This corpus-based study of the use of expressions of future in English has two aims: to examine how certain expressions of future are used in Present-day English, and to explore how electronic corpora can be exploited for linguistic study.
The expressions focused on in this thesis are five auxiliary or semi-auxiliary verb phrases frequently discussed in studies of future reference in English: will, ’ll, shall, going to and gonna. The study examines the patterned ways in which the expressions are used in association with various linguistic and non-linguistic (or extra-linguistic) factors. The linguistic factors investigated are co-occurrence with particular words and co-occurrence with items of particular grammatical classes. The non-linguistic factors examined are medium (written vs. spoken), text category, speaker characteristics (age, sex, social class, etc.), region and time. The data for the study are exclusively drawn from computer-readable corpora of Present-day English. Corpus analyses are performed with automatic and interactive methods, and exploit both quantitative and qualitative analytical techniques.
The study finds that the use of these expressions of future varies with a number of factors. Differences between spoken and written language are particularly prominent and usage also varies between different types of text, both within spoken and written corpora. Variation between groups of speakers is also attested. Although the linguistic co-occurrence patterns are similar to some degree, there are nonetheless differences in the collocational patterns in which the expressions are used.
Methodological issues related to corpus-based studies in general are discussed in the light of the insights gained from this study of expressions of future.