Dr Martin Schweinberger, Postdoc Research Fellow, School of Languages and Cultures

Dr Martin Schweinberger is trained in English linguistics, and works as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at School of Languages and Cultures. Dr Schweinberger studied at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and Universität Kassel where he graduated in 2008 with an MA in English Philology, Philosophy, and Psychology. After completig his MA, he remained in Kassel for a short while but soon moved to Hamburg where he worked on and later received a PhD in English linguistics. During his time in Hamburg, he specialized in corpus linguistics and quantitative, computational analyses of language data.

After his PhD he worked as a lecturer or research assistant in English Studies institutes at several universities (Universität Hamburg, Universität Kassel, Freie Universität Berlin, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald, and the Leuphana Universität Luneburg). Before starting at UQ, he worked as a Project Leader/Principal Investigator of the VowelChartProject in the Language Technology Group of the Computer Science department at Universität Hamburg. The VowelChartProject provided computer-based visual feedback for language learners on their pronunciation accuracy in English.


This talk focuses on adjective amplification in English (cf. 1) and presents findings from several corpus-based studies that examine the L1- and L2-acquisition of amplifiers, their variability within and across varieties of English as well as the diachronic development of amplifier systems.

 (1)     a.         It’s a very elegant technique (ICE NZ: S2A-038)

b.         oh wow that’s really cool (ICE NZ: S1A-096)

c.          she looks bloody old in that picture any rate (ICE NZ: S1A-096)

As amplifier systems are particularly prone to change, they are particularly interesting from a language variation and change perspective (Brinton & Arnovik 2006: 441) while they are relevant for pragmatics and sociolinguistics research as they play a crucial part in how speakers express themselves socially and emotionally (Ito & Tagliamonte 2003: 258).

Given their variability and multi-facetted nature, adjective amplifiers offer unique insights into the interdependency of language-internal, cognitive, and social factors and how these factors interact to shape natural language use.

The study of L1-acquisition of adjective amplifiers, for instance, shows that language-external, situational constraints are acquired with the linguistic structures themselves rather than after such structures have been mastered. This is relevant as it contradicts models of L1-acquisition according to which children remain monolectal until approximately age ten and only then acquire systematic situational constraints (Labov 1964).  Furthermore, children differ from both CDS and usage patterns in the wider speech community which goes to show the innovative potential of children’s linguistic performance and the impact that peers have in the L1-acquisition of a language even from relatively early stages of language acquisition.

With respect to L2-acquisition, the findings highlight that the cultural and linguistic background of learners significantly affects preferences and usage patterns in amplifier use. In addition, this study exemplifies how statistical means (MuPDARF) can be applied to investigate differences between learners and native speakers beyond investigations of over- and underuse of linguistic structures.

Intra-varietal variation in amplifier use is predominantly dependent on the type of adjective that is modified and social factors while other intra-linguistic factors appear to have only a minor impact on amplifier choice. Fine-grained statistical analyses furthermore suggest the existence of a psycholinguistic mechanism which may not only help us understand variability within the English amplifier systems but which could potentially have a more universal application to language change phenomena. With respect to cross-varietal trends, the findings indicate a global trend according to which the traditional amplifier very is being replaced with the more innovative variant really. This finding is interesting as it calls into question the assumption that changes in language use, which are tied to local identities, require face-to-face interaction to take effect. Finally, the analyses of longitudinal trends based on diachronic data that represent different text types written between 1840 and 2000 shows a remarkable stability of amplifier systems, with substantial changes emerging only in the latter half of the 20th century.


Brinton, L. J. & Arnovik, L. K. 2006. The English language. A linguistic history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ito, R. & Tagliamonte, S. 2003. Well weird, right dodgy, very strange, really cool: Layering and recycling in English intensifiers. Language in Society 32: 257-279.

Labov, W. 1964. Stages in the acquisition of Standard English. In R. Shuy (Ed.), Social Dialects and Language Learning. Champaign, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. 77-103.

About Linguistics Seminar Series

The Linguistics Seminars are an opportunity to hear from guest speakers, UQ staff and HDR students working in the field of Linguistics. If you are interested in presenting in our series, please contact Linguistics Discipline Coordinator Ilana Mushin

Seminars are generally held fortnightly during semester and are free to attend. UQ staff and students, staff and students from other universities, and members of the general public are welcome to attend. If you would like to be included on our mailing list, please contact the SLC Events team via email.


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