn't like drunk. (3/m/18)
c. As long as they like try to like merge with Canadian culture […]. (I/m/22)
d. I remember there being like a solar eclipse. (I/f/29)
Not included in (1) is quotative be like, as in (2), or adverbial like, as in (3). The former serves the well-defined role of introducing constructed dialogue and can (more
than likely) be traced to American English during the late 1970s or early 1980s
(D'Arcy 2007; Tagliamonte and D'Arcy 2007). The latter represents a lexical replacement for about, functioning as an approximative adverb in the spoken vernacular
(D'Arcy 2006; see also Schourup 1983, 30 and Underhill 1988, 234). These two functions do not form part of the following discussion. The functions in (1), comprising
the discourse marker (1a) and the discourse particle (1b-d), are the focus of this chapter and are referred to here collectively as (discourse) like.
(2) a. I was like "Where do you find these people?" (I/f/19)
b. When you go there, you're like "Hi, how are you?" and talk to them and stuff like that.
c. And when I came home I'd be like "Yeah, I can't wait to go home."
And she's like "You are home, this is your home." (N/f/26)
(3) a. And usually it takes like fifteen minutes to get there. (3/f/12)
b. They're like sixteen feet long. (I/m/32)
c. He got to high-school when he was like twelve. (N/f/72)
Part of the difficulty in assessing possible constraints on like is the wide range of
surface constructions in which it appears. Media characterizations typically reference
discourse uses as random and 'anti-verbal': "[t]o the common ear, the word seems just
flung in" (Diamond 2000, 2; see also Fought 2006). In the linguistic literature, like has
been discussed in terms of "syntactic detachability and positional mobility" (Romaine
and Lange 1991, 261) and its ability to "occur grammatically anywhere in a sentence"
(Siegel 2002, 64). This is not to suggest that concerted efforts to pin down possible
conditions have not been made. Quite the contrary is true, and I am thinking in particular of work by Ross and Cooper (1979), Underhill (1988), and Andersen (2001).
Focusing on its functions as focus particle and pausal interjection, Ross and Cooper
argue that like opens a constituent that dominates the focused element (1979, 349). In
a similar vein, Underhill suggests that like is "closely rule-governed" because "it always or nearly always introduces a constituent" (1988, 243). Taking a somewhat different approach, Andersen (2001, 275) argues that the position of like is dependent on
phrase type. For example, like is more likely to occur before a determiner than a head
noun, but in the case of verb phrases, it typically appears immediately before the head.
What all three analyses hold in common is the view that like is associated with the left
periphery of the element over which it scopes. I return to this point below. However,
as a syntactic category, the constituent is generic and vague (see, e.g., Adger 2003,
64), while Andersen's Principle of Lexical Attraction seems stipulative rather than
systematic. Moreover, in the case of Underhill (1988) and Andersen (2001), no consideration is given to the places where like does not occur; the focus is strictly on
those in which it appears. The end result is a compilation of syntagmatic combinatorial
possibilities (e.g. like can appear before or within a noun phrase, before or within a
verb phrase, before or within a prepositional phrase, before an adverb, etc.). Such an
approach places emphasis on token types, but provides neither a motivation nor an
explanation for the patterns – attested, unattested, and even unattestable2 – found in
natural language data. At the same time, it brings descriptions of like full circle in that
we are left with a snapshot of the places like appears in sentence structure, the same
apparently unsystematic view with which we began.
The possibility of order and systematicity in the discursive uses of like has been
further obfuscated by concentrated attention on specific subsections of the population,
generally preadolescents and adolescents, or, in the rare case, young adults (e.g. Underhill 1988). Miller and Weinert (1995), for example, considered the use of like by
preadolescents in the 8 to 13 year old age-bracket, Siegel (2002) used her 15 year old
daughter's high-school friends as informants, and Andersen (1997, 1998, 2000, 2001)
relied on the Bergen Corpus of London Teenage Language (COLT), which consists of
data from teenagers aged 13 to 17. Thus, while a number of researchers have considered quotative be like (2) from a generational perspective (e.g. Ferrara and Bell 1995;
Cukor-Avila 2002; Buchstaller 2004, 2006; Barbieri 2007; Tagliamonte and D'Arcy
2007) and D'Arcy (2006) examined approximative adverbial like in apparent-time,
analyses of like as a discourse marker and particle have largely ignored older speakers.
A notable exception to this trend is Dailey-O'Cain (2000), though her focus was attitudinal rather than distributional. Even Buchstaller (2001), which provides a perspective
on the use of discourse like within a single family, is limited to one college-age woman
and three middle-aged adults (late 40s to mid 50s). In sum, the investigative focal
point has been speakers who are believed to be the primary – if not the sole – users of
like. The underlying assumption seems to be that like is simply age-graded slang that
disappears from the vernacular when it is no longer age-appropriate. The drawback to
this perspective is that until adolescents are seen in relation to older segments of the
population, patterns of use among those who are purported to use like cannot be contextualized. This is a point that bears directly on issues of language change, stability,
and age grading, as well as those surrounding our understanding of the genesis of like
in discourse.
Discourse like is not, in fact, a recent innovation. Grammarians and language
commentators have been remarking on like since at least the first half of the nineteenth
century (e.g. De Quincey 1840-41, 224; Robinson 1876, 76; Jespersen 1942, 417) and
it was used by the first generation of native New Zealanders born in the period from
1851 to 1919 (D'Arcy 2007). Today it is used by septa- and octagenarians living in
isolated, rural towns and villages in England, Ireland, and Scotland (D'Arcy 2005,
2007; Tagliamonte to appear). In North America, like has been associated with both
the jazz, cool, and Beat groups of New York City during the 1950s and 1960s (see
Andersen 2001, 216, and references therein; also Chapman 1986, 259) and the California Valley Girls of the 1980s (Dailey-O'Cain 2000). Thus, despite the perception of
newness, like is anything but.3 Contemporary youth have not invented discourse like;
they got it from somewhere and they learned to use it from someone.
For this distinction, see Hyman 2001.
See Buchstaller and Traugott (2006) for discussion of adverbial all (e.g. John is all wet), another longstanding feature of English that is considered new due to its association with the genuinely innovative
form quotative be all. The same process is likely at work here, with quotative be like drawing a perceptual generalization of recent innovation across all discourse uses of like (see D'Arcy 2007).
ALEXANDRA D’ARCY, Christchurch
As such, let us assume orderly heterogeneity (Weinreich et al. 1968, 100). There is
a variable grammar for like and speakers who use like have acquired that grammar. In
short, it is time to stop looking at the trees and figure out where the forest came from.
How did like, in its present state, come to be?
3. Methodological Considerations
3.1. Data and Method
The current discussion draws on corpus data from a large archive of informal, spoken
English. The materials were collected in Toronto, Canada in the period between 2002
and 2004, using a combination of quota-based random sampling and social networking.4 The full archive comprises over 350 hours of casual conversational data with
speakers between the ages of 9 and 92, all of whom were born and raised in the city;
the sample used for the current analysis is outlined in Table 1.
Table 1: The Toronto English Sample
Toronto presents an ideal context in which to examine contemporary urban vernacular usage. The city has the largest metropolitan population in Canada. In the
broader North American context, it is fourth largest: in the U.S. only New York, Los
Angeles, and Chicago have larger populations (WorldAtlas.Com 2006). Although the
national varieties of Canada and the U.S. differ in a number of respects, the Toronto
English Archive is taken here to represent North American English more generally on
the basis of two factors. One, as noted in the introduction, there is striking consistency
across observations about discourse like regardless of geographic locale (e.g. Schourup 1983; Underhill 1988; Meehan 1991; Romaine and Lange 1991; Dailey-O'Cain
2000; D'Arcy 2005, 2006). Two, models of spatial diffusion highlight the crucial role
of cities in the spread of linguistic features (Trudgill 1974; Bailey, Wilke, Tillery, and
Sand 1994; Labov 2003). It is typically the case that new forms spread hierarchically
from an originating centre. Although some changes are seemingly arrested by national
boundaries (e.g. the Northern Cities Shift), others are not (e.g. uvular (r) in Europe;
For discussion of the design and construction of the individual corpora within the Toronto English
Archive, see Tagliamonte and D'Arcy (2004) and Tagliamonte (2006).
Trudgill 1974). Discourse like belongs to this second category.
Methodologically, the analytical approach of the current discussion differs from
previous research on like in three crucial respects. First, the age range in Table 1 enables an apparent-time perspective of like use in which not just younger speakers are
accounted for, but rather, all age cohorts from age 10 through 87 are included. Second,
I carefully circumscribe the variable context according to structural diagnostics within
functional domains. That is, rather than looking only at those places where like appears (e.g. before a noun phrase), the structure of individual syntactic complexes becomes the key heuristic. The question then becomes: What does it mean for like to be
before a noun phrase as opposed to being within one? As will be shown, examining
like in this way has important ramifications for uncovering its developmental trajectory in the vernacular. The third methodological difference falls out from the third:
both contexts where like does and does not appear are considered. The net result was
analysis of more than 20,000 tokens comprising seven syntactic contexts; the details
are provided in Table 2.
Table 2: Summary Of Data (D'Arcy 2005, 205)
Syntactic Domain
clausal: clause-initial
nominal: determiner phrase
adjectival: (predicate)
verbal: (light) verb phrase
DegP, AP
This methodology has been described in detail in D'Arcy (2005) and is too elaborate to repeat in full here. The crucial point is that the delimitation of the envelope of
variation along syntactic parameters allows for objective analysis of like following the
principle of accountability (Labov 1972, 72). Occurrences of like are contrasted with
whatever form with which they may alternate in any given context, including other
discourse markers (you know, well) as well as nothing. Exemplification is provided in
(4), which illustrates the matrix level, clause-initial context.
(4) a. Ø Nobody said a word.
Like my first experience with death was this Italian family. (N/f/82)
b. Ø I love Carrie.
Like Carrie's like a little like out-of-it […]
Like she's a space-cadet. (3/f/18)
c. You know, like the people were very, very friendly.
You know, Ø we'd sit out in the park [...]. (N/f/60)
d. Ø We used to go to these crazy after-hour bars.
Like you know, transvestites and all the strippers were there. (N/m/26)
e. And Ø my other cat always sleeps,
and like we almost never see him. (3/m/11)
f. Like it's not that bad,
but like I'm in a professional school. (N/f/26)
This approach offers a unique perspective on the use of like in the community and
exposes details previously unavailable for consideration.
ALEXANDRA D’ARCY, Christchurch
3.2. Discourse Markers vs. Discourse Particles
Before continuing, it is important to clarify what is both a theoretical and terminological distinction between discourse markers, as in (1a) and (4), and discourse particles,
as in (1b-d).
Markers tend to occur in clause-initial position where they bracket elements of talk
(e.g. Schiffrin 1987, 31). Such bracketing may be local, linking contiguous utterances
(1a), but discourse markers can also function globally, linking non-contiguous
stretches of discourse (see Schiffrin 1992). Their function is thus textual, as they relate
the current utterance to prior discourse by signaling exemplification, clarification,
elaboration, etc. (see Fraser 1988, 1990; Traugott 1997 [1995]; Brinton 1996, 2006).
In this respect discourse markers are "essential to the rhetorical shape of any argument
or narrative" (Traugott and Dasher 2005, 154) and because they are interactional signposts, Schiffrin (1987) refers to them as discourse deictics. Other English markers
include so, then, and well, as well as parentheticals such as I/you know, I guess, and I
think (Traugott and Dasher 1995; Brinton 1996). In fact, as exemplified in (5), these
last can often be felicitously substituted for like without affecting the epistemic stance
of the utterance.
(5) a. Like one of my cats meows so much,
'cause like he's really picky and everything. (3/m/11)
b. I mean one of my cats meows so much,
'cause you know he's really picky and everything.
Structurally, both Kiparsky (1995, 140-141) and Traugott (1997 [1995], 6) have
argued that markers occupy a specific syntactic slot: they adjoin to the left periphery
of CP, the functional projection that dominates the clause (i.e. clause-initial position,
(1a), (4) and (5)). In other words, discourse markers are considered to be adjuncts.
Treating them in this way (as opposed to, for example, the head of their own functional category) has repercussions for the analysis presented here. In the architecture
of the Minimalist framework (Chomsky 1995, 2000, 2001), adjunction occurs at the
phrasal level (i.e. XP). By defining the variable context for like along structural parameters, for example AP or NP, the adjunction site is implicationally assumed to be
the maximal projection heading each structure.
Particles have functions that are primarily interpersonal, such as marking focus or
the speaker's epistemic stance toward the utterance, aiding cooperative aspects of
communication (e.g. checking or expressing understanding), and generating a sense of
sharing or intimacy between interlocutors (Östman 1982; Schourup 1983, 1999; Schiffrin 1987; Andersen 1997, 2001). Indeed, given that interactions in which particles are
not used can be perceived as unnatural, awkward, dogmatic, or even unfriendly (Brinton 1996, 35), their discourse saliency is quite high.5 Among the pragmatic functions
proposed for like, the most frequent include pausal interjection (Schourup 1983),
focus (Underhill 1988), and non-equivalence between form and intention (Schourup
1983; Andersen 1997, 1998, 2001). Structurally, like as a particle occurs in clause5
See also Dailey-O'Cain (2000) for positive solidarity ratings for like guises as opposed to non-like
internal positions.
In sum, discourse markers and discourse particles are differentiated here with regard to both pragmatic function and syntactic position: markers have textual functions
and occur in clause-initial position, particles have interpersonal functions and occur in
positions other than clause-initial. A similar distinction is made by Andersen (2001,
275), who differentiates between clause-external contexts (i.e. the marker) and clauseinternal contexts (i.e. the particle). Why is this important? That is, why not collapse
the marker and the particle as a monolithic entity? There are two reasons. One, a
growing body of work concentrates on the development of discourse markers (e.g.
Traugott 1997 [1995]; Brinton 2005, 2006, and references therein), and two, as will
be seen here, there is evidence that long before like functioned as a particle, it was a
marker (see D'Arcy 2007 for more elaborated evidence to this end). The basic argument is that the starting point for discourse uses of like was the left edge of CP, where
like functions as a discourse marker, and lower projections, where like functions as a
discourse particle, gradually came available through generalization. If we follow this
through, we find that the current state of like, where it appears in a variety of syntactic
positions, has arisen systematically. In other words, there is nothing haphazard about
like use at all.
4. Looking Through the Apparent-Time Window
As just discussed, there has been a recent focus on discourse markers as well as claims
that they adjoin to syntactic structure in a specific (and historically long-standing)6
position. Moreover, a number of authors have noted that like is highly frequent in
clause-initial position (e.g. Underhill 1988; Romaine and Lange 1991; Andersen
2001). In Andersen (2001, 273), for example, one third of all tokens occur in this
position. These points combine to make the marker, and therefore the CP context, an
appropriate point of departure for an accountable, and structurally delimited, analysis
of discourse like.
An analytical advantage of examining like from a syntactic perspective is that it allows for distinctions between different levels of structure. In the case of the CP, this
means that matrix and subordinate clauses can be treated separately. The examples in
(4) illustrate matrix structures. There are two types of subordinate structures: embedded complement clauses, as in (6), and various types of adjunct clauses, such as those
in (7) and (8).
(6) a. He couldn't believe [that like he's held all this animosity]... (I/m/22)
I think [that like there's been a desire instilled in me]. (I/f/21)
But then I was really lucky [that like it was starting to go down].
(7) a. Like one of my cats meows so much ['cause like he's really picky and everything].
b. I'm going to go buy Canadian stuff ['cause like I'm proud to be Canadian]. (2/m/15)
c. It's weird [because like you didn't really fit in the Black group]. (I/f/21)
(8) a. [Like when I first heard that] I was still teaching. (N/m/64)
b. So I get it all done [like when I get home]. (3/f/17)
See Kiparsky (1995).
ALEXANDRA D’ARCY, Christchurch
c. [Like if you drive up Elgin or Arnold or whatever] there was just always these big
monster homes. (I/f/21)
d. There's still some [like if you go up on Kipling]. (I/m/40)
Note the position of like relative to the left periphery of the clause in these examples. In (4) and (8), like is adjoined immediately on the left edge of the clause. This is
canonical CP-adjunction.7 In (6) and (7), however, a different pattern is exhibited: like
cannot be adjoined to CP because it appears to the right of the element in the head of
CP (i.e. (be)cause and that), on the immediate left of the subject. That such should be
the case at first seems odd: because and that occupy the same slot as do if and when
(also after, while, until, etc.). Moreover, these are categorical patterns in the data.
This is where the perspective afforded by apparent-time is particularly helpful, as
it helps shed light on what has happened. Figure 1 tracks the frequency of like as a
discourse marker in the three contexts illustrated above: on the left periphery of matrix
CPs (4), on the left periphery of subordinate CPs (8), and in the position illustrated in
(6) and (7), which I suggest is the left periphery of TP, the functional projection that
hosts the subject and which dominates all verbal projections (Pollock 1989).
The results in figure 1 reveal that like is already established on matrix clauses
among the oldest generation of Torontonians sampled here, speakers in their eighties.
In contrast, neither the subordinate CP context nor the other subordinate context is
established among this same group of speakers: like never occurs in these positions. In
fact, like does not occur on subordinate CPs until the 60 year olds, while the first time
like is used in the other subordinate position, what I suggest is TP, is among the 40
year olds. In all cases, the apparent-time trajectory is one of regular, incremental increases in frequency among subsequent age groups.8
In sum, figure 1 suggests that as a discourse marker, the use of like with subordinate clauses is a later development, one that follows its use with matrix clauses by a
number of decades. Among eighty year olds, like occurs on matrix CPs at a rate of 8%
overall (N = 299). To put this in context, the overall distribution of all other discourse
markers combined in this age group is just 11%. In other words, like accounts for
nearly half of discourse marker use by the octogenarians in this data set, providing
compelling evidence that it is already fairly robust on matrix CPs among the oldest
speakers in the community. That like should first target matrix clauses is consistent
with what is already known about the development of discourse markers more generally (see, e.g., Traugott 1997 [1995]; Brinton 2005, 2006): the first place they appear
is on the left edge of sentences, adjoined to CP. Since most matrix clauses are initial, it
Adjunction can apply iteratively, but unlike adverb interpolation, it is not required to follow a fixed
hierarchy. As such, when like co-occurs with other discourse markers, as in (4c,d), the linear relationship of the markers vis-à-vis one another is not predicted to follow any particular order. That is, you
know like (4c) is no more probable than like you know (4d), a fact that is reflected by the marker collocations in the current data set (e.g. I mean like/like I mean, etc.). In contrast, the syntagmatic order
of like and conjunctions is fixed: like categorically follows the conjunction (see also Andersen 2001,
285). This too is predictable from structure, since in coordinate constructions, the conjunction is situated above the projection it conjoins. When CPs are conjoined and like marks the lower clause, as in
(4e,f), like will necessarily occur after the conjunction because the conjunction is hierarchically located above the CP level.
In contrast, the frequency of other discourse markers is constant across the sample (see D'Arcy 2005,
follows that the earliest and most established context for like as a marker will be matrix-level CPs. From here, like subsequently generalized to subordinate clauses, but it
did not target all embedded clauses evenly. It first spread to temporal and conditional
clauses of the type in (8), where it continues to adjoin to CP, only later spreading to
clauses of the type illustrated in (6) and (7), where it targets the lower functional projection, TP. In short, the evidence suggests a developmental trajectory of matrix CP to
subordinate CP to TP.
Fig. 1: Like In Apparent-Time: Discourse Marker
The question is, how and where do the clause-internal positions fit in, where like
functions interpersonally as a discourse particle? Figure 2 displays the apparent-time
distribution of like in four representative positions in the clause-internal context. DP,
exemplified in (9), is the functional projection that dominates noun phrases. NP, seen
in (10), is the lexical projection that contains the head noun. The light verb, νP, seen
in (11), is the functional projection that is located hierarchically between the tense
phrase (TP, which hosts auxiliaries and other functional categories in the verb phrase;
the subject is located in SpecTP) and the lexical verb projection. DegP, as in (12), is
the functional projection that subcategorizes for an adjective phrase (Abney 1987).
This latter context, AP, is not included in figure 2 due to the extremely low frequency
at which like occurs unambiguously on the left edge of the adjective. Nonetheless, a
few examples are given in (13), which can be contrasted with those in (12).
(9) a. Well you just cut out like a girl figure and a boy figure and then you'd cut out like a
dress or a skirt or a coat, and like you'd colour it. (N/f/75)
b. We stayed at like a motel. (N/f/76)
c. They didn't have windows. They had like a box. (N/m/62)
d. Then there's like a guy with like a bell and like a hood. (2/m/18)
(10) a. They didn't want to go to like a horrible crappy little like Firkin Bar or something like
that. (N/m/26)
b. They have this like energy you-know? (I/f/21)
c. Like there’s a lot of like house-boaters. (I/f/21)
d. We um bought some like treats for ourselves. (3/f/12)
(11) a.
They were like living like dogs. (N/m/52)
And they had like scraped her. (I/m/35)
I've like grown into that. (3/m/12)
Everyone is like calling stuff out. (I/m/22)
ALEXANDRA D’ARCY, Christchurch
e. They like to like intervene a lot. (3/m/18)
f. As long as they like try to like merge with Canadian culture. (I/m/22)
(12) a.
I've discovered new reading material which is like so interesting. (N/f/52)
Like I just thought it was like so small. (I/m/40)
They're like really quiet. (2/f/16)
Like my computer's like really damn slow. (2/m/15)
(13) a. I remember certain things that certain staff have done because they were just so incredibly like oblivious to their role. (I/f/29)
b. I get really like flabbergasted that they know the things that they know. (I/f/24)
c. My whole mouth was getting incredibly like dry. (3/m/18)
d. He's in rehab now and he's all like humble. (2/f/16)
e. Like the person who teaches it is really like nice. (2/f/12)
Fig. 2: Like In Apparent-Time: Discourse Particle
Figure 2 reveals that none of these contexts are attested among the eighty year
olds. However, beginning with speakers in their seventies, the first clause-internal
position to host like is the DP. The next projection to host like is DegP, where it first
occurs in the speech of the 65 year olds, followed shortly thereafter by the light verb
with the 50 year olds. Finally, among the 30 year olds, like begins to adjoin to NP. For
all contexts, however, regardless of the entry point in the apparent-time trajectory, the
frequency of like rises consistently across the generations. This same pattern was also
evident for like as a discourse marker in figure 1.
The perspective provided by apparent-time is thus one that shows quite clearly that
like did not come to its present state as a spontaneous innovation in the speech of
adolescents and young adults. Nor would it be fair to say that it is a strictly age-graded
feature of the vernacular: it is not restricted to any particular life-stage. It is true that in
all contexts, like is more frequent among younger speakers than it is among older
speakers, but crucially, its use is not isolated to any particular age group. Instead, we
see that once like begins to occur in any given context, it continues to do so: there is
continuity across apparent-time. In other words, there is a stability here that might not
have been expected. Were like a fairly ad hoc and random feature of discourse, there
would be no reason to suspect the kind of systematicity unveiled by the apparent-time
windows in figures 1 and 2, let alone the monotonic relationship between use and age
that is evident for each context tracked in this data set. The apparent-time data therefore reveal that although like may seem random, there has been nothing random about
its development as a pragmatic device. It has risen to its current state through regular,
step-wise development, consistent with change in progress.
5. The Rise Of Like In Discourse
Figure 3 abstracts away from issues of frequency, isolating the point at which each
context is first attested in the Toronto materials and after which it continues to occur in
the speech of subsequent generations. This layering of adjunction sites, which has
developed systematically in Canadian English over the past sixty-five years or so,
graphically demonstrates how like has arrived at its current state of use.
> 80
Fig. 3: Generalization of like across maximal projections: darker shading = marker; lighter
shading = particle (based on D'Arcy 2005, 209)
As discussed above, like is firmly entrenched as a marker on matrix CPs among
the oldest speakers in the sample, suggesting that this was the entry point for the discourse uses of like more generally. From here, the marker generalized to the periphery
of subordinate CPs before later spreading to the edge of TP. In the interim, however,
like began to work its way into the syntactic hierarchy as a particle, adjoining to
maximal projections below the clausal level. Its first target was the DP and from this
position it continued to spread deeper into the syntax, generalizing across other levels
of structure: DegP, νP, NP, AP.
These pathways are interesting in and of themselves, since it is clear that from
clause-external positions like generalized to clause-internal ones, and it did so incrementally rather than all at once. This suggests that there are grammatical imperatives
at work. However, the story is more complex than this. The ordering of the adjunction
sites is not random. Note the types of maximal projections targeted by like. CP, TP,
DP, DegP, and νP are all functional categories. NP and AP are lexical categories.
There are at least two distinct developmental pathways evidenced in the data. On the
one hand, there is generalization from higher functional projections to lower functional projections in the syntactic hierarchy. In the case of the marker, for example, we
see generalization from CP to TP. In the case of the particle, we see generalization
from DP to DegP to νP. On the other hand, there is generalization from the higher
functional projection to the lower lexical projection within a domain. In other words,
the lexical projections signify later stages of development. It is not a coincidence that
of the contexts examined here, NP and AP are the last two to appear (cf. figure 3).
Consider, for example, the nominal domain. DP first appears as a target for like adjunction among speakers in their seventies. Unambiguous evidence for adjunction on
the left edge of NP, however, does not appear until the thirty year olds. In other words,
ALEXANDRA D’ARCY, Christchurch
there is approximately a 40-year gap between adjunction on the functional projection
and adjunction on the lower lexical projection it dominates. Similarly, the difference
between DegP-adjunction and AP-adjunction is one of approximately 35 years: like
adjoins to DegP among speakers aged 65 years and below, but does not unambiguously occur on the edge of AP until speakers aged 29 and under.
This regularity, demonstrated so unequivocally by the pathways that emerge from
the apparent-time perspective, provide dramatic evidence that like was not a feature
that simply appeared ex nihilo in the vernacular. Quite the contrary is true. It has been
developing gradually and systematically as a feature of Canadian discourse for minimally the period we can track with this corpus, and it has done so following clear
grammatical imperatives. Add to this the observation that once like shows up in a
given context, that particular projection is firmly established as an adjunction site. In
other words, after like generalizes to a new projection, it not only continues to appear
in that position among successive generations, but its frequency steadily increases
across apparent-time.
What all of this points to is linguistic change, not age grading, not slang, and not
some trendy marker of youthfulness. In short, like is not a passing fad of the adolescent years. It is incontrovertible that younger speakers use like more frequently than
older speakers do (see also Dailey-O'Cain 2000, 66). It is also incontrovertible, however, that adolescents are not the sole users of like. Other age groups use it as well,
they simply do so at lower rates. In fact, while like does not occur in every context for
all age cohorts, it is nonetheless frequency rather than position that primarily differentiates a 15 year old from, for example, a 45 year old. This suggests that the someone
from whom younger speakers acquired like consists of older speakers and that the
somewhere from which they learned to use it was the community's variable grammar.
6. Concluding Remarks
At the outset of this chapter, I had asked if it made good linguistic sense not only to
attribute like to a narrowly circumscribed sector of the population, but also to assume
that its use is haphazard and unconstrained. A fundamental principle of language
change is that incoming forms will be most frequent among younger speakers, while
the variationist paradigm is based on the assumption that linguistic variability is structured. The apparent-time window of the present study has provided persuasive evidence that the answer to both aspects of this question is a resolute "no". Discourse like
is a relatively long-standing feature of Canadian vernacular speech.9 Despite appearances, it is not an ad hoc feature of the spoken language. The problem is that when we
take a snapshot of younger speakers alone, we literally cannot see the forest for the
trees. To get a true picture of what is going on in speech, it is necessary to step back
and take in a more panoramic view. The full community must be considered, oldest
speakers to youngest speakers. When we do that with a feature such as like, we discover that the current state of affairs represents the results of long-standing developments within the grammar. The synchronic state of like, where it surfaces in a broad
range of syntactic positions, did not emerge all at once as a fully-fledged system.
For more elaborated discussions of the history of like as a vernacular form in English, see Romaine
and Lange (1991, 270) and D'Arcy (2007).
Quite the contrary: it has developed systematically, projection by projection. In sum,
like has reached its current pattern of use in Canadian English via regular, step-wise
development; it is not a random discourse device of the inarticulate. That this is so for
this variety suggests that it is also the case for others, which may be at different stages
along the trajectory and which may, as a consequence, evidence fewer or possibly
more adjunction sites in vernacular use.
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