Jan Heegård Petersen – University of Copenhagen

Danish voices > WILA8 2017 > Workshop programme > Jan Heegård Petersen

Approximative mere eller mindre (‘more or less’) in Argentine Danish as a case of frequential and combinatorial copying

Jan Heegård Petersen (University of Copenhagen)

Argentine Danish, i.e. Danish as spoken by descendants of Danish immigrants to Argentina, show a number of features that makes it different from Danish spoken in Denmark. Among these features are code-switching in terms of lexical borrowings, borrowed grammatical structures, lexical and phrasal calques (Hartling 2016; Heegård & Kühl, submitted) as well as frequential copying (Johanson 2002: 264–265). Frequential copying denotes the copying of a frequential distribution of a certain element from a source language (here Spanish) to a target language (here Danish), with the consequence that the borrowed element appears more or less frequently than would be expected in the target language (Johanson 2008: 66). An example of this in Argentine Danish is the use and distribution of the approximative construction mere eller mindre ‘more or less’, considered as influenced by the Spanish approximative construction and lexical equivalent más o menos.

The paper will give an account of the distribution in mere eller mindre and its near-synonyms in a corpus of Argentine Danish (Corpus of South American Danish; Kühl et al., accepted) and in a corpus of spoken Denmark Danish (the LANCHART corpus; Gregersen 2009). A simple count of mere eller mindre in these two corpora shows a considerable overuse in Argentine Danish (compared with European Danish) at the expense of its synonyms omtrent ‘about, approximately’, cirka ‘about, roughly’, omkring ‘about’ and godt og vel ‘approximately’. A syntactic analysis shows that Argentine Danish speakers in comparison with spoken Standard Danish speakers tend to prefer mere eller mindre in short responses to questions, (cf. 1), and as right-located ‘comments’ to a clause (Hansen & Heltoft 2011: 1139–1144), (cf. 2):

Interviewer: var du der i hele perioden
‘were you there the whole period’

Informant: ja, mere eller mindre
‘yes, more or less’

jeg blev opereret d. 8. januar, mere eller mindre
‘I was operated the 8th of January, more or less’

Whereas both syntactic functions are also observed in spoken European Danish, Argentine Danish has developed a combinatorial capability that is almost never seen in spoken Standard Danish, namely as modifying expressions of quantity, (3), age, (4), and period, (5):

for herfra, der er mere eller mindre 70 km
‘because from here, there are more or less 70 km’

vi er mere eller mindre på samme alder
‘we are more or less at the same age’

jeg kom til Danmark og blev et år, mere eller mindre
‘I came to Denmark and stayed one year, more or less’

This indicates that mere eller mindre is not only an example of frequential copying but that it has also expanded its semantic domain and therefore also is an example of combinatorial copying (Johanson 2002: 264–265). The paper will show how mere eller mindre by this expansion of usage domain has come to take over the use of its synonyms.


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