Constructions of comparison in Swedish

Quantitative dominance patterns in acquisition and use

  • Björn Hammarberg


This article has two main objectives. The first is to outline the basic design of the system of expressing comparisons in Swedish sentences from a functional point of view. Comparisons occur in various dimensions: identity, likeness, grading, preference, and others. Within these dimensions, relations of comparison are distinguished, such as equative/inequative, exclusive/inclusive and superior/inferior. A set of constituting elements, here labelled comparandum, standard, parameter, comparator and standard marker, form crucial elements of the constructions which interact to provide a creative potential for conceptualizing comparisons in different ways.

       The second part of the study concerns how these various types of comparison constructions are made use of by adult native speakers of Swedish, and how this develops in acquisition in adult learners of Swedish. This is carried out on the basis of a longitudinal corpus of learner speech in combination with a comparable corpus from native speakers. A usage-based perspective is combined with a functional approach to study quantitative relations of frequency dominance between paradigmatically related types of comparison constructions. A consistent pattern is found, where the same set of dominance relations is evidenced with native speaker and learners, and in the development over time in learners. This suggests that constructions of comparison develop in language with a systematic distribution of relative frequency. The set of dominance relations found is interpreted to correspond to regularly occurring degrees of communicative need and associated expressive preferences.